When I was a teenager and my parents were loudly arguing in the room below me, I used to tune my bedside radio to a station in San Francisco, 600 miles away. Late at night, I would hear a very repetitive prayer go–it seemed–on and on. It was very soothing, though I really had no idea of what it was. I would fall asleep to its calming words. I was unchurched and really didn’t even think to ask anyone about what I was hearing.
Fast forward 30 years and I was praying in a place in Portland, Oregon called The Grotto. It is a lovely sanctuary open to all. I found the quiet very grounding. One day I heard a group of mainly Philippine women saying that same repetitive prayer while holding strings of beads. Then the woman in front of me turned around, handed me one, a lovely amber string of these beads and said, “I am supposed to give this to you.” She handed it back to me and went back to prayer.
By then I was Christian, but I had heard horror stories about Catholic prayer practices which supposedly prayed TO Mary, as if she were God. But it didn’t seem to me to be the case. The sequence of prayers included a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and five repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It was, as far as I could tell, theologically sound.
Fast forward another 20 years and my next door neighbor, newly widowed, asked if I would join her once a week to pray the Rosary with her. So I printed out the prayers, picked up my amber beads and went to her house that Tuesday. We meet each Tuesday morning and pray the prayers. I still get flummoxed occasionally, worrying that I am counting wrong, which definitely interrupts the contemplative nature of the prayer! But when I can drop down into the repetition, it has the same calming effect on me that it had 55 years ago.
Now when I get to Mass early (God’s sense of humor leading me to Catholicism over my Protestant friends’ dismay) I see others quietly holding the beads and moving their lips silently. I feel grateful remembering how important those beads were so many years ago.
If you want to learn more go to http://www.rosary-center.org. (As always, I respect many traditions, and I have no interest in proselytizing; I’m just sharing my perspective.)