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A few weeks ago I inaugurated my new Beads and Books series with Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. This book is so profound that I found myself thinking about it and rereading passages for weeks after I had finished reading it.

I shared with you some of my favorite quotes from the book, but here is my absolute favorite:

You have made me so rich, oh God, please let me share out Your beauty with open hands. My life has become an uninterrupted dialogue with You, oh God, one great dialogue. Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised toward Your heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude. At night, too, when I lie in bed and rest in You, oh God, tears of gratitude run down my face, and that is my prayer. (p. 332)

Etty wrote this in her journal from Westerbork (a transit camp), just days before she and her family were loaded onto trains and sent to Auschwitz. Surrounded by the darkest pain, the most visible signs of suffering, and the knowledge of her own impending death, Etty was able to stand in the midst and proclaim her gratitude for God’s rich beauty. She was able to do this because, as she said, her life had become “an uninterrupted dialogue” with God. Her entire life had become a prayer.

Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum

That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 17 when he wrote, “Rejoice always. Pray continually.” At the time of his letter it was illegal to be a Christian. Churches were having to meet in secret, and many followers of Christ were being persecuted. There were definite periods of darkness. To sustain their faith, Paul encourages his readers to pray without ceasing. Doing so would make their entire lives about prayer, enabling them to “rejoice always,” even – and especially – in the hardest of times.

We all face periods of darkness at various points in our lives. I know I’ve had my share. And I can’t say I spent much of that time rejoicing, primarily because my prayer life wasn’t strong. But that is changing. Little by little, day by day, I am learning to make my life about prayer. I’m taking time to pray and listen and read and express my gratitude. I’m looking for signs of God’s presence in the ordinary moments and people and experiences of my life. And I’m reading about the saints, including a Dutch Jew who, in the midst of the Holocaust, was able to proclaim God’s rich beauty.

It’s a process, one that takes time and is not always easy or perfect. But if it leads me to see God’s grace in times of pain, then I will count it time well spent. And I will thank God for Etty and her profound testimony.

Cross: God of beauty,

Invitatory Bead: you are both gracious,

Resurrection Bead: and ever-present.

First Cruciform Bead: You have made me so rich.

Week Beads, Set 1: Use each bead to consider the ways in which God has made you “rich,” and to offer thanks.

Second Cruciform Bead: I want my life to be a constant prayer.

Week Beads, Set 2: Use each bead to consider how your life can become a ceaseless prayer to God, and to ask for God’s help in this.

Third Cruciform Bead: Help me to see your presence – in every place, in every person, in every moment, to understand that you are always with me, and to offer gratitude.

Week Beads, Set 3: Use each bead to see, listen for, and feel God’s presence as your life becomes a prayer.

Fourth Cruciform Bead: Take my life of prayer and use it to proclaim your rich beauty to the world.

Week Beads, Set 4: Use each bead to pray that God will use you to testify to God’s presence in both darkness and light. 

Resurrection Bead: For it is by your Son, Jesus,

Invitatory Bead: that we come face to face with you in all your glory,

Cross: Amen

Sabbath Opportunities

This week my friend, J. Dana Trent, invited me to write a guest post for her blog. Dana is the author of Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, published by Fresh Air Books (an imprint of Upper Room Books). She and I have become friends over the last six months, meeting at various events, supporting each other, and even meeting for dinner with our husbands. Dana recently began a blog series called “Stealing Back Sabbath.” I have become very interested in learning more about Sabbath-keeping, so I was delighted to write this post for Dana. I hope you will check out Dana’s blog and follow the series!

Sabbath Opportunities

Until recently, I resisted the Sabbath. It sounds funny to say, but there it is. I spent most of my adult life avoiding rest and relaxation. I preferred to be on the move, working, cleaning house, shopping, checking Facebook and/or email, etc.

