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Discovering the Anglican Rosary

The Rosary is a simple tool to help find our prayer in us, and to make that prayer our lives, so that we live out our prayer in our interactions with the world, becoming God’s instruments of love and peace in the world. Br Nathan-James reflects on how he discovered the Anglican Rosary.

Part of our community (the Society of St Francis’) rule is to spend at least one hour a day in prayer, a part from our regular office and Eucharist times of prayer. When I first joined the community this was quite a challenge. I often say that my mind has a wonderful travel agent and when I try and spend quite time in prayer my mind would be off in all sorts of places. I joke that I have a birth defect, I lack the meditation gene. I began trying to find some way to keep my mind more focused on prayer. Simple forms of meditation, like Centring Prayer, or John Main’s Christian meditation did not seem all that helpful. I would try using their suggested methods of reciting mantras but my mind would still be easily distracted. Thus I started looking for other alternatives.

I knew about the Dominican (Catholic) Rosary but had not heard of an Anglican Rosary. I purchased a Catholic Rosary and started using that. I was attracted to the idea of having something to hold while reciting a series of prayers, meditations. It was a good discipline for keeping my mind focused. The structure of the Catholic Rosary gave structure to my quiet times of prayer. Initially it was hard to remember all of the various mysteries and the associated scriptural reflections. But I persevered and began to find it helpful. The pattern of short meditations, mysteries, and the prayer responses of the Our Father and Gloria Patri was just what I needed to keep my mind focussed on meditation. Because if done properly the Rosary is more than mere vain repetition as protestants are inclined to criticise, but a deeply moving meditation on the events of the life of Christ from his birth, life, death, resurrection and glorification.

I had been using the Catholic Rosary for some time while a novice. During our novitiate we used to go for reflection days at our Diocesan Spirituality Centre, The Brookfield Centre. At that time there was a small gift shop which sold all manner of things. One of which was this set of beads, which sort of looked like a Rosary, but was different. I enquired about it and learned it was called an Anglican Rosary or Anglican Prayer Beads (the term is often used interchangeably). I had never heard of such a thing as an Anglican Rosary. Anyway, I purchased one and started to experiment with using it in my meditations. The Rosary came with a piece of paper with some brief history and some suggested prayers.

Another fellow who was a novice with me was a bit of a crafty type person and we played with the idea of making some for ourselves. Neither of us really liked the ones we had brought. The beads were not appealing, and they were kind of knitted onto some wool type material. So he came up with one way of making them. After that we started running some small workshops of making and using the Rosary in our parish. He took care of the craft side and I took care of the content side. Having to take care of the content side it meant that I needed to find out more about the Rosary and come up with ways to talk about it to others.

The thing I felt was its best ‘selling point’ was that it did not come with a defined set of instructions on how to use it. From what I’d read there seemed to be no ‘standard’ as there was with the Catholic Rosary. So I started to experiment with ways to use it, and with different methods of writing and using prayers; as well as ways to use it as a form or group prayer and meditation. It was about that time that I moved over from the Catholic Rosary to the Anglican Rosary. Not necessarily anything to do with choosing one over the other for ‘denominational’ reasons rather practical reasons. The flexibility of the Anglican Rosary to suit my style and mood of prayer, and fact I could tailor it to my own reflections was the overarching deciding reason.

As our workshops continued I came up with a formula for writing suggested forms of prayers. In fact one of the key aspects of the workshops is to help people to discover the prayers inside them; the Rosary then becomes simply a tool to help people draw these out, to help them find their prayer voice. I certainly found this was my experience as well as people in the workshops. The key message I now worked with was that using the Anglican Rosary was a way to find access to our contemplative prayer self.

I try and steer myself, and people, away from thinking the words said are of any particular importance. What is said is not important, rather it is the allowing one’s self to enter into a process of being in the presence of God and allowing prayer to be the way in which we enter into communion with God. The beads, the prayer, etc are all superficial; helpful initially to develop a discipline of prayer.
The beads gives our body something to do (feeling the beads passing through your fingers, their texture, looking at their shapes and colours, smelling fragrance on them, if one uses something like rosewood or rose petals or something that has a smell) while our Being learns how to pray; with an understanding that prayer is far more than recitation of words but a state of mind and being and a communion with God.

Making and praying with Anglican prayer beads changed the way I prayed. Through using the Anglican Rosary I discovered a whole new dimension of prayer from superficial repetitive prayer to a payer of contemplation. Though I later learned that contemplative prayer is not the end of prayer in itself, but prayer, true prayer is what occurs when we don’t know that we are praying, it is when we become the things we prayer about, when we become prayer incarnate. The Rosary is a simple tool, to find our prayer in us, and to make that prayer our lives, so that we live out our prayer in our interactions with the world, becoming God’s instruments of love and peace in the world.

If we make up a simple prayer based on peace; for example if we structure a prayer for use with the Rosary that looks something like;

Cross: In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of life
Invitatory Bead: May God be always present in, and the source of my prayers
1st Cruciform: Let there be peace in my heart
Week Beads: Lord make me an instrument of your peace
2nd Cruciform: Let there be peace in my family
Week Beads: Lord make my family an instrument of peace
3rd Cruciform: Let there be peace in my community
Week Beads: Lord make my community an instrument of peace
4th Cruciform: Let there be peace in the world
Week Beads: Lord make the world a place of peace
Invitatory Bead: May I become God’s prayer in the world
Cross: In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of life

… then we can say these words all we like, but if we only use them as a way to fill our time of prayer and do not work toward becoming instruments of peace, to become that prayer in our lives, then we do indeed pray with vain repetition as the hypocrites do.

It is this movement of understanding prayer from contemplative prayer to active prayer that has really resulted from my working with the Anglican Rosary. I think this is how it has changed my prayer life. The change has also been about finding a way to pray, and to pray often. Having a Rosary in my pocket reminds me each time I go to get something from my pocket that I am called to prayer. My prayer became more focussed and less distracted by the evil travel agent. It changed in all those ways. But the change is much more. The change is about learning to become prayer incarnate. This is precisely what I hope to achieve by continuing to run workshops on praying with the Anglican Rosary.

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