Friday 23 October 2009
When you hold the beads in your hand, you are in touch. In touch, as the Credo at Mass has it, with all that is, seen and unseen. Who wants to be out of touch? Out of touch with reality. Out of touch with other people and of things that matter. Touching the physical chain of beads we somehow make contact with the invisible and eternal. Beads are part of the religious fabric of the wide world. From East to West, religions of every shade seem to make use of them. And not just religious folk. It is simply a human thing.
Seated next to me on a plane as we were taking off, was a smart Japanese business man who was fingering his string of beads. “Makes me feel safe,” he remarked. When you carry the beads in your pocket, you are secure. I never venture out of the house until they are snugly resting somewhere on my person.
I’m reminded of a story Rosemary Ward tells, of when she was a Nursing attendant during the London air-raids: A young man was carried in to the hospital with terrible wounds and laid on the ground before her. She felt helpless and took out her rosary beads as they waited for the doctor. The wounded man stretched out his hand, and whispered, “Let me touch them. They’re something to hold on to.”
We all need something to hold on to, to still the quivering body and to slow down the racing mind and to calm the inner storm. The blessed beads of the Rosary with all its hallowed memories can serve that purpose in a most admirable manner. In my ministry I’ve often found it was enough to put the Rosary beads into the hand of the sick or troubled one
When I had the privilege of taking the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima around Northern Ireland during the so-called Troubles, I would ask people to look at the pearly white beads with its golden chain draping from the statue. “It is her precious jewellery,” I would say. “Accept it as a personal gift a sacred trust from the hands of the Queen of heaven.” I hadn’t reckoned with the dear old fellow who took me literally and was walking away with the precious Rosary tucked into his overcoat.
On a visit to the United Kingdom, I had the pleasure of discovering the famous English poet and mystic, William Blake, and finding inspiration in his famous lines about holding infinity in the palm of his hand. The grains of sand bring to mind the stones of the Marian beads, as indeed the wild flower conjures up the fragrance of the golden rose of the Rosary.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
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