Whether you’ve actually asked the question out loud or not, I know it’s there in your head: “What’s up with prayer beads, Kristen? Why pray with them?” It’s a good question, particularly if you didn’t grow up Catholic, where the rosary is, for many, a way of life. Walk into a Catholic bookstore and it’s a veritable rosary festival: there are rosaries everywhere, along with books, cd’s, and guides for saying the rosary. Walk into a Lifeway or Family Christian bookstore, however, and there’s nothing. Not a single bead in sight (unless it’s part of a piece of jewelry). Prayer bead desert.
Apparently, we have John Calvin to thank for that. When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the church door, unwittingly starting the Protestant Reformation, he didn’t have any plans for doing away with the rosary. Indeed, he continued to pray with it.
But Calvin was much more concerned about ridding the church of anything that was “popish.” He wanted a blank slate that would prevent any potential distractions from God. So the stained glass windows, the icons, the religious statues, and, you guessed it, the rosaries, all got chucked away. And we Protestants have had to fend for ourselves, so to speak, ever since, at least when it comes to prayer beads and other tools.
Turns out we’re in the minority. That’s right, Protestantism, which claims 593 million members throughout the world – hardly a minority – is the only major tradition that doesn’t use prayer beads. Christians (by way of Catholics), Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists have, throughout history, used beads to count their prayers. Even Jews, who don’t use beads, use knotted fringe called tzitzit on a prayer shawl to keep track of their prayers.
Not impressed? Try this: our word “bead” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “bede.” Know what “bede” meant? Prayer.
No offence to Calvin, but it sounds like we’ve been missing out. But what, exactly, are we missing out on?
Tune in for part 2 of this post and find out . . .