The Forbidden Fruit of Prayer: From Grape Juice to Red Wine Part IV
For this week’s “From Grape Juice to Red Wine” I bring you a piece by my new friend Amy Mitchell. Amy and I got to know each other at Faith & Culture Writers Conference earlier this month, and as soon as she opened her mouth, I knew I had an ally. I love how calm and straightforward she is about topics that make most people uncomfortable. With Amy, conversation can jump from sexuality to prayer in a minute and she’ll never squirm. When she shared with me her journey into praying the rosary, I knew it was a story you needed to hear. So here it is.
When we left our evangelical church more than a year and a half ago, my faith was shattered, the pieces scattered at the feet of my husband and children. I couldn’t even pray anymore. All I wanted was time and space to recover from my loss, even though I couldn’t quite identify what I was grieving.
We hung in there for a month—four Sundays of playing praise songs on YouTube and reading the Bible together. No Sunday services. No midweek services. No volunteering or teaching or Bible study groups or prayer circles.
And then the others were ready to go back. I made a list of churches to try, ones that seemed to fit with the more inclusive faith community we wanted. But every time I looked at the web sites, all I could think was that I couldn’t go back to the teachings of my rigid evangelical past, even if they did have a more expansive view of who was welcome at worship.
The kids asked to try a church five minutes from our house—a Lutheran church. That suited me; it was bound to be vastly different. We never did make it to the other four churches on my list.
Over the 18 months we’ve been there, I’ve slowly been able to pick up the pieces of my faith. One of the most healing things I’ve done is to engage in the “forbidden” practices of liturgy, particularly the Lutheran rosary.
I learned early on in my Christian journey that prayer beads were Very Wrong Indeed. They involved several things that were taboo: repetitive, scripted prayer; the Hail Mary; and contemplation. Since learning how to pray the rosary, I’ve discovered that those are the very things I like about it.
Throughout the years, I’ve always struggled to come up with meaningful extemporaneous prayers. I um, uh, and just my way through them, always feeling like I’m missing some key element. But when I use the Our Father, the Apostle’s Creed, the Jesus Prayer, and the Doxology (and yes, even the Hail Mary), I speak reverently to God, trusting that God knows what needs there are in my life, my loved ones’ lives, and the world at large.
A few months ago, I began adding to my prayer time. Once a week, on Saturday night, I light candles. I put out a call on my social media pages for anyone to add their name to my list. I burn a stick of incense and I light the rows of candles on the mantle. As I pray the rosary, I speak the names of those who have requested it, adding “Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer” to each one. (For those who prefer a less religious version, I simply say their names as I light the candles.)
When I started the practice, I had no idea that it would be so meaningful to so many of my friends. I regularly have 20 to 30 people asking me to light a candle for them or for their loved ones. I’ve had messages thanking me for the kindness and offers to hold me in hope in return.
I believe one reason for this is that so often, “I’ll pray for you” feels like an empty offer. It’s just the thing Christians say when they feel bad for you but don’t actually have any idea how to help or what else to say. That isn’t true all the time, but it’s true enough of the time that it leaves a lot of us feeling flat. When I offer to light a candle, it’s a tangible reality—there is a literal candle on my shelf, its tiny flame flickering and its puff of smoke drifting to the heavens. To many people, that feels achingly, wonderfully real.
I suppose that’s what I like about the rosary, too. It’s in my hands, the smooth beads sliding through my fingers as I pray and contemplate the Mysteries of the Cross. When I close my prayers by crossing myself and kissing the crucifix, I have a physical seal on my petitions. Unlike so much of Christianity, which seeks to separate body and soul, prayer beads join the physical and the spiritual as one.
If anyone is interested in learning how to pray the rosary, here is a link to the Lutheran version. There are Catholic and Anglican versions as well, of course, but this is the one I use. An actual rosary isn’t necessary, but if you want one, I bought my beads on Etsy from this seller. Her work is beautiful and her prices are reasonable.
Amy is a stay-at-home mom of two. In her spare time, she writes stuff. Mostly about life, faith, inclusivity, the “isms”, and family. Follow her on twitter at @amyunchained or her blog.