Praying the Rosary: A Different Approach
by Ella Rozett
The rosary is a wonderful tool for prayer
and meditation, especially when youve
had a little training in meditation techniques,
be they Christian, Buddhist or Hindu. Praying
the rosary is like ringing Mother Marys
doorbell. She knows the sound means shes
wanted and so she comes running and allows
the soul to bathe in her presence, bringing
with her the whole trinity.
Unfortunately many modern-day Catholics
dislike this prayer intensely, whether lay
or ordained. Ive heard nuns say: "I
hate the rosary!" A priest once recommended
that I do a "higher form of prayer".
There are several reasons for these negative
feelings: 1. For generations Catholic children
were forced to recite the rosary. 2. It has
commonly been used as a penance for sins and
hence it came to be associated with punishment
rather than with joy. 3. Catholics get confused
as to who they are supposed to pray to. Often
your words are addressing Mary but you are
told to focus your mind on Jesus. 4. Many
people find it thoroughly boring and senseless
to repeat the same prayer over and over. They
were never taught the purpose of this. 5.
People get discouraged by all the normal obstacles
to meditation because they are never instructed
in how to deal with them.
Here is how I, as someone who has been instructed
in Tibetan Buddhist meditation as well as
in "Centering Prayer" (Christian
meditation) approach the rosary. It is certainly
not the only way to do it. There are as many
ways as there are individuals praying. I share
what it is like for me just to encourage you
to experiment with what might work for you.
In order to be able to "pray from the
heart", as Our Lady of Medjugorje urges
us to do, I have to start any prayer by checking
into my heart. I breathe into it, see how
it feels, without judging it as good or bad,
right or wrong. Just offering the heart my
breath, presence, and compassion will always
help it. Then I gently introduce the idea
of Mother Mary and check whether my heart
is ready to pray. You cant force a heart
to pray. If you try, it just ends up hating
the idea of prayer. If my heart is not ready,
I give it more quiet time. Eventually its
usually ready to be with God. If not, I just
rest and do nothing, until I can hear God
calling and am willing to respond