Bead by bead
I’ve always been intrigued by the bluntly titled Catholic Store on Broadway, but being neither a Catholic nor in need of purchasing one, I haven’t had a legitimate reason to visit. Until last week, that is, when I found myself in the market for a rosary.
I’d recently seen a flyer advertising Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s bimonthly recital of the Aquarian Rosary, which described the prayer practice as “a mystical, esoteric version of the traditional rosary that embraces the divine feminine aspect of God.” I was intrigued, but I didn’t know a Hail Mary from hailing a cab, so it didn’t occur to me until the last minute that the event probably was BYOR. I scanned my jewelry for a necklace that could pass for prayer beads, but found nothing resembling the rosary’s specific structure: 50 beads in groups of 10 with one large bead between each group. Thus, the Catholic Store.
Though a rosary is a spiritual instrument, I couldn’t shake the material conviction that mine must be pretty. The $4 models near the register with plastic beads on nylon cord were not cutting it. I craved vibrant orbs strung on a delicate silver chain, punctuated by an engraving of the Virgin Mary looking infinitely patient. Alas, such models tended to be made of real gemstones and cost more than $100.
Then there was the whole crucified Jesus thing. I wanted to explore the “divine feminine aspect of God,” but did I have to wear a tiny corpse around my neck? All of the rosaries at the Catholic Store featured Christ nailed to the cross, his miniscule plastic features contorted in agony. I wanted a rosary that depicted Jesus manifesting wine or showing off his sandals or hugging a friend, but I thought this might be blasphemy. I left without buying anything.
To bolster my flagging self-confidence, I roped a Catholic friend into attending the Aquarian Rosary. I hoped his ability to recite Our Fathers on command would give me some church cred. He was kind enough to lend me one of his rosaries, and the irregularly shaped wooden beads soothed my nervous fingers as we walked to the cathedral.
Inside, calm prevailed. We gathered with Rev. Marilyn Buehler and a group of five worshippers in wooden pews in a small corner of the monumental cathedral. Stained-glass saints watched over us by candlelight and the subtle fragrance from a bowl of lilies enlivened the still air.
My friend and I being obvious newcomers, Buehler welcomed us and explained that she is a recently ordained minister, not at Trinity, but at the Sancta Sophia Seminary in Oklahoma. Trinity’s Episcopal practice being famously inclusive, the church has allowed her to lead the rosary there for more than a year.
Buehler handed us a pink paperback book, The Aquarian Rosary: Reviving the Art of Mantra Yoga by Rev. Carol E. Parrish-Harra, Ph.D., and offered to lend us some beads. Like dutiful schoolchildren, we quickly held up the ones we’d brought, and she smiled at us over her glasses and settled into her chair.
Buehler explained that repeating the prayers of the rosary “kicks you out of the rational mind into intuition,” and then directed us to a chapter called “The Glorious Mysteries.” She read the bold text, and we chanted everything printed in regular type, moving our hands along the beads with each prayer.
We followed the same format as a traditional rosary, but the text had been rewritten. There was no mention of sin and much invoking of light. I tried sinking into meditation, but the wrangling of book and beads was a lot to pay attention to. Only at the Hail Marys, which were said 50 times, could I stop reading and close my eyes. “Hail Mary, Mother of Gods, nourish us with wisdom and inspire us with the experience of life and death. Amen.”
These words have looped in my mind during quiet moments ever since, forming a soothing refrain. If they continue, I’ll have to give the Aquarian Rosary another try—assuming I can find the right beads.