Making old prayers yours

Today, the Rev. Judith Liro, founding priest of St Hildegard’s explains how she takes the ancient tradition of praying with the Roman Catholic rosary and makes it come alive for herself with new language. The image above is from

“In the circle (of a Roman Catholic rosary) there are five large beads with ten smaller beads in-between each large one. Traditionally one prays the ‘Our Father’ with each large bead followed by ten ‘Hail Marys’ on the smaller ones. These two primary mantras alternate in-between announcing the Mysteries. More on Mysteries another day. For today let’s talk about the two prayers. I’ve adapted the traditional prayers for my prayer practice. Here are the words I pray and some explanation about them. 

Our Mother, Our Father, You are in heaven, Holy is your name.
Your Kin-dom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread; forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial; Deliver us from evil.

Traditionally the second mantra is the Lord’s Prayer ending with “deliver us from evil.”  I’ve substituted the prayer we’ve been singing at our Eucharistic liturgies from the beginning.  As you know this is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples and it’s a potent summary of the path of love.  First, there is acknowledging God as masculine and feminine and loving parent; ‘Holy’ points to the wholeness and ‘heaven’ points to the sacredness of all that is.  Petitions follow for the bread we need, acknowledging genuine need and hunger of all kinds.  We commit to live with forgiveness rather than retribution and violence.  We acknowledge our vulnerability when facing all the struggle within and without.  Our final prayer is deliverance from evil, from all that keeps us and Creation from peace and the Beloved Community. In repeating this prayer as a mantra, my focus is lighter and yet all the repetitions express my heartfelt longing for the flourishing of the earth community and my commitment to serve it.

Hail Mary, full of Grace; God is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

 The first two lines are from the New Testament; the third is from tradition.  The first line (Luke 1:28 ) was spoken by the angel to Mary of Nazareth at the “Annunciation” when Mary said yes to bearing the Holy Child.  I substituted God for Lord.  The second line was spoken by Elizabeth at the “Visitation” when Mary visited her older cousin, pregnant with John the Baptizer (Luke 1:42). One phrase of the third line is linked to the 5th century Council of Ephesus when Mary was officially declared “Theotokos, Mother of God” because she had given birth to the Christ, both human and divine.  Some prefer to leave out the word “sinners” but I leave it in when I consider how humanity is destroying so much of nature and endangering all life on the planet and I’m a part of it.  I say it with more compassion than blame, and with some frustration too at human denial and delay, my own included.  The three lines represent the three stages of the goddess—Maiden, Mother, Crone. Makes me wonder if they were first in an ancient prayer that has Christian overlays.

The rhythm of prayer—There is a back and forth between focusing mentally and being taken out of this realm into the imaginal realm. Both are important.  The latter is like the rest in the heart beat and the importance of silence in music as well as the need for Sabbath in a busy life of work.  Some meditation practices emphasize focus and being mentally present; however, this is not the case with praying the rosary.  Here the repetitions encourage moving into something closer to a dream state.  There is something about focusing lightly on the five stories and on each of the mantras in-between that sets the mind free. 

Mantras— After some practice you are repeating the mantras without paying attention to the words although you are holding the prayers in your heart.  

It takes longer to describe the praying of the rosary and lay it out with some detail than it does to pray it.  It’s like trying to write about swimming.  For this prayer you jump in and practice until you get the hang of it.  Suddenly you are being held up by the water.  Your prayers are a part of it but feeling held in the movement of prayers and stories gives buoyancy and strengthens hope.

Of course you can pray with the beads in other ways.  Whatever prayers come from your heart can be prayed with the rosary beads.

With love,