My journey towards true Sabbath began in earnest July 2012 when I entered The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation. For two years I left home every three months to head to a retreat center in Alabama. There, I joined fifty other people for five days to pray, worship, listen to lectures, meet in covenant groups, and spend several hours a day in silence. This was like Sabbath on steroids, and I fought it at every turn. (Continue reading)

Today’s post is the beginning of a new series called Beads and Books. These days I am reading so much good stuff on prayer, prayer beads, being still, etc. that I want to share with you. I’m hoping this will open up a dialogue between us as you share your favorite books as well.

The book I want to share today is Etty Hillesum’s An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. My current favorite writer, Robert Benson, referenced this book at one point and, obedient Robert Benson disciple that I am, I decided to read it. I will be forever thankful that I did. Etty’s book is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read. Ever. Definitely one of my top ten books of all time. It is absolutely stunning.

Etty was a Dutch Jew during World War II. An aspiring writer, this book is a combination of her journal (written from her apartment in Amsterdam), as well as letters she wrote from Westerbork. Westerbork was one of the transit camps where Jews were held before being sent to the extermination camps. Many editions of this book include only the journal, however, I highly recommend the edition that includes both. The journal and letters together form a complete picture of Etty’s life from 1941 to 1943, when she was killed at Auschwitz at the age of twenty-nine.

Etty’s deep faith is the most striking element of this book. As it begins, the Nazis occupy Amsterdam and for the most part, the Jews are still free to go about their daily lives. But over time you see how the Nazis take over, segregating the Jews into ghettos and loading them into trains bound for concentration camps. Throughout this, Etty’s faith in a just and loving God remains steadfast. As a result, Etty is able to:

  • pray for the German soldiers:
    • “I knew at once: I shall have to pray for this German soldier. . . we understand that German soldiers suffer as well. There are no frontiers between suffering people, and we must pray for them all (p. 156).”
  • release hate:
    • “All I really wanted to say is this: we have so much work to do on ourselves that we shouldn’t even be thinking of hating our so-called enemies (p. 211).”
  • feel safe no matter where she is or what is happening:
    • “I don’t feel in anybody’s clutches; I feel safe in God’s arms, to put it rhetorically, and no matter whether I am sitting at this beloved old desk now, or in a bare room in the Jewish district, or perhaps in a labor camp under SS guards in a month’s time – I shall always feel safe in God’s arms (p. 176).”
  • recognize that each of us has a responsibility for peace in the world:
    • “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world (p. 218).”

Etty was clearly well-respected in her community and moved in some of the influential circles. This afforded her many opportunities to hide from the Germans or leave the country. As a member of the local Jewish Council, she was able to delay going to Westerbork. But Etty declined these offers. She wanted to go to the camp.

Did you catch that? Let me say it again: Etty wanted to be sent to a concentration camp.

Can you imagine?!?

She explained this was because, “It still all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call “horror” and still be able to say: life is beautiful (p. 226).” Etty recognized the extent of the suffering in the camps. She knew people would give up hope and possibly even give up their faith in God. Etty wanted to be with these people and witness to God’s comforting presence. As she wrote, “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds (p.231).”

On the day Etty and her family members were loaded into trains bound for Auschwitz (where they would be killed), Etty wrote a quick postcard and threw it out the window. The card read, “We left the camp singing (p. 360).”

This is why I find this book so stunning. I pray that I would have even an ounce of such grace and gratitude and peace of mind in the face of unspeakable horror. Or in the face of a scary diagnosis, or the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. I pray that, surrounded by darkness, I would be able to say, “Life is beautiful. Thanks be to God.”

It is possible. Such deep faith is not just for the saints. It is available to every one of us, fed by prayer, pure and simple. It is fed by time with God, talking and questioning and listening and wailing and being quiet. It is fed by that joy we talked about the other day, recognizing God’s presence everywhere.

Whether you have prayer beads or not, I hope you will take time to pray and feed your faith. And may you be able to say with a quiet confidence, “Life is beautiful. Thanks be to God.”

