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Tools of devotion: There's hardly a limit to the objects you can use to help you pray. Here's a sampling to get you started.

The rosary

Sr. Sarah Jean Thompson of the Sisterhood of Saint John the Divine (SSJD), an Anglican monastic community in Toronto, regularly teaches workshops on how to make and use Anglican rosaries. She sees the rosary as a way to aid focus while praying. "People often find that their minds wander during prayer," says Thompson. "Sort of like popcorn. Like: 'I wonder what I'm going to have for dinner?' or 'I need to make that phone call' or 'Is my kid OK at school?' " Having physical items to count and move through one's fingers focuses the mind, she says.

Thompson has long been interested in prayer beads. "When I was seven years old, my six-year-old neighbour had her first communion," she remembers. "She was Roman Catholic and I was Protestant. She got gifts, got to dress up pretty and have a big party, and I was so jealous! And the thing that most interested me was her rosary."

When she entered SSJD more than 40 years ago, Thompson asked for a rosary and began to read up on using prayer beads. She began by using the Marian (Roman Catholic) rosary, with an adapted set of prayers and meditations based on English theologian Austin Farrer's book, Lord, I Believe.

Over time, she discovered and learned to make different types of rosaries, including the Orthodox prayer rope--which is made with 33, 50 or 100 knots--and an Anglican rosary developed by a parish prayer group in Texas.

Designed in the 1980s, the Anglican rosary features 33 beads, representing the age of Christ. It begins with a cross, then a large "invitatory" bead, followed by sets of seven small beads interspersed with four larger beads. The larger beads are called "cruciform" (if you draw lines between the two sets, they form a cross), while the smaller are "weekly," representing the seven days in a week. Prayers can be assigned to each bead, as the one who prays moves around the rosary to the right.

The practice of counting something physical while praying goes back to antiquity, and is not only a Christian practice, Sarah Jean is quick to note. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam all have a version of prayer beads.

Sarah Jean says she does not pray with a rosary these days, but she has seen interest continue to grow in the Anglican church. "They are really popular here," she says, adding that she once brought 100 to sell at General Synod and found herself making even more as they sold out.

The rosaries can be made with different colourful beads or even crystals--though Thompson prefers knotted rosaries or simple wooden beads. "If it looks like jewellery, I get distracted," she says.

In the notes for the workshops that she runs on using prayer beads, Thompson writes that "the beauty of the Anglican rosary is its flexibility." Many prayers have been written for the purpose of the rosary, but people should feel free to assign or write their own, she says. One common use for the Anglican rosary is praying the offices, or daily prayers of the church.

"Over time, you will find the form of the prayer will be less significant," and the experience of entering into a silent moment after prayer becomes more profound, she writes in her workshop notes. "The rosary is only a tool to enter into that silence."

Prayer shawls

Many Anglican congregations in Canada have prayer shawl ministries. Started in 1998 by Janet Bristow and Victoria Galo, two American seminary graduates, ministry involving prayer shawls is meant to reflect the "unconditional embrace of a sheltering, mothering God," according to Bristow s and Galos website ( The knitter (or crocheter) begins with a prayer of blessing and may continue to pray throughout the creation of the shawl. When the shawl is completed, a prayer of blessing is prayed over it. ihe shawls are often given to someone in need of comfort.

Prayer boxes

Some religious traditions feature some form of box where prayers can be stored physically. This practice is common in Judaism, wherein tefillin or phylacteries, small boxes containing verses from the Torah, are worn on the head and left arm during prayers, as an expression of Deuteronomy 11:18 ("Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads"). Writing down prayers and keeping them in a small box is a way both to externalize prayers and to keep a record of prayer requests and expressions of gratitude to look back on.

Prayer journals

Prayer journals are also popular. Like a prayer box, a journal holds a written record of prayers to return to and reread. The journal format also allows for longer prayers, letters to God or the working through of emotions, and all these thoughts and prayers can be collected in one place.

Prayer stones

Small stones can be carried or placed somewhere noticeable to serve as reminders to pray. Many versions of prayer stones are commercially available, often decorated with inspirational messages, images or Bible verses. While any small object can serve as a prayer reminder, stones have added symbolism, recalling biblical metaphors for God as a rock.

Sand trays

Sand trays are often used therapeutically. Sand has a calming texture, and you can use it to work through your feelings by drawing on it, writing on it or moulding it. Sand trays can also be useful tools to express prayer. Simple drawings and words can be traced in the sand, or you can comb the sand or run it through your fingers as a meditation tool.

Finger labyrinths

Labyrinths have been used for centuries for meditative prayer. A labyrinth is made up of a single winding path that leads to its centre, typically in a garden or other secluded area where it can be walked in peace. While a full-scale labyrinth may not be easily accessible to everyone, finger labyrinths provide the same focus and movement, in miniature. Typically carved from wood, they feature a raised path you can trace with your finger while you pray.

Joelle Kidd



Caption: Having a physical item to count and move through one's fingers focuses the mind, says Sr. Sarah Jean Thompson, a member of the monastic community of the Sisterhood of Saint John the Divine, Toronto.


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Author:Kidd, Joelle
Publication:Anglican Journal
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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