Rosaries For Rebels: Non Churchy Ways to Use the Beads

This article is by my dear friend and podcast co-host Cyndera Quakenbush. It was originally published here on Your Tango. Check out her work with Story Through Stone.

If you’re anything like me and about 23% of all Americans, you are not affiliated with any religion. What cannot be captured in a poll, however, are the aspects of spirituality that are far less likely to track or define. There are traditions and rituals from religion that can seep into these free range (to use a term from my podcast co-host Julienne Givot) spiritual practices that anyone, from any background, may find themselves attracted. 

Enter the Rosary. The timely release of The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary by Clark Strand and Perdita Finn on November 5, 2019 (Remember, remember the 5th of November?) seemed almost to appear as a guide before a year none of us will ever forget. The couple, authors together in the writing of the book, are themselves unaffiliated with the Catholic church, or even institutionalized religion of any kind, albeit Zen Buddhism. 

Their book, steering clear of the Church, aims its message for those of us living in this age of ecological distress. A vision of who they call the “Lady” emerges with a vibrant message about the power of the rosary prayer, not just for anyone but for everyone, to return to a reverence for the Goddess particularly in her manifestation as Mother Earth. 

What can this mean for someone like me? I follow no religion, especially not Catholicism. I like the new Pope, but I can’t sign up for the whole package. I like to follow the rhythms of the earth – its new moons, full moons, waxing and waning. I like to follow the solstices and equinoxes. I like to believe in Goddesses and Gods as the natural forces we feel within ourselves and all around us. These rhythms can be felt in nature but also in the pulse of people and their waves of worldliness. 

The closest I’ve come to a regular spiritual practice is meditation. The Way of the Rose opened up for me a balance to this practice, which is more on the “yin” side of things (aka feminine). Meditation is, in its essence, honed from a hunter’s viewpoint – it is about stillness, silence, pinpointed awareness and readiness in the moment. There is precision and perfection as a goal.

“Bead practices, on the other hand, seem to have evolved from the gathering behaviors of women as they collected seeds and nuts and berries. If the hunter is quiet and concentrated, the gatherer is a multitasker – chatting, muttering, moving about, and communing with others… Children can be tended, old people cared for, the carrots chopped for dinner, all while staying in conversation with the Lady”

The Way of the Rose, p. 7

Catholics aren’t the only ones who use prayer beads. Prayer beads are also used in Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Shinto, Islamic, Umbanda and the Baháʼí Faith. Native American traditions honor the spirit beads intentionally included within their talismanic patterns.

Okay, I’m still not part of any of these traditions either. So why me? Why beads? The Way of the Rose would argue, the rosary is exactly what I need. The Hail Mary and Our Fathers create “an inner balancing of light and darkness that recalibrates all aspects of our lives… the rosary acknowledges that it is within the body of our Mother that we are conceived, transformed and nourished” (The Way of the Rose, p. 107).

But what about all this Mother Father stuff? In this new century we are re-investigating the polarity of these opposites and seeking new forms. For all who may be struggling with the religious bit, the gender bit and general uncertainty bit, I have some “rosary for the rebels” advice, some seeds of wisdom that have worked for me: 

  • There is no wrong way to pray the rosary, or use prayer beads. This is stated in the book and I agree 100%. This helps you to relax and begin a new practice. If there’s no wrong way, there is no way to mess this up! Let go of perfection. Let’s leave that for meditation, or abandon it all together.  
  • You can depart from the traditional prayers. You can remove the word “sinner” like I do, or other words or names that don’t resonate. The prayer circle I joined with Julienne uses other translations for the prayers. Sometimes we say them in Spanish, and she also tracked down a beautiful translation of the Our Father prayer.
  • Just not into the Hail Marys? You can use any chant. I had a few I had learned in my training as a yoga teacher I still adore. Chant through your blockages with Ganesh, or simply chant the universal sound of Om. 
  • Bring it to the Breath. Quarantining in a cramped living space? Would your room mates or even your partner look at you askew while chanting? You can simply sit with your prayer beads. Handle each bead as you chant within your mind, or simply link each bead to an inhale, exhale or full breath cycle. 
  • No time for Prayer? One night I had wanted to show up to prayer circle but felt like I had to choose between that and going for my daily walk before sunset. Being a Gemini I chose both, of course. I Zoomed into the prayer circle and announced I would be attempting my first rosary walk. I muted myself as I became pretty breathless, following the trail next to the ocean and hiking a hilltop. As the moon rose, I was lead right to a local spot that had become, over time, a Mother Mary altar. It was right at that place we finished our loop around the rosary. You might find your own synchronicities once you try a rosary walk. I’ve already had a couple. 
  • Find your Beads. I got lucky with a friend who had recently started making beautiful rosaries. She gifted me one of her first renditions but I had ironically already purchased some prayer beads elsewhere that did not follow the 59 bead pattern. I use both – one for when I do a traditional rosary and the other for atypical chanting or breath work. Just as there is no wrong way to pray, there is no wrong rosary. The most recent rosary itself has a long history of how it got to the 59 bead standard: “Until recent centuries, the rosary was mostly a do-it-yourself affair. You strung as many beads as you wanted onto a cord and improvised your own format of praying with them” (The Way of the Rose, p. 34). If it’s doable and meaningful, make your own! If none of this is feasible, use your favorite necklace or bracelet (also handy because you wear it around).

I hope these approaches help you to begin your prayer bead journey. At the end of this tumultuous year we (the world) could use your prayers more than ever.

Blessed be. 

Cyndera Quakenbush – follow her on Instagram

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Published by Julienne Givot

Ordained Minister, Maui Wedding Officiant, Maker of Free-range Prayer Beads, Community Radio DJ, Artist. Podcaster.

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