Prayer Bead Devotion: Listening, Empathizing, Acting and Praying

This summer I participated in a wonderful workshop on spirituality and writing at SOULfeast.  During the first few minutes the speaker, Enuma Okoro, asked each of us to name a writer who has inspired or otherwise affected us spiritually.  Since I was sitting in the back, I was not surprised that by the time it was my turn to speak my fellow participants had already named many of my favorite theologians and writers such as Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and Anne Lamott.  But that was okay because I’d recently finished reading a book that contained many rich insights into prayer and spiritual life, which I lifted up as my offering for the workshop: Ashley Judd’s All That Is Bitter & Sweet

Now stay with me here.  I recognize that Ashley Judd is not known for being a theologian or a writer.  Sure, we know her well as an actress and activist and even as a member of the well-known Judd family, with her country music superstar mother, Naomi, and sister, Wynonna.  But a theologian?  I admit that I was surprised, too.  I read the  book because I’m currently writing a memoir (for my friend, Mark Johnson) and am trying to read all variations of the genre that I can; plus, I’ve always liked Ashley’s movies and admired her social justice work.  But I was pleasantly surprised to see how much she wrote about her faith, particularly as it informed, supported, and protected her during her intense outreach efforts to the victims of the sex trafficking trade around the world.  Ashley had some really wonderful insights to share about the power of prayer in a world that is crying out for redemption. 

My favorite line from the whole book is found on page 77 where Ashley writes, “Thank God my faith teaches me that listening is the beginning of empathy and, when followed by action, is a powerful prayer.”  Those of you who know me (or are getting to know me) know how I’ve recently been placing a lot of emphasis on the need to listen, particularly when it comes to prayer.  That’s one of the many things I think that prayer beads can help us with: to slow down, stop talking, relax, and just listen to what God has to say to us.  But here, Ashley reminds us that we also need to listen to what our neighbor is saying (remember from our Lenten journey that our neighbor is any and everyone), and says that if we really listen, we will naturally develop empathy for our neighbor and want to act to love them and support them in whatever way God calls us to.  That, in and of itself, is a way of praying for them. 

And so, Ashley Judd, actress, activist, and theologian, serves as the inspiration for this week’s prayer bead devotion.  Before you enter into this devotion, take some time to think about who you want to pray for.  It may be particular individuals, a group of people, or even people you don’t know (such as the homeless families in your community).  Try to think of four individuals or groups, then use each set of week beads to listen for what God is telling you about that person and his/her situation and needs; to empathize and really understand the situation from that person’s perspective; to consider how you can act to minister to that person or group; and to offer them up in prayer to God.

Cross: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Invitatory Bead: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:40 NRSV)

Each Cruciform Bead: Lord, help me to listen to _____________. (insert the name of a specific individual or a group of people)

Each set of Week Beads: use each bead to listen, empathize, act, and pray for the individual or group.  

Note: when you have completed one set of week beads, use the next Cruciform Bead to name the next individual or group on your list, and then repeat the exercise until you have returned to the Invitatory Bead.

Invitatory Bead: recite the Lord’s Prayer

Cross: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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