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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.”

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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!

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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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One of the best things about The Academy for Spiritual Formation is that you develop deep, abiding friendships with some great folks. One of my dearest friends is a woman who was in my Academy covenant group. The thing about Lana Johnson that you would notice right away – were you to meet her – is that she has a priceless smile and a GREAT love of God. She exudes the grace and peace of Christ. Lana is on staff at Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama; a wife; a mom of two cute kids; a basketball coach; and probably lots of other things, too. She is exceedingly creative and during our journey together I’ve had the privilege of watching her develop some of the most innovative spiritual formation programs and activities for her church. 

Lana also has a blog, which I follow, called My Savior Speaks. Three days ago she posted something that has stayed with me. She talked about how she had found a new sense of peace over the summer! Her secret? She stopped being in a hurry. That caught my attention right away! Most of my days include some portion of running amok trying to stay ahead of my various responsibilities and schedule. I would love to live a less-hurried life.

Lana wrote that she had reached this state of peace after reading the following statement by Dallas Willard, author of various books including Living in Christ’s Presence. Dallas wrote: 

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

Gets your attention doesn’t it? It sure got mine! I invite you to read Lana’s thoughts on it to see what difference it made in her life. Tomorrow I will offer a prayer bead devotion based on this idea of finding peace in a less-hurried life.

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Just for fun I decided to start offering a monthly freebie. Each month I’ll issue a call for something different: photos of prayer beads, a new prayer bead devotion, your stories, etc. I want to have more opportunities to interact with y’all! Those who participate will be entered into a drawing for the monthly prize, which will be something related to prayer or prayer beads.

To kick things off I wanted to give a shout out to the great state of North Dakota! What do I know about North Dakota? Not much. But between its tourism website and Wikipedia I learned that:

  • North Dakota is the 39th state in our union, though that seems to be up for debate. Apparently, North and South Dakota were welcomed into statehood at the same time, however, President Harrison could only sign one proclamation at a time. To avoid any appearance of favoritism, he asked his Secretary of State to shuffle the proclamations then randomly hand one to him to sign. It is not known which proclamation was signed first, but because of the alphabet North Dakota ended up being listed first, so it was labeled the 39th state. Obviously, South Dakota is the 40th.
  • The word “Dakota” derives from a Sioux word for “allies” or “friends.”
  • North Dakota is a gorgeous state featuring both mountains and plains. I have always wanted to visit the Badlands.
  • North Dakota grows more sunflowers (one of my favorites!) than any other state.
  • Their state dance is square dance and the state beverage is milk.
  • North Dakota has the most churches per capita of any state, as well as the highest percentage of church-going population in any state.

Why the shout out?

Following the tidal wave of response to our Prayer Workshop on prayer beads in The Upper Room devotional January/February 2013, we experienced a surge in orders for prayer beads. Just for fun, I began tracking where the orders were coming from. There were many from other countries such as Ireland, Finland, Australia, and Germany. But of course, the majority came from the United States, where I’m based. And guess what? We received orders for prayer beads from EVERY state except one. Can you guess which one?!?

No prayer beads in North Dakota?!?

So here’s a shout out to North Dakota: we’d love to send prayer beads your way! If you know someone in the Roughrider State, please invite them to visit our Etsy shop. If they purchase something, we will send them AND you the official, limited edition set of the A Bead and a Prayer Bead & Book Gift Set. The Upper Room made only 500 of these sets, which include both a copy of my book and a prayer bead  chaplet. And I have the last two sets! They will go to the people responsible for the first order from North Dakota.

For this to work, please ask your North Dakotan friend or family member to place your name and email address in the comment section at checkout. I will then follow up with you to get your shipping information. That way, you will both receive your sets!

Grace and peace to our North Dakota friends, and to all of you. Kristen

 

The North Dakota Challenge Prize

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Today I am featuring another Patheos blogger’s review of my book. This one is written by Elizabeth Nordquist of “A Musing Amma” blog. Elizabeth is a pastor, teacher, and spiritual director. Her writing style is quite beautiful.

