When I was a boy growing up in Franklin, La., in the 1950s, my mom would round up five or six of us kids to go and visit our grandma and great-grandma in nearby Jeanerette.
After we kissed and hugged our grandmas – Laurice Beaullieu and her mother, Elizabeth Hebert – we’d have lunch and then head out to play in the yard. We were also known to sneak off for hide-and-seek among the tall stacks of lumber at Chaney Lumber Co., across the street from Grandma’s.
When the house was cleared of noisy children, our grandmas would settle down in their respective rocking chairs in their living room to say the rosary. We’d come inside for water or whatever, and there they were, in a meditative, trance-like state, rocking and praying, rocking and praying. They called it “saying our beads.”
Saying the rosary, of course, is not restricted to private prayer in the home. Catholics sometimes can be seen with their rosaries while driving their cars, sitting in the pews before Mass, walking around the grounds while on religious retreats and during wakes at the funeral homes.
In all likelihood, when you attend a Catholic wake in South Louisiana, you’ll hear – and maybe participate in – the reciting of the rosary. It’s a ritual that includes the praying of the Lord’s Prayer (six times), Hail Mary (53 times), Glory Be (six times) and Apostles’ Creed (once). Most of the people doing the praying are holding their rosaries, praying in unison as they finger through the beads.
This is such a common sight in South Louisiana that one might get the idea that prayer beads are exclusive to the Catholic domain.
That’s what I thought until recently.
Turns out that Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have prayer beads, too. At least, some do.
I was visiting with a small group of people one night in Lafayette, talking business, when I noticed a Muslim businessman take something from his pocket and place it on his lap. For 20 minutes or so he quit participating in the conversation and appeared only to be listening politely. His body was there, but his mind was elsewhere. Then I noticed his fingers on his prayer beads.
I asked him if he was saying the rosary. He said no, that he was reciting Muslim prayers.
I was intrigued. I had no idea that anyone outside of the Catholic culture prayed with prayer beads.
So I did a little research and learned a thing or two.
One word for prayer beads in Arabic is tasbih. The tasbih is made up of 99 beads, which represent the 99 names of God, according to the Islamic faith. (There is also a 33-bead version, which one would go through three times.) Like the Catholic rosary, there is much repetitive prayer with the tasbih: “God is the greatest” (34 times), “Praise be to God” (33 times) and “Glory be to God” (33 times).
This latter prayer seems a lot like one that is said with the rosary: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…” The obvious difference is that the non-Christian religions refer only to God the Father or Creator and don’t seem to recognize the other two entities that Christians believe are part of the triune God, also known as the Holy Trinity.
Anyway, we live and learn, don’t we?
It’s a great big world out there, with several major religions and many variations thereof. There are countless cultures and countless ways in which we and our brothers and sisters of different faiths attempt to connect with and glorify the same higher power who created us all.
It seems to me that while we members of the human family may have our differences, we also share many similarities and common aspirations. More and more, I’m coming to understand that we in North America have a lot more in common with others around the world than we may have ever realized.