An Animal Rosary

An Animal Rosary


A new way to pray that combines an ancient tool and a modern perspective.

“That's the most sacrilegious thing I’ve ever heard you say, Sarah. Seriously, rethink that,” said my husband. I had called him from the parking lot of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. However, I had oh-so-snarkily referred to it as The Church of Mary Who Got Knocked Up by God. Admittedly, this was pre-seminary, during my über-rebellious days while I was still running from anything related to my birth religion.

Growing up Protestant, I had never understood the Mary thing. While there were Bible characters I did gravitate towards—notably Noah and his floating animal hotel—I just couldn’t connect to those in intercessory roles. Why did there need to be someone in the middle of my connection with God? Why a middleman? Or middlewoman in this case?

Yet, soon the Marys in the basilica’s many small side chapels won me over. I realized each was a much-needed feminine expression that had evolved in masculine-dominated religious spaces. Our Mother of Africa. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Brezje. Our Lady of Lebanon. Then Mother of Sorrows. Mother of Perpetual Help. Finally, I landed at Our Lady of the Rosary.

As I rested and rehydrated in this chapel, my eyes were drawn to the words of the ceiling mosaic: Hail Mary, Full of Grace. Simultaneously, I noticed the Buddhist prayer beads adorning my wrist. Unwrapping them, I started to pray with this lady whose name I had known for decades but who had been little more to me than a figure in our Christmas creche set.

I leaned back into the pew, speaking words so many have repeated throughout history: “Blessed are thou amongst women.” And from somewhere deep inside I heard, “And so are you Sarah. Blessed are you amongst women. Even if you fight it.” In that moment, all my intellectual arguments melted away. A deep peace entered my body and I thought, “This must be what full of grace feels like.” Leaving the basilica, I bowed my head, slightly embarrassed, and uttered into the sacred space, “I’m sorry I called you ‘Mary who got knocked up by God.’ I get it now.”

Although the rosary practice didn’t stick at that time, I recently started the practice again after being gifted a copy of Clark Strand and Perdita Finn’s book The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary. The authors suggest praying the rosary is not a fixed, unchangeable practice, but rather one that can be customized. For example, us spiritually mixed folks can add the Buddhist Heart Sutra to the beginning or a Kali Ma at the end. Strand and Finn implore, “The rosary encourages a diversity of self-expression. People make the beads their own. ... We don’t have to overthink it. And we certainly don’t have to worry. This isn’t religion, it’s permaculture. The rosary is a garden of the soul.”

And so, taking their garden metaphor literally, the sacred leafed, flowered, furry, feathered, and finned have become part of my rosary practice. Somehow, I feel like Mary would be okay with that. After all, didn’t she have her precious babe in a stable?

And so, taking their garden metaphor literally, the sacred leafed, flowered, furry, feathered, and finned have become part of my rosary practice. Somehow, I feel like Mary would be okay with that. After all, didn’t she have her precious babe in a stable?

Here’s how to pray an animal rosary:

1. Choose any beaded string necklace or set of prayer beads. (Most religions use a specific number of beads, in groupings, with each representing a specific set of words, but for our purposes just pick any circle of beads that calls to you, like those family pearls inherited from grandma or those Mardi Gras beads that could use some classing up.)

2. Find a place where you can sit comfortably for 15 minutes or so.

3. Settle in and take a few deep breaths.

4. With your thumb and index finger, hold the bead closest to the necklace clasp.

5. Bring your awareness to how the bead feels. Breathe.

6. “String” the statements below together to create your prayer, one line for each bead, as you move your fingers along the strand.

Hail, sacred sustainer of life, may my presence be a blessing to all creatures.

Blessed furriness walking on four legs, may you be sustained and flourish.

Blessed feathered of the skies, may you be sustained and flourish.

Blessed finned beings of the waters, may you be sustained and flourish.

Blessed leafed ones rooted in the earth, may you be sustained and flourish.

7. Continue for each bead along the full circle, repeating the phrases from above or creating your own to include other beings who are meaningful to you. (Blessed bears getting ready for winter ... Blessed homeless pets looking for home ...)

8. When you arrive at the final bead—which brings you back to the clasp—end your rosary practice with this creative take on the traditional “Glory Be.”

Glory be to the forests, and to the deserts, and to the holy seas. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, may I live in connection to the sacred circle of life, without end.

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