The Rosary has seduced me plain and simple. How ever did we let it go? I suppose like many things we left it behind in what we thought was our emerging adulthood, beads being things for children and those who can’t count. At least that might be the case for Catholics here in the Western world. In Canada, the ‘lapsed Catholic group’ seems to be out distancing the devoted. As for us Protestants, well, I for one, have spent my life in blind ignorance to this magnificent spiritual practice.
Where I grew up, back in the fifties and sixties, Catholics was viewed as mildly pagan. This was before John F. Kennedy entered the White House. I was in grade five at the time of Kennedy’s election. When we had our mock class debates – I had to represent John Cabot, very sad – there were those in the class who stated that a Catholic couldn't be President because he might be influenced by the Pope. It was stated loud and clear that a Catholic President was a bad idea all around. We all nodded in silent agreement, our only understanding of the Pope being that he wore a large hat. The one Catholic boy in the class – he with the pointy ears and keen intellect – burst into tears and fled the classroom. We had no idea what the trouble was. When he returned to school the morning after the election in a state of jubilance, we were equally perplexed, wondering how a Catholic President was even possible, let alone something to celebrate.
I am hoping that all these years later we are in a place in the Protestant world where we are open to receive all manner of worthy spiritual practices, not only from Catholics, but from all faith traditions. And equally, that we are happy to open up the vault in the dungeon of our own tradition where we have been hiding away other spiritual goodies. And certainly the use of the Rosary, in both its original form, and the many Protestant mutations that have recently emerged from it, would be one of the choice selections.
What I have noted in the long and winding road of my spiritual awareness is that I need to walk things out to really understand them. It is a paradox, but in order to sink into the fullness of being, I must do spiritual practices in order that I can be, as opposed to just do. Having sunk deeply into the world of the Rosary for the last three weeks, only now am I beginning to glimpse its fullness. Just reading about something in the spiritual world is a little like running your finger along the top of a cake. It will give you a general idea of the shape of things, but really, you have to cut the cake and eat it and share it with others to really understand the confection.
Having eaten the delicious cake of the Rosary – and shared it with my newly beguiled husband – hoping it is not forbidden fruit - I must say, it is simply beautiful. What is it about this lovely prayer? “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” If you pray the Hail Mary over and over and over, as is done in the Rosary, it becomes like a soft piece of doeskin tucked around your neck. The warmth of its tenderness is far from the sterile versions of the Marys of the Venetian incarnation, complete with royal blue robes, upper crust breeding, and iridescent gold halos. I never cared much for that version of our sweet Mary, but good heavens she is everywhere in painted and icon form. But the woman who emerges from the repetitive Hail Mary, is a woman of substance and grace, a woman who will allow you to lay your head upon her breast without fear of reprisal, or diminishment. She is all grace, and as such, a fountain of generosity. Not only is she blessed among women, but she lays that mantle of blessings on all those who spend time in her company.
And too, there are the endless Protestant versions of the original Rosary currently swarming the Internet chat rooms and blogs with seemingly no end of promise. Is it just my skewed view, having lived in the land of rosaries these last weeks, or is there renewed interest in the ancient art of praying while counting beads? Something is afoot. I’m noticing rosary tattoos on young girls' shoulders. When we notice rosary beads casually wrapped around a man's wrist while he shows off a pair of jeans in a GAP ad, we will know this ancient spiritual practice has gone mainstream. I think it is only a matter of time.
Perhaps we are all in need of a soft doeskin wrap tucked around our shoulders. And it is certain that we are much in need of an outpouring of grace.
May it be so.