Listening for the Still, Small Voice: Reflections on Kristen Vincent’s book “A Bead and a Prayer”

“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.

Like air, God is ubiquitous. But, like air, God’s presence is mostly unnoticed. Though some identify God with drama – the storm, fire, and earthquake – and sometimes God-moments do shake us up, most God-moments are subtle, barely noticed, and like a whisper in a crowd, ever-present and awaiting our notice. We need to stop long enough – pause intentionally – to let our body and mind slow down, and let the inner chatter subside, so that we can rediscover our constant connection with the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

The use of prayer beads, as Kristen Vincent notes, is one pathway to focusing on the One who gently moves through all things. God’s voice comes to us in all voices but in focusing prayerfully the chattering cacophony becomes a symphony of praise. The use of prayer beads, like the use of a mantra or the prayer words of Centering Prayer, opens us to a peace that calms our soul and our cells. It is not a passive calm, but an active opening that joins movement and rest, and action and contemplation. It activates, to use the language of physician and medical researcher Herbert Benson, the placebo effect and the relaxation response, the power of a ritual or word to create positive well-being and to counteract the anxious, fight or flight response.

While I only occasionally use prayer beads in my personal devotions, I find them most helpful for intercessory prayer, the prayers we make for the world and specific individuals or situations. Touching each bead can focus us on a particular situation in need of healing. Taking a moment for gentle focus, we can consider the events of this week’s news: the civil war in Iraq, the conflict in Israel and Gaza, the Syrian civil war, the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, the health concerns of veterans, refugee children on the borderlands of the USA, and our own particular prayer concerns. With beads, like spoken intercessory prayer, we find connection and discover that there is no “other,” we are all connected like beads on a string. That is the essence of prayer – connection, interdependence, and unity with God, creation, other humans and loved ones, and the holiness of our lives in this precious moment of time.

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