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Scripps Howard News Service
Kathryn Smith creates necklaces with prayer beads from different religions.

For many, beads aid in prayer

Scripps Howard News Service
Kathryn Smith collects prayer-bead necklaces from many different faiths.

Gloria Renaldo keeps a long strand of brown beads in her pants pocket.

Affixed to the bottom of the loop is a cross. This is not a cross she wears, but rather a rosary that she keeps with her to help in her prayers.

She pulls out her rosary, lays it on the table and explains the purpose of the five segments of 10 beads.

“When you pray the rosary, you should be concentrating on the life of Christ,” Renaldo said.

“As you hold the beads, you can be thinking about how difficult it was for Mary and how elated she was that a baby was coming. You are picturing what it would have been like if you were there.”

Such is the purpose of rosaries or other kinds of prayer beads: to focus one’s life on prayer.

More than two-thirds of the world’s people employ prayer beads as part of their religious practices, according to the University of Missouri’s Museum of Anthropology. Most of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism – use prayer beads. Judaism is the one major religion that does not have a tradition of using beads to help recite prayers.

The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated with Hindu religious practices in India, possibly around the eighth century, according to the museum’s website.

The oldest Christian rosary has 150 beads, representing the 150 psalms, and is still used by the Benedictine monks. The word “bead” is derived from the Middle English word “bede,” which means “prayer,” said Kathryn Smith, a columnist for the Independent Mail in Anderson, S.C., who has been collecting prayer beads from different religions since 2007.

She has a place in her home where the beads are displayed.

“I had never seen a lot of prayer beads,” Smith said. “Then I went to Turkey, and they were everywhere. It was a real big part of their worship services.”

Since her return from Turkey, Smith has collected prayer beads.

In some cases, she will take individual prayer beads from different faiths and string them into a necklace that she calls “Neighbor Bedes.”

Her “Neighbor Bedes” are sold to raise money to help Rotary International eradicate polio across the globe.

For some, using the beads, and making the prayer chains, bracelets or rosaries, is all a form of devotion to God, and a way of reaching out to one’s neighbor.

Terri Brooks, who lives in Pendleton, S.C., makes rosaries as an extension of her own faith, and as a hobby she loves. She makes necklaces and other jewelry. Being a Catholic, making the rosaries seemed a natural fit.

It also was a way to focus her mind while she would sit with her mother, Connie Earl, as she went through chemotherapy treatments for the cancer that was invading her body.

Many of the rosaries she made were for the girls in her church, as a present upon their taking of communion for the first time.

“It was very rhythmic,” Brooks said. “And each one I made had prayers going with it. I would pray over it as I made it.”