Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
August 13th, 2010

Beads On Call

Praying the Rosary Rarely, Not Regularly



August 15 is the feast of the Assumption. According to Catholic tradition, at the end of Mary’s earthly life, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. In the spirit of the day, this article looks at a form of prayer traditionally associated with Mary.

Many people find comfort in praying a daily rosary. No matter what else changes in their lives, that circle of beads is a regular, dependable, soothing part of their normal routine.

I am not one of those people.

It’s not that I dislike the rosary. On the contrary, it’s been the catalyst for some of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my adult life. But though I’ve tried to make it part of my regular routine, somehow I can never quite keep it going. That could be a failure on my part — of imagination, or dedication, or timing — but I think it’s more likely that the rosary is, at this point in my life, simply filling a different role. It’s not my daily prayer practice, but something equally essential to spiritual health: the ritual I turn to in times of crippling fear, anxiety or grief.

In other words, it’s my twenty-four hour crisis helpline.

As a kid, I had no real sense of the soothing power of the rosary. At my Catholic school, each student got a blue rosary for our First Communion. Mine was poorly made — there were thin tags of plastic around the circumference of the beads — but I adored it. I wasn’t crazy about praying it in class, which I found boring, but I loved holding it by the crucifix and letting the beads settle slowly into my open palm. Though I didn’t pray it after graduating from eighth grade, I saved it in a shoebox at home for many years, a beloved artifact of my childhood.

It was in graduate school that I next handled a rosary. When I saw several sitting in a basket at the Newman Center, there for the taking, I snagged a bright green one. It seemed like a useful thing to have on hand, like safety pins or something. I tucked it away and didn’t think about it for a few years.

Then, on September 12, 2001, I took it out.

Something to hold on to

In the candlelit semi-darkness, with the calming repetition of Hail Marys, my breathing gradually slows, and my heart does, too. Fears and worries swirl to the surface of my consciousness, and I can skim them off and put them aside.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, I, like the rest of the country, felt utterly disoriented and helpless. Living in California, I was far from the taste of ash and the smell of smoke, but I was haunted by the TV images of flames and twisted metal. I wept at the desperate fliers posted around Ground Zero, a nightmarish quilt, each square another family’s tragedy. There was nothing I could do besides pray, but just talking to God did not soothe me. I was not sure what to say to him, or how to put my own feelings, cramped around a core of fear, into words. I needed to be taken out of myself; I needed prayers that I knew by heart and could say without fumbling. So I found a box of Kleenex, sat cross-legged on the bed, and prayed the rosary, for the first time in nearly fifteen years.

It didn’t erase the grief and the terror, but it did blunt them. It moved me out of my sense of terrible helplessness. I finally felt peaceful enough to sleep, with the feeling that I’d done something concrete to mitigate my fear.

That was the first of many experiences of the rosary as a lifeline. In the years since then, I’ve prayed it often in times of professional and personal crisis, and I’ve learned that it always helps. I believe that God hears all our prayers, even the wordless inarticulate ones, but there is something about the rosary that helps me, that takes the teeth out of my fear. In the candlelit semi-darkness, with the calming repetition of Hail Marys, my breathing gradually slows, and my heart does, too. Fears and worries swirl to the surface of my consciousness, and I can skim them off and put them aside. I love the feel of the rosary, too; I often wind the beads around my hand and pull it tight, feeling the tension. Literally and figuratively, it’s something to hold on to.

Some might call my rosary a security blanket, but it’s far more profound than that. It connects me to a strong but tensile community of other people throughout time who have also turned to their beads in moments of stark need. When I pray it I am losing myself in the best possible way, losing myself in something ancient and larger than my circumstances. And by meditating on the key events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, I’m reminded of the God who became man and the mother who loved him: two reasons I’ve never left this faith, even in moments of rebellion or doubt.

Will the rosary ever become part of my daily routine? Maybe someday it will. I’ve learned that a prayer life changes over time, and that there’s always a virtue in reevaluating what works. But for now, what works is to keep the rosary in my nightstand, mostly undisturbed but always on call. In those occasional moments when anxiety rises and threatens to overwhelm me, I head down the hall and open the drawer. Out comes the green rosary; off goes the light. In comes the peace, building slowly, bead by bead.

The Author : Ginny Kubitz Moyer
Ginny Kubitz Moyer is the author of the award-winning book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area and blogs at randomactsofmomness.com.
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  • Carolyn J. Martone

    I loved this article, Ginny, and really related to it. “Bead by Bead” is awesome; perhaps a title for your next book? You’re the best.

  • zach t

    really great article. i am a fan of praying the rosary on my fingers personally. i feel like i can always do it no if ands or buts. What i like to do is keep a little sheet of all the luminous mysteries and when to say them in my wallet so when it comes time to say the rosary i know which mysteries to meditate on. Unfortunatly, the rosary is not a part of my daily routine either. I’d say i get it in 4 days a week but i do always feel better when i do. Thanks again for the article and god bless.

  • Mike Piety

    That is crazy. I stumbled across your blog looking for the Gospel from the Assumption Mass.The Rosary caught my eye, so I read on. I loved the 24 hour help-line analogy. I feel the same way. I do not “pray” the Rosary nearly as often as I should, but the last time I truly prayed it, my prayers were answered and it changed my life. I don’t want to ever take that power for granted.
    I enjoyed reading your column.

    Peace, Mike

  • Dianna

    @Joe — there are wonderful apps for the rosary on the iPhone! My favorite is the one from the Pauline Sisters.

  • joe

    that’s funny, anne. i too sometimes clutch my rosary as i sleep at night and it brings great comfort and peace.

    every morning on the way to work, i try to pray the rosary on the subway, quietly to myself. still too shy to bring with me or pull out any beads, i count the prayers on my fingers and after 10-15 minutes if i’ve finished all five mysteries of the day before work, i feel a great accomplishment, and my day begins really great.

    unfortunately, lately my new iphone has been distracting me. :(

    thanks for this piece, ginny.

  • anne

    Wonderful story! I keep my rosary in bed with me at night, rarely pray it then, but am greatly comforted by its presence!

  • Helen

    So beautifully written and heart warming/tugging all the same. Thanks for sharing!

  • katie

    ditto, Ginny! and sometimes, I’ve turned to the rosary to pray for someone else’s needs when I really don’t even know what to pray for… (my beads are pink and heart shaped and live in my bedside table and I got it at the Univ. of Notre Dame -which I thought was appropriate.)

  • Kathy Sanford

    This is TRULY a beautiful article! Thanks, Ginny!!

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