The Rosary: Lifesaver to the Drowning

I'm hardly an example of prayerful piety--but I can testify that rosary meditation is a powerful spiritual tool.

BY: Liz Kelly


Excerpted from The Seeker's Guide to the Rosary by Liz Kelly. Used with permission.

I came to this task of writing about the rosary with some degree of trepidation. I'm hardly an example of prayerful piety-the course of my rosary devotion has been about as focused as the travels of a housefly: fit to short bursts of buzzing here and there and everywhere, at no one place for too long. On the other hand, my experience is hardly unique. And I can testify that rosary meditation is a powerful spiritual tool-even for someone with a scattered and inconsistent devotional past.

In my family, rosary devotion was practiced primarily by my mother, whose name, appropriately enough, is Mary. On Christmas Eve, she would gather us all together in front of the enormous Nativity scene my father had built out of scraps of barn wood. Before we opened our presents (which were abundant with nine people in our family) my father would lead us all in the rosary. This moment, one of the most peaceful in our house all year long, is a fond memory for me. The whole family was together, preparing for this great celebration by recalling the joyful mysteries and remembering first and foremost the reason for Christmas. I must admit, however, that while I was praying my thoughts would wander toward the presents waiting under the tree. Although I was fond of the rosary, I wasn't exactly a skilled meditator at the time.

My rosary devotion came and went through the years as I dipped into other religions, agnosticism, and radical feminism and experienced a variety of dark nights of the soul. I left my rosary devotion behind in my first year of college, when I lived next door to two southern "Bible-Belters" who convinced me with their dazzling recall of Scripture that I was surely no Christian because I was Catholic. They would look at the crucifix around my neck and say, "Haven't you heard? He rose from the dead-he's not on the cross anymore." Slowly but surely, out of my own ignorance and deficient religious training, I began to drop my devotion to all things Catholic.

For several years I faithfully attended Protestant churches and Bible studies, where I learned to pray the Scriptures. I knew the rosary to be a Scripture-based meditation, but I did not pray it during this period. The problem was that all of my prayers seemed fruitless. I couldn't quiet myself enough to pray. I lacked and longed for clarity of thought. I couldn't seem to penetrate my emotional-intellectual-spiritual fog long enough to reach those quiet, contemplative places where God had really spoken to me in the past. I ached in my heart for the simplicity of the times when I walked with and talked to the holy family while picking flowers behind my house.

I briefly picked up the rosary again following a pilgrimage I made during my first year of graduate school. But for the most part I only had fond, ever-dimming memories of saying the rosary with my family as a child. I had no real understanding of what the rosary was or what it could do for me.

Meanwhile, I spiraled downwards emotionally. I was ignoring much pain-pain from past abuses and past relationships, pain from my frustrations and anxieties in the present-and trying to forget. Most significant, I wanted to forget that I had been raped a number of years earlier and had never told anyone. It was as though my mind had flipped on a switch to a neon light that kept flashing through my brain, "That didn't happen." But what my mind tried desperately to forget, my body and spirit could not. I felt crushed, confused, soulless.

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