Prayer Bead Devotion: Beauty in Darkness

A few weeks ago I inaugurated my new Beads and Books series with Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. This book is so profound that I found myself thinking about it and rereading passages for weeks after I had finished reading it.

I shared with you some of my favorite quotes from the book, but here is my absolute favorite:

You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. At night, too, when I lie in bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer. (p. 332)

Etty wrote this in her journal from Westerbork (a transit camp), just days before she and her family were loaded onto trains and sent to Auschwitz. Surrounded by the darkest pain, the most visible signs of suffering, and the knowledge of her own impending death, Etty was able to stand in the midst and proclaim her gratitude for God’s rich beauty. She was able to do this because, as she said, her life had become “an uninterrupted dialogue” with God. Her entire life had become a prayer.

Etty Hillesum
Etty Hillesum

That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 17 when he wrote, “Rejoice always. Pray continually.” At the time of his letter it was illegal to be a Christian. Churches were having to meet in secret, and many followers of Christ were being persecuted. There were definite periods of darkness. To sustain their faith, Paul encourages his readers to pray without ceasing. Doing so would make their entire lives about prayer, enabling them to “rejoice always,” even – and especially – in the hardest of times.

We all face periods of darkness at various points in our lives. I know I’ve had my share. And I can’t say I spent much of that time rejoicing, primarily because my prayer life wasn’t strong. But that is changing. Little by little, day by day, I am learning to make my life about prayer. I’m taking time to pray and listen and read and express my gratitude. I’m looking for signs of God’s presence in the ordinary moments and people and experiences of my life. And I’m reading about the saints, including a Dutch Jew who, in the midst of the Holocaust, was able to proclaim God’s rich beauty.

It’s a process, one that takes time and is not always easy or perfect. But if it leads me to see God’s grace in times of pain, then I will count it time well spent. And I will thank God for Etty and her profound testimony.

Cross: God of beauty,

Invitatory Bead: you are both gracious,

Resurrection Bead: and ever-present.

First Cruciform Bead: You have made me so rich.

Week Beads, Set 1: Use each bead to consider the ways in which God has made you “rich,” and to offer thanks.

Second Cruciform Bead: I want my life to be a constant prayer.

Week Beads, Set 2: Use each bead to consider how your life can become a ceaseless prayer to God, and to ask for God’s help in this.

Third Cruciform Bead: Help me to see your presence – in every place, in every person, in every moment, to understand that you are always with me, and to offer gratitude.

Week Beads, Set 3: Use each bead to see, listen for, and feel God’s presence as your life becomes a prayer.

Fourth Cruciform Bead: Take my life of prayer and use it to proclaim your rich beauty to the world.

Week Beads, Set 4: Use each bead to pray that God will use you to testify to God’s presence in both darkness and light. 

Resurrection Bead: For it is by your Son, Jesus,

Invitatory Bead: that we come face to face with you in all your glory,

Cross: Amen

One Response to Prayer Bead Devotion: Beauty in Darkness

  1. Dear Kristen,

    Thank you for the beautiful card you sent me to bless the place of prayer. I treasure the artwork as well as the blessings you wrote. The dedication was a dream coming true for me. All but Diana of the Grace girls were here as well as dear friends and family.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts during the last several months (as always). You and I seem to follow a similar path so much of the time. I am reading An Interrupted life right now too. An, like you, I am deeply moved by Robert Benson’s writing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the prayer bead devotions. You bless me.

    Lastly, I wonder if we might be able to reschedule the prayer bead day retreat on November 8th for a Saturday sometime in 2015. My youngest child, Ben (16), has registered for the Rock and Roll Half marathon in Savannah that day. It will be his first long race and he has been faithfully following a training schedule and is really excited. I would love to be there to cheer him on. My dad may be running it too. I realize your schedule is full and growing fuller all the time and I do not want to inconvenience you. Victor is planning to go with him, so I don’t have to be there. Just let’s know if rescheduling will work for you. Even Fall of 2015 would be fine.

    I would love to meet you sometime (soon, if possible) at the Monastery or at Green Bough. Just let me know. Thank you for being our prayer person. You are doing such a great job! I miss you and the Academy a lot.

    In Christ’s love, Sally

    Sent from my iPhone