Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads

3 Comments

Rosary white plastic with hands

An authentic, white plastic First Communion rosary, circa 1962.

I found God at the end of a rosary,

a little, white, plastic rosary. This little rosary came with a little, white chapel veil, a little, white missal, all tucked into a little, white, patent leather pocketbook.

Tres chic, I wore it over the shoulder of my little, white, organza dress with the satin sash. My hair was curled and tastefully pulled back under my little, white, lace veil. And for the final touch of piety, I wove the little, white, plastic rosary around my fingers.

My First Communion extraordinaire.

Blessed with a second grader’s growth spurt, I was paired with Jimmy Simkewiez. Blonde hair, blue eyes, dimpled cheeks, his Ivory Soap, squeaky clean aura made me weak in the knees.

Together we went forth to receive the holy mysteries. We knelt and simultaneously stuck out our tongues. The priest placed the paper-thin wafers in our mouths – so sacred we were not permitted to touch.

My sweet Lord. My sweet Lord. My sweet Lord.

As the beads of the rosary slipped through my fingers, I discerned God, in the body of my seven year-old partner, so sacred and so holy, I was not allowed to touch.

And henceforth, at every first Friday Mass, at Holy Family School, preparing to receive the holy sacrament, we would make regular rounds of our rosaries.

One “Apostles’ Creed”. Ten “Our Father’s”. Fifty “Hail Mary’s”. Ten “Glory be’s” – and we were good to go!

Shoulder to shoulder, kneeling on vinyl covered kneelers, packed into the pews, I prayed and prayed – mostly unsuccessfully – to once again – discern the body of my God. But Jimmy Simkewiez, preoccupied with baseball, paid me no attention. It was not to be.

So my rounds of the rosary became nothing more than routine, the religious duty of a second grader – possibly keeping me out of endless and pointless years in purgatory. So I prayed those rounds — just in case.

And then came Friday, November 22, 1963. The third Friday and not the first, that fateful Friday, the good sisters hauled all eight grades into church.

“ Take out your rosaries, children. Our president has been shot and is in grave danger. Let us pray, fervently that his life be saved and that our country be delivered from tragedy.”

You have to remember, that this was the time of bomb shelters, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missle Crisis. We each had a cardboard shoebox, a “survival kit”, packed with Spam, fruit cocktail, Hi-C and a can opener, stored in the school basement. We all had practiced “duck and cover” under our desks.

Only eight years old, I was certain that the world was coming to an end. And not knowing really what “fervent” meant, terrified, I prayed my rosary at the top of my lungs. OUR FATHER! HAIL MARY! GLORY BE! O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, can you hear us? Please, please, please, hear us and deliver us.

That little, white, plastic rosary was my lifeline, tethering me to my only hope – a God I feared but did not know. The God, I hoped to God, who would save us.

Somewhere along the way of my Catholic school career – I put my rosary away. Or I misplaced it or I lost it. In any event I pretty much forgot it. Simultaneously, I pretty much forgot about God and was pretty sure also that God had forgotten about me too.

My rosary was relegated to history — buried deep in a drawer somewhere. My rosary seemed forever lost — until — insomnia resurrected my childhood ritual.

You don’t need a rosary to pray the rosary.

Those beads are imprinted on my brain and those prayers are embroidered forever into my memory. So instead of counting sheep, I started making the rounds of my rosary on my fingertips. Saying and not actually praying my childhood prayers, I would rattle just enough finger beads to lull me into sleep.

Until — I realized I was not alone. And Joani, who believed in nothing, started experiencing something or maybe even someone — of who or of what — I knew not a thing. All I knew is that this rosary connected me – concretely and deeply with some thing or someone cosmic. Crazy as it seemed at the time, the rosary grounded me in something or someone – most holy.

And on one terrible, terrible, indeed the most terrible day in the life of my family – the day my brother’s young wife and little boy – were killed in a car accident, reciting the rosary in my head, was all that kept my psyche from flying apart. Reciting the rosary in my head was the only thing that kept me tethered to the ground. Reciting the rosary grounded me — be it fleetingly – to the ground of my being.

Many, many years later, while in the ordination process, the rosary once again was my answer to prayer.

Going through rounds of interviews with the Commission on Ministry, one particularly annoying interrogator  relentlessly kept pressing me:

“Tell me about your prayer life.”

“Well, I use a rosary.” I told her.

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Well, it starts out as rote, but then the rhythm clicks in, and then the silent words of the prayers become like a mantra.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“They are the same words, I learned as a child, recited like nursery rhymes really, but much, much deeper, so much deeper.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Holding onto the rosary is like tapping into something sacred. It tethers me to all that is holy: a deep well, an aching abyss, an emptiness that isn’t empty.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, Glory be’s – I clutch the beads and I feel connected, contemplative, calm – not to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost per se – but to mystery, Mysterium Tremendum – for which there are no words.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

(By this time, I am having not so holy thoughts, and am ready to strangle this interrogator. Where is that rosary?)

“Well, I keep one by my bedside, an Anglican one. I carry one in my pocket or sometimes I wear a very little one-decade Catholic one wound round my wrist. It’s tactile, it’s electric, it’s kinetic, an immediate and direct connection.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“It’s literally connective tissue, connecting me to the Body of my God – Jesus, you might say.”

And at the name of Jesus, miraculously, at last she seemed satisfied. Either that or we simply ran out of time.

When I was ordained, my friend, Nancy, gave me a present: a rosary with weathered glass beads and a tiny crucifix. Repaired with picture wire, it was obviously beloved, old and worn. It had belonged to her aunt, whom she loved, and it was blessed with a lifetime of prayer, a lifetime of sleepless nights, a lifetime of Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory be’s.

There is no better present that I could have received, this little lifeline to the Body of my God, this little lifeline to the Body of Her world, this little lifeline to the Body of Her Son, this little lifeline to the Bodies of all whom I love.

I found God at the end of a rosary.

How about you?

JoaniSign

 

Author: celticjlp

Episcopal priest, 22 years. 12 years, balanced and bipolar. "Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity" at Emmanuel on High, Alexandria, VA. Bibliomaniac desk jockey at Library of Congress. Washington DC born and bred. Half marathoner and avid pedestrian. Friend to many and mother of three. Blogger, Storyteller & Mental Health Evangelist.

3 thoughts on “Grounding Rounds & Rattling Beads

  1. Pingback: It’s a 61-derful Life! | Unorthodox and Unhinged

  2. Joani

    This post, in particular, is spectacular. I’d like to think that it could, itself, become a rosary of sorts for some of its readers.

    Deep Peace

    David

    Like

    • David, right now I am riding metro back from DC and praying my wrist rosary with my eyes wide open! Thank you for your kind words. This particular story might become the basis of another Speakeasy show (I have yet to pitch to Amy Saidman, so this is highly speculative!) – Unorthodox: True Stories about Finding and/or Losing Your Religion – from voices from many or no tradition at all.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s