Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Column: Draw my circle just

The story behind the first gift of the rosary appeared here; these days the prayers are bound to my wrist in the Orthodox fashion. Truly always to hand.

And I really did have a hard time leaving the chapel at Wernersville on my last visit - the stillness and silence were so profound that I wanted to sit there forever. St. Ignatius' advice to neither lengthen nor shorten your previously decided upon time of prayer was what got me to stand, bow and leave!

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 3 March 2011.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

I opened the note on my desk and turquoise beads spilled out into my hand. The rosary that I had given to a friend to comfort her sister, is once again made a gift, this time to me. I ran the beads through my fingers and the words rose unbidden, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” I prayed for the repose of Peg’s soul and the consolation of her family — and for my own consolation.

There is something profoundly comforting about linking my prayers to these familiar strands, to feeling their weight in my hands. Counting them on my fingers, ticking them off on my iPod, tallying them mentally, all come up short in comparison.

Moving from one bead to the next takes time, it automatically slows the pace of my prayer. Like the meters on the Blue Route ramps, the individual beads keep one prayer from crowding up against the next. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI encourages us to pray the rosary slowly, “By its nature the recitation of the rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life....”

Unlike my iPod or my fingers, which I use for so many different tasks, the rosary is a sacred object, something I use only for prayer. To handle it then is to enter into a distinctly sacred space, one so small it fits into my pocket — and at the same time so vast that the entire universe cannot contain it.

Body, mind, and spirit are not disconnected. The desert fathers knew this well and recommended that prayers be accompanied by metania — prostrations. A monk might prostrate himself fully, or he might bow and brush the floor with his hand. Such gestures, large or small, are impractical in many times and places, and so the sliding of the beads through the hands has come to take their place. Each prayer, each bead is an opportunity to practice a small metania, that I might experience in my soul metanoia, conversion.

Poet John Donne wrote, “Thy firmnesse drawes my circle just and makes me end where I begunne” The prayers kept on the rosary’s circle are the first devotion I can remember, the beads tucked into my mother’s purse and pooled on her dresser kept the sense of God at a constant simmer. Now when I’m too tired to think about what or how to pray, the habits of my hands can draw my circle just, bringing my prayer life back to where it began.

Late one night last week, I sat in a chapel so silent, so still that the very air seemed to have ceased to move. A part of me wanted to stay, wrapped in that profound stillness, held by God. I left, longing in my heart for such a place nearer to hand.

Back home, when I found the rosary on my desk, I realized that I had access to such a chapel, one was always to hand. That stillness, that center is held firmly within the circle of beads in my pocket. The Lord is with me.

God of mercy, give us strength. May we who honor the memory of the mother of God rise above our sins and failing with the help of her prayers. — from Closing Prayer from the Common of the Blessed Virgin

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