Tuesday is yoga day for me. Every week I look forward to my class. I just. Can’t. Wait. For it. It has become another tool for me to listen. It helps me pay attention to God, to my body, and to the world. Plus, the meditation at the end of class is almost like a bonus nap. It feels great!

At the beginning of each class our instructor encourages us to set an intention for the class and thus, for the day. I usually focus on peace or gratitude or health, etc. Yesterday, as I was trying to decide on an intention, the word “joy” bubbled up from within me. At first I thought, “That’s a great word, but I’m not feeling especially joyful today.” It wasn’t that I was feeling sad or anything. I was feeling happy. I just wasn’t feeling joyful. When I think of joy I think JOY. You know, bursting forth and singing from the hills and fireworks and confetti. I wasn’t feeling any of that.

Then I remembered my husband’s sermon this past Sunday on Philippians 4 (thus proving I really do pay attention to what he has to say). In Philippians 4:4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again I say, rejoice!” At the time, Paul was sitting in prison. I don’t know about you, but for me, prison doesn’t bring to mind the word joy. But Paul explains that he is able to talk about joy because “The Lord is near.” In happiness and in pain, in bright light as in darkness, God is with us. And so we can be joyful. Even when we’re in prison. Or even if we’re not necessarily bursting forth with JOY.

So I set my intention on joy for the day. Did it make a difference? Absolutely. I began to recognize God’s presence everywhere. I saw God in the phone call from a friend. I saw God as I cleaned the kitchen. I saw God in my son who was overcommitted and tired from the day but still working to smile and be social at dinner. I even saw God in the news of a church member’s illness, knowing that God would be with her no matter what. And I felt joy. It was a joy that was deep, deriving from the knowledge of God’s abiding presence. No fireworks and confetti, but something even more wonderful. JOY.

The devotion below is a listening meditation. You will be seeing more of these types of prayer bead devotions because they give us a chance to quiet our minds and listen to God. Rather than saying something different with each bead, you will repeat the same phrase with every bead. In this case, the meditation is designed to help you consider the times and places where you see God’s presence and offer thanks.

My prayer for you is that you will feel joy no matter where you are and what you are going through. I pray that joy comes from the knowledge that God is always with you, offering God’s abundant and perfect love at every turn.

With each bead: God is with me. Thanks be to God.

Care to comment? What would be different for you if you chose to focus on joy for the day?

We’ve had many requests for information about our workshops and retreats, which is very exciting! Along with writing and making prayer beads, my passion lies in teaching and leading retreats.

Workshops

Certainly, my specialty is in offering prayer bead workshops. They provide an opportunity for me to talk about the history and use of prayer beads, as well as ways to use them in prayer. Participants then get a chance to make their own set of prayer beads to take with them (so fun!). I offer two versions of the workshop: the two-hour session provides enough time to cover the basics and still have time to make prayer beads. The second option is a five-hour session that makes a nice day retreat. It includes time for opening and closing worship, lunch and breaks, prayer-bead-making, and more in-depth information on the history, symbolism, and ways of using prayer beads. It also includes a fun surprise!

Retreats

I also have a DEEP love for leading retreats. I relish the opportunity to create a theme (often in partnership with the host group), design the various elements of our time together, and prepare the materials. Examples of some retreat themes include:

  • Listening to God
  • Be Still: Knowing and Loving God in the Midst of Everyday Life
  • Living Prayer: Discovering New Ways to Connect with God
  • Grace and peace: Seeing God’s Gifts in Our Daily Lives
  • Imago Dei: Living Into the Image of God Within Us
  • Creativity and the Creator God
  • The Great Commandment: Living Out God’s Intention for Us

Whether it’s a one-day, two-day, or weekend event, retreats offer an incredible opportunity to experience the richness of God’s love both individually and communally. Note: retreats CAN include a prayer bead workshop if there is interest. As one prayer tool and way of listening to God, prayer beads can be easily incorporated into a number of retreat themes.

Booking An Event

I’m sharing this in case your church or group may be interested in inviting me to lead a workshop or retreat. I would love to talk with you! At this point, I am booked for the fall and already have several events booked for early 2015, so it would be good to talk soon, even if you are planning something for late 2015.

Something else to keep in mind: the new year will begin with publication of the follow-up to my best-selling A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads. Due to be published January 2015, the new book – Another Bead, Another Prayer: Devotions to Use with Protestant Prayer Beads – is coauthored with my husband, Max. With the new book we are planning an “advanced” prayer bead workshop for those of you who want to go deeper in your understanding of how to use beads in prayer. If you are interested in this option, let us know.

If you are interested in discussing possible workshop or retreat options, feel free to email me at kevincent619 (@) gmail.com and we’ll take it from there. You may also want to check out our endorsements to see what folks have said about my work. If you need references, I’ve got those, too!

Also, below is my schedule for the next six or seven months. If you are interested in joining us for one of these events please contact me or the host organization.

Grace and peace,

Kristen

2014 Events

  • 9/5: Shepherd Center Craft Market, Atlanta, GA (prayer bead and book sales)
  • 9/10: Marietta First United Methodist Church, Marietta, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 9/11: Mountain Park United Methodist Church, Stone Mountain, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 9/13: Children’s Ministry Training, Hillside United Methodist Church, Woodstock, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 9/27: Dunwoody United Methodist Women’s Retreat, Helen, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 10/25 – 26: CHIAHA Harvest Fair, Rome, GA (prayer bead and book sales)
  • 11/1: Rome First United Methodist Church, Rome, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 11/8: Entertaining Angels Place of Prayer, Lyons, GA (prayer bead workshop)
  • 11/15: St. James United Methodist Church, Sumter, SC (prayer bead workshop)
  • 11/22 – 23: Sprayberry High School Arts & Crafts Show, Marietta, GA (prayer bead and book sales)
  • 12/13: Allen Memorial United Methodist Church Holiday Craft Market, Oxford, GA (prayer bead and book sales)

2015 Events

  • 1/11: Roswell United Methodist Church, Roswell, GA (family prayer bead workshop)
  • 2/27 – 3/1: North Georgia United Methodist Annual Conference Confirmation Retreat, Dahlonega, GA (prayer bead workshops)
  • 3/22 – Marietta United Methodist Women’s District Day Apart, Marietta, GA (prayer bead workshop)

Disclaimer: I am a Methodist girl living in Georgia, which means a whole lot of my events are with Methodists in Georgia. That doesn’t mean I can’t work with Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc. or cross state lines! In fact, so far, I’ve been to Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia! Have prayer beads, will travel!

The following is another review of my book from the Patheos Book Club. This one was written by Bruce Epperly, a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author. He posted this review on his blog, Living a Holy Adventure.

Listening for the Still, Small Voice: Reflections on Kristen Vincent’s Book A Bead and a Prayer, by Bruce Epperly

“God was not in the wind…God was not in the earthquake…God was not in the fire; and after the fire, the sound of sheer silence.” (I Kings 19:11-12)

We are people, used to noise and constant communication that often fragments and distracts rather than unites and focuses. At my local Cape Cod market, I sing along with the golden oldies, often inspiring chuckles and raised eyebrows from fellow shoppers; some even join me in song. As I sip my latte at a local coffee house, there is gentle new age music in the background. In the mall, there is the competition of songs vying for your attention as you pass each store. With the sound of the beach surrounding them, people run with ear buds and iTunes, somehow finding the morning news or cool jazz superior to the gentle ocean where they come for holiday. Sitting around the table at a local bistro, I see four twenty-somethings text to friends before, during, and after dinner, looking up occasionally to acknowledge each other.

Our lives are so noisy that we sometimes are surprised when we are confronted by sheer silence. The noise mirrors our busyness and constant inner chatter. God is everywhere – that’s the meaning of omnipresence – and God can speak through any media, including elevator music and text messages, but sometimes we need to pause to more fully and explicitly experience God’s whisper – the still, small voice – amid the sound track of our lives. As one translation of Psalm 46 counsels, we need to “pause awhile and know that I am God.” In pausing, we may hear the inner music of our lives and discover a deeper soundtrack from which we may find guidance, direction, peace, and challenge.

Kristen Vincent’s A Bead and a Prayer invites us to pray with our hands, joining intentionality with motion, letting, to paraphrase an old-school Yellow Pages commercial, our fingers do the praying. In praying with beads, we still the inner and outer fidgeting and may encounter a deeper, gentler, more pervasive rhythm moving through our lives, the breath and heartbeat of God, synching with our own breathing and beating. Read the rest of the article here.

Yesterday, I did something different. I got all of my Etsy prayer bead orders ready to ship, then dropped them off at the post office on the way to meet my son at the bus stop. So what, you say? What’s significant about that?

I fill Etsy orders several days each week. My usual tendency is to wait until about 3:30pm to begin filling them. Inevitably, I end up rushing around getting orders together, preparing them for shipping, printing out mailing labels, then making a mad dash to the post office. I generally arrive at 4:57pm, running the packages in just before the employees lock the doors. On the drive back home I try to catch my breath and decompress from the hurried state I’ve created over the past 1 1/2 hours.

Yesterday was different. Knowing that I would need to get various orders in the mail, I took time before lunch to fill them. I did the same thing I do on all the other days: preparing the orders, printing out labels, etc. But this time, I was not in a hurry. I took my time. Once the packages were ready for shipping, I set them next to my purse. When it was time to go pick up Matthew, I left a few minutes early to drop them off at the post office on my way to the bus stop. The entire time I was calm. There was peace.

I’ve known for a while there were ways for me to clear out the stress and hurry from my life. With the help of The Academy for Spiritual Formation, I’ve been working on creating peace in my life in a variety of ways. This has forced me to be honest with myself, since I am often the one who caused the hurry and stress in my life.

That’s why, as I said yesterday, I was really struck by this quote that my friend, Lana, shared in her blog this week:

If you want to have true peace in your spirit, you must ruthlessly eliminate all hurry in your life. – Dallas Willard

What I get from this is that:

  1. there are things we can do to find peace, we are not passive in this process;
  2. in this case, I think hurry and stress are synonymous;
  3. getting rid of the areas where we are generally rushed, pressed for time, stressed out, etc., is a big step on the path to peace; and
  4. we must be ruthless – we must be willing to be honest with ourselves about what’s causing us to be hurried or stressed (particularly when we ourselves are the source), as well as committed to making changes and pressing on (even when it’s hard) until we achieve balance and peace.

And so I offer this devotion as a way of helping us all find “true peace in our spirit.” May you ruthlessly eliminate all hurry from your life, and may you find peace.

Cross: God of Peace,

Invitatory Bead: Prince of Peace,

Resurrection Bead: Spirit of Peace, hear my prayer.

First Cruciform Bead: I am tired (or stressed, or weary, or whatever word you want to use).

Week Beads, Set 1: Use each bead to take a deep, long breath, allowing your body to release your stress and hurry and rest in God’s hands.

Second Cruciform Bead: I am tired (or stressed, etc.) because of these things in my life:

Week Beads, Set 2: Use each bead to identify the areas in your life where you are hurried, stressed, etc. Be honest!

Third Cruciform Bead: I vow to be ruthless in trying to eliminate the hurry in my life by:

Week Beads, Set 3: Use each bead to think of ways to eliminate hurry and stress from your life. Again, be honest!

Four Cruciform Bead: Help me, Lord. I see your Peace.

Week Beads, Set 4: Use each bead to pray for God’s guidance, wisdom, discernment, and courage, to walk this path towards Peace.

Resurrection Bead: In the name of your Son, the Prince of Peace,

Cross: Amen

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