The world's great religions use the counting of beads as an aid to prayer. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Catholics pass beads or knots through their fingers as they offer praise to God or repeat sacred names and mantras. Prayer beads use the simple act of touch as a way of tapping into the presence of the Divine. The period taken to move through a string of beads also becomes an oasis of peace in our tempestuous world.

Martin Lonnebo, Bishop Emeritus of the Linkoping Diocese of the Swedish Lutheran Church, was hunkered down on a small Greek island during a storm when he came up with the idea for the Pearls of Life. These 18 prayer beads became for him a catalyst for inner spiritual work and a richer devotional life. Using his explanations of the symbolism, Swedes Carolina Welin, a communications expert, and Carolina Johannson, a journalist, have written the book that is packaged with one set of the Pearls. Lonnebo describes these prayer beads as "a life buoy that can be used to keep us afloat when the currents of our life change, drowning us in demands, expectations, and information. That's when we need something to hold on to that will help us focus and draw back to what is most important in our lives."

Protestants, many of whom have never tried prayer beads, will find this ring of glass beads to be a helpful and inspiring devotional aid. The Pearls of Life have been used by thousands of people in Sweden over the last decade as a means of drawing closer to God and enriching their prayer life. A set of the Pearls can be worn around the wrist as a bracelet, carried in one's pocket or purse, or even kept under one's pillow at night. The Pearls of Life have helped young children express their feelings about God and assisted youth in confirmation classes in their studies of faith and prayer.

Welin and Johansson suggest that when you first use the Pearls of Life you quiet down and ask yourself three questions:

"What blesses me and brings me joy?
What is my focus in life?
Is my focus where it should be?"

The largest and first bead is the gold God Pearl. It encourages us to open our heart to the Divine as caring, loving, and unfathomable. While holding this prayer bead, we can imagine the supporting presence of God in our lives.

The six oblong Silence Pearls, which are strung between the other beads, remind us that we all need to slow down and make a space in our life for silence. They encourage us to revel in being rather than doing. "Silence is something like an endangered species," psychotherapist Gunilla Norris has observed. "The experience of silence is now so rare that we must guard and treasure it." Surely we can find six moments during the day to commune with the Creator.

The small white I Pearl is very important since most of us still carry a sin-drenched view of ourselves that blots out our true nature as a son or daughter of God. This prayer bead helps us turn inward where we can touch base with the reality that we have been created in the image of the Holy One and, despite our waywardness, God is there like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son to receive us with a feast and undimmed love. Touching this pearl, we can be thankful for the gifts which make us the special person that we are.

The white Baptism Pearl brings into our consciousness the beauty of divine grace. Even before we accepted God, God accepted us. This is a key teaching of the Christian faith. The Baptism Pearl also encourages believers to follow Jesus' advice and become like little children dependent upon grace.

The sand-colored Desert Pearl symbolizes the difficult periods in our lives, similar to Jesus' experiences in the wilderness, when we are challenged to discern the presence of God. This prayer bead is a good one to help us practice patience. Don't give up, even when things are going badly.

The blue Serenity Pearl is a rest stop of peace and quiet. It addresses our yearning for harmony, balance, and connection. Circle this bead with your fingers and know that the peace which passes all understanding is yours in a life of faith and questing.

There are two red Love Pearls: the first is about accepting love and the second reminds us of the love we share with others. There are many times during the day when we can reflect upon the importance of this spiritual practice of receiving and giving love.

The three white Mystery Pearls are important reminders that we should not try to put God or other people in a box. Instead, we can learn to respect the limits of reason and rest in divine grace. Jewish theologian Martin Buber wisely asserted: "Real faith means holding ourselves open to the unconditional mystery which we encounter in every sphere of life which cannot be compressed in any formula."

The Night Pearl carries us through the dark nights of the soul when we are caught up in fear, doubt, and despair. Even in these bleak and trying times, God is with us and touching this bead regularly can help us keep this truth in our hearts.

The white Resurrection Pearl, according to Welin and Johansson, "stands for good's defeat of evil, hope's victory over despair, and life's conquest of death." Resurrection happens many times every day, and this prayer bead reminds us that rebirth is going on all around us in concrete expressions of love, kindness, generosity. and compassion. Touch this bead and get in touch with the hope that is in your heart.

More than 50,000 sets of the Pearls of Life and the book explaining them have already been sold in Sweden and Germany; now they are available in the United States. Bishop Lonnebo and his wife are donating their royalties to a fund for handicapped children in honor their autistic son Jonas. In addition, the beads themselves are handmade in India and purchased through a fair trade company called Tar Projects. In the village of Agrana, where the craft tradition has been inherited from one generation to the next, The Pearls of Life project gives employment to Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, and also will improve healthcare and education possibilities in the village since a share of revenues are ear-marked for social improvement projects.

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