Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Prayer Beads: Not Just for Celebrities Anymore

Prayer beads may come and go as a fashion accessory, but prayer beads can be a useful and meaningful part of Christian spirituality. This is true for Protestants as well as Catholics, and for those who prefer extemporaneous and spontaneous prayers as opposed to memorized prayers. 

The website Karen's Prayer Beads  offers instructions for re-purposing and modifying a traditional Rosary for a variety of prayer styles and for making a number of other types of prayer beads. 

The idea of prayer beads has intrigued me for a while. I never liked the idea of the traditional Rosary--probably because I was raised as a Protestant.  I can see how using the traditional practice of the Rosary might be meaningful for some, but as of right now I don't feel ready to try it. I do like the idea, however, of a Joys and Concerns Rosary, a type of Rosary designed by a Unitarian Universalist minister:

The bracelet has four sections of seven beads each, separated by four larger beads (like the Anglican Rosary). The first section is green, the second is yellow, the third is blue, and the fourth is red. You could also use rainbow colors, as in Jim Casebolt's sermon. The four large beads can be black or white or gray or some other contrasting color. 
On the first large bead (before the green section) ask God to be with you on your journey, or enter a time of reflection in some other way.
On the seven green beads, enter the sacred space by naming seven things that seem holy or magical to you. These can be places or relationships or works of art or music or anything else that has a numinous feeling for you. When you reach the next large bead, sit in silence for a while and listen for the voice of God within you.
On the seven yellow beads, name your joys, count your blessings, offer up thanksgiving for the good things in your life. Think of seven things you are thankful for, or joyous about. Again pause and listen on the next large bead.
On the seven blue beads, name your concerns, think of seven things that you are worried or remorseful about, things that you want to do better in your life. Pause and listen on the next large bead.
On the seven red beads, share your love. Send your love and good wishes and prayers out to seven people or categories of people, ask for a blessing on them. Pause and listen on the large bead, and come out of the prayer time.

Praying is to the spirit as exercise is to the body: It needs to be done regularly in order to keep in good shape and prepare for times of stress. Prayer beads are a useful aid in starting and maintaining a regular prayer practice--kind of like a treadmill for your spiritual walk. I have decided to create one of these Joys and Concerns bracelet, using beads and elastic cord I have lying around my home from jewelry making projects. Just as you don't have to join an expensive gym and hire a personal trainer to begin a physical fitness regimen, you don't need to go to a retreat center to begin a spiritual fitness regimen. All you need is willingness and openness.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

You Tubing It

Why You Tube? I started creating videos for You Tube as a way to enliven the content on our church website. Then I quickly became enamored of the process of creating the videos themselves. I enjoy finding images, searching for the right music on the public domain music website ccmixter, writing text or adding just the right Bible quotes in just the right way, and then mixing the whole thing up into a spiritual stew with Windows Live Movie Maker. For me, creating the videos are a spiritual exercise. Check out our church You Tube Channel if you are curious.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Prayer? There's an App for that...

These days many of us live our lives online/on mobile devices. Its just plain smart to incorporate your prayer life into your high-tech gadgets, and in this post I'm going to offer some practical ways to do that, but first I want to address the issue of what prayer is, and why you should pray in the first place.

I'm not new to prayer--I learned how to pray when I was a small child in church and developed a daily prayer routine early on. This recent blog post makes a pretty good argument for why prayer works, and works for anyone--even intellectuals and Atheists.

Now, onto the how.

Online prayer aids and communities are plentiful. The trick is to find one that works for you. I like sites that are visual that make prayer fun.

Angel Cards
 My #1 online prayer go-to is the virtual Angel Cards. I sometimes visit this site several times a day, whenever I get into a funk for any reason or feel stuck about something.

Online Labyrinth
The Online Labyrinth is hands-down my favorite devotional website. It's not really a true labyrinth: it's a website that directs you through a series of guided, interactive devotions. It is possible to race through them but I find I get the most out of the exercises if I wait until the music stops before moving on to the next devotion. If you do it that way, it takes about 40 minutes to complete. It's not a quick devotion but it does enable you to go deeper when you really need it.

Prayer Shawls
Do you knit or crochet, or would you like to learn? Then prayer shawls might be the way for you to pray! Learn more at http://www.shawlministry.com/, or come to our Prayer Shawl retreat at Riverton Church on June 2, 9-noon.

Yahoo Groups
There are a number of groups devoted to prayer. One to try is the Prayer Shawl Group, which was started by the two women who originated the prayer shawl knitting ministry through a course at Hartford Seminary in 1997.

Phone Apps
Looking for quick inspiration? Praying for a bunch of different issues and people? There's an app for that! I There are many Apps out there that prompt and support prayers in a number of ways, ranging from helping you to keep track of things you're praying for to supplying the text of well-known prayers. Here is a beliefnet review of some creative prayer apps to get you started.

Online Prayer Chapel
Forward movement, a ministry of the Episcopal church, invites you to light a virtual candle, make a prayer request or browse a list of topical prayers in their prayer chapel.

Facebook Request a Prayer Page
This page is maintained by the United Church of Christ and provides people with an opportunity topost prayer requests.

Facebook Apps
The most popular of the Facebook prayer apps seems to be "God Wants You To Know." This app provides inspiration through daily messages posted on your Facebook page.

World Prayers
Prayers from a variety of sources and faith traditions. Sort by tradition/topic or allow it to choose a random prayer for you.

Got more ideas to share? Share a comment.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Scents and Sensibility

This week I took a cue from Mike Piazzo at the Center for Progressive Renewal and baked a loaf of bread in the sanctuary of my church during the worship service. Why did I do this? 
Mike says that the best worship has elements of drama and excitement. It was communion Sunday, and I know from past experiences that the smell of freshly baked bread has enhanced communion for worshipers. 
It wasn't all that hard to do. At home I mixed up a batch of bread do in my breadmaker, using the dough setting. Then I transported the whole machine to church and plugged it in at the back of the sanctuary. I set the breadmaker to the bake cycle (which lasts an hour) and started it just before the service began. (If your worship lasts more than an hour, enlist a volunteer to stop the machine before it lets out an annoying beep when it is done baking.) A breadmaker has a little vent in the lid designed to allow steam to escape, and the smell it emits is positively heavenly.
I'm planning on doing even more experiments with my breadmaker. As I speak I'm baking up a batch of chocolate pudding cake....