The last time I went to Mexico, I bought a rosary in a little shop on the corner across from the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Salúd, in Patzcuaro, Michoacan. I am not Catholic, but for some reason, the idea of owning prayer beads has always appealed to me. I think it is the idea of organizing one’s prayers in this metered way that called my attention. The knowing when one is done. When I bought my rosary I was traveling with my mother, who has always considered a mixed marriage to be one between a Catholic and a Protestant. I wasn’t sure how to explain this purchase, sure it would seem particularly Catholic to her (not that she would care at this point in her life – both my sister and I married Catholics and she had no problem with either marriage, although in retrospect perhaps she should have protested just a little), so I didn’t. I just stopped in and bought it and slipped it my bag. I don’t think she even noticed, to tell the truth.
When I got home from Mexico, I hung the rosary over a lampshade next to my bed. One night, about 3:00 A.M., when sleep was evading me, I decided to pray. As I reached for the rosary I was stunned to notice it glowing in the dark. Each little brownish bead has a stripe of a creamy white around it, and it is this white part that glows. Since childhood I have loved all things luminous, so the glow definitely adds a little bit of magic to an already intriguing artifact.
A rosary is divided in groupings of beads. Each group has ten beads, and is divided by a separator bead. As I began to pray, I decided that I would alternate prayers of thanks with prayers in which I asked for something. It seemed rude to just ask for things without ever saying thank you for what I already have, so each group would be organized in an alternating type of prayer, but the divider beads would be dedicated to gratitude, thus ensuring more thanking than asking. I prayed thanks first, thinking of anything I could to be thankful for– it wasn’t too hard to come up with nine things at a time and when I ran out of ideas I just repeated myself. Next, I said one big general thank you on the separator bead, then went on to a group of prayers in which I asked for outcomes. I asked that I be helped to lose weight, that one of my students who had a mysterious illness would regain her health and that I wouldn’t run out of money before the end of the month again. I prayed for my children’s health and prosperity, world peace and then came around to the weight loss prayer again. By the time I got to the end of the rosary, I was calm, relaxed and ready to sleep.
I have found unexpected solace in those deep night prayers. Since that night, I have often repeated this pattern of prayer, using the rosary as an organizer. Now all I have to do is hold it in my hand and I fall asleep within minutes, feeling safe and relaxed. It is as though just touching the beads activates the prayer, and I no longer have to say anything at all.