Prayer for the Senses, A Book Review of A Bead and a Prayer by Kristen Vincent, by Elizabeth Nordquist

I sit with people in a practice we call spiritual direction, in which a central question is “How can I pray?” I am by character a “Word” person, one who responds well to spoken liturgy, to written prayers, and to words that come from within my own heart ad mind. However, I sit with many people for whom words are not a primary mode in which they communicate; they are more sensate, more activity driven, more aware of touch and sight, texture and color. For these seekers and other friends, I am always glad to be able to discover a resource that carefully and thoughtfully delineates a sensory prayer practice. Kristin Vincent has given us such a resource.

Her winsome story of being called to the ministry of Protestant prayer beads is a compelling one, as she both senses her own need and deliberately researches the history of the prayer practice. Read the rest here.

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I don’t care if you use prayer beads.

I know that seems strange to say. After all, I’m the woman who is passionate about them. I’ve collected them for almost 25 years. I’ve built a living out of writing and teaching and speaking about prayer beads. I love praying with them and think they make a great prayer tool. I also think an afternoon at the craft table designing new sets is exceedingly well-spent.

Still, I don’t care if you use them. Here’s why:

It’s none of my business how you pray.

Whether you use prayer beads or not; whether you stand or sit or kneel; whether you pray out loud or silently, in a group or by yourself, using Scripture or a daily devotional or your own words; whether you look at icons, hold onto a cross, or walk through the woods; whether you are one-and-done or like to repeat your prayers, it does not matter. It is all prayer. And it is not any of my business. Prayer is about you and your relationship with God. It has nothing to do with me.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way. Many of my fellow Christians think that how anyone prays is indeed their/our business. They would even go so far as to judge how a person prays, declaring certain practices as wrong or un-Christian. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt; I’m sure they think they are being helpful, believing as they do that there is a right way and a wrong way to God. But I think they are doing a lot of harm.

The Worship Banner at SOULfeast, 2010

The Worship Banner at SOULfeast, 2010

In his timely blog post, “The Uniqueness of the Sin of Religious Judgmentalism (the Original Sin),” Benjamin Corey writes about Greg Boyd’s book Repenting of Religion. Boyd’s premise is that the original sin was the desire to judge as God judges (hence, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). As Corey explains, the problem with judging is that we can never operate “with the same quantity of facts that God operates with, and therefore have no business trying to do his job for him. When we do, we simply make more of a mess of everything – becoming people who close doors instead of people who build bridges.”

He’s so right. We have no idea what’s going on with a person at a given time in space. We don’t know all the experiences, thoughts, issues, needs, and motivations she/he is dealing with. We don’t know what her/his soul needs or what their authentic imago dei is seeking. That’s true of people we hardly know as well as those we know deeply. Only God knows that person at the authentic level. Who are we to judge whether how a person prays is “right” or not?

So how you pray is none of my business. Nor is it the real issue. In the end, the real issue – and the bigger reason I don’t care whether you use prayer beads – is this:

What matters most is whether you are able to connect with God in a meaningful way.

Prayer is relationship with God. It is your time to talk with God, share with God, be with God, listen to God. It is your time to praise and thank God or weep and gripe to (or even about) God. It is your time to learn who God is and who you are in relationship to God. It is your time to see God’s image within you. Prayer is a place where you will find God’s deep, steadfast, all-encompassing, unconditional love for you.

Possibly, that hasn’t been your experience. Your prayer life may seem unfulfilling, dull, rote. You may not even have much of a prayer life at all. I totally get it. As I’ve said before, I spent much of my life feeling uncomfortable with prayer, avoiding it as much as possible. Hopefully, you will reach a point and a place where you will find your own prayer rhythm and opportunities for communion with the Divine.

In the meantime, “pray as you can, not as you can’t,” as Dom John Chapman wrote. If that means using prayer beads, great. If it doesn’t, great. Either way, I will pray that you experience a meaningful, fulfilling, and deeply loving connection with God.

Because that’s what I care about.

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