groping for grace
sleep would not come the other night, was nowhere in sight. nowhere in the dark, either. only the thump-thump of my heart in my chest. and the same up in my head.
i did something i haven’t done since, lord, i can’t remember. oh, i have stashed one in my pocket whenever i, or someone i love, get wheeled off to surgery. and i’ve slipped one down to the bottom of my suitcase. keeps the plane in the air.
but i have not lay in my bed fingering my rosary in a long, long time.
maybe it was all the talk of my little one and the red heart in his pocket. maybe it was thinking about how, through the ages, the fingering of small beads is nothing unusual. nothing new.
before there were therapists, well before, apparently, there were stones at the side of the river, beans dried in the breeze, rose buds, too, curled into tight little knots there under the late summer sunshine.
so too, we who are catholic grow up with our rosaries. we get one, or at least i did, when i was old enough to wear little white gloves and carry a white straw purse to the pew. the rosary gave me something to do, something to make me look like i knew how to pray there with the forest of tall people, casting shadows, making it dark down where i stood on my tippiest toes, trying for a glimpse of the priest.
i’ve had ones that glow in the dark (always helpful, always fun for making shapes under the covers, seeing how long you could get it to glow).
i’ve had the little ring of a rosary, sort of a clif’s notes of rosaries, a single circle of ten beads and a cross (condensed from the standard long loopy strand of 59 beads and a cross and a medal), that slipped out of my father’s pocket when he died, and into mine. it’s the one that i keep closest at hand.
it’s the one that i squeezed till my fingers turned white when they threaded the wire into the heart of the man who i love. and when they dug out the cancer from the breast of my mother. and that i would have grabbed, had i known, on the crisp autumn night when the ambulance carried me and my firstborn through the streets of the city, his head and his neck taped to a stretcher. i prayed without beads that night, i prayed with the nubs of my cold clammy fingers.
ah, but the one that i groped for the other night, it is my glory-be of all glories. it lives in the dark of the drawer beside my bed. each bead is a pewter rosebud, each joined with the link of a chain. a rather provocative construction when you think about it.
but then rosaries are meant, mostly, to put you into a trance. to go beyond thinking and into a deeper place still. into the place where prayer dwells. true prayer. a complete letting go. not an asking for this or for that. but for casting your soul to something beyond, letting it light on a breeze. not unlike flying a kite, really. you let out the string, catch the wind, and then you are soaring. your kite bobs. it dips and it dives.
so too do your prayers. when you pray on the wind. when you pray to the place where you soon fall asleep.
there are spells in our lives that call us back to our very first stirrings. to the God who we know is there like the night light that never goes out. i am needing that God right along here. i am clinging to beads in the dark in the night. they’re not very far from my pillow. i reach and i grope in the drawer. there they are. safe in my fist.
or is it my fist, safe at last, safe in the nest of my beads that carry me places where the wind does the rest?
i just finger the rosebuds, let out the string, whisper the prayer, and i soar.
speaking of rosaries, and people you love slipping behind swinging steel doors, doors marked surgery. our beloved becca is there as i type, and i’ve got my rosary right in my pocket.
in the whirl of last week, i forgot the birthday of a friend who i love. jane. blessed jane. it’s not a birthday with zeroes so she said it was no big deal. but she breathes joy in my heart, so any day that honors her birth is a big one. far as i care. so happy most blessed birthday.
now about prayer….how do you get to the place where you soar? where you are well off the ground, unlinked from all that would chain you, keep you tied to the weights of your worries? do tell if you care to. i’m listening, of course….
If I ever knew how to soar, I’ve forgotten. But when I look out my window at the lake, watch the waves curl in a light wind, feel rain on my face, peace enters my heart which is all I ever hope for.
ahh….I am right with you on this one dear BAM…my rosary collection starts with my (and I kid you not) glow-in-the dark plastic beads that came neatly stored in the bottom of a small Mary statue I received for First Communion. I then have my sky blue set (broken of course) that I bought with my very own 12 year old money at the Abbey of Gethsemani where my great uncle was a Trappist Brother – “monkle Tom” we called him – God rest his lovely soul – and then there is my mother’s crystal rosary that was her mothers…..I so coveted it as a child and now it is a sweet remembrance. I have a wonderful olive stone rosary brought by one of my dearest friends who is Jewish when she was in Isreal and another beautiful crystal blue rosary from Notre Dame in Paris….I bought that one special to pray for my oldest dearest friend’s son who was dying of leukemia…it gave a bit of peace, even if it did not stave off the passing. Those rosaries are kept in a drawer available for those hours of the night you spoke of…..the really really dark ones. I like the grounding that the fingering gives me….the repetitve peace. I believe that the early Church adapted the beads from the East and there was much wisdom in that adaption. One bead at a time……
I will offer a prayer for your dear Becca today. I haven’t prayed the rosary in a very long time. I consciously gave it up because I felt it was too much a part of the oldtime conservative Catholic church. I arrogantly thought it wasn’t “spiritual”. But you have blown that thought right out of my head with your beautiful images of rosary prayer. I do remember grasping my own rosary beads tightly at the wake and funeral for my best friend from high school. She died at 20 in a car accident. Those beads kept me grounded – I might have fallen apart otherwise. And I love lamcal’s insightful “one bead at a time” comment.
a charming little book, shared with me by a wise across-the-alley neighbor, a book titled, “the lore of the fingering piece,” is a trove. one i wish i could keep.rather, i will scribble notes here. according to the booklet, published in 1969, by a pharmaceutical company no less, the fingering bead was most likely part of a religious ritual. hindus, buddhists, zoroastrians and moslems all used prayer beads. considering buddha lived in the sixth century, BCE, and hinduism is even older, the beads then are ancient. and the christian rosary, then, is a refinement and not an invention. in greece, even today, worry beads, if no longer made of amber, are often amber look-alikes. amber, petrified tree resin, was thought to be a yin to jade’s yang, at least in ancient china. amber for warmth, jade for coolness; one in each hand.confucius himself, an accomplished player of jade chimes, presided over an age when fingering the cool green stone was thought to elevate and purify one’s thoughts, quiet the mind, and induce a state of contemplation.other scholars fix the origin of fingering pieces to another chinese character, the emperor ch’ien lung in the 18th century. curiously, still other scholars point to the fingering exercises required of calligraphers in the ming dynasty (1368-1644). in order to keep their fingers supple, they carried two small flint balls, which they rubbed together in one hand, sometimes setting off sparks. i find it all highly electrifying, and whatever the origin, it plugs me in, in ways i’d long forgotten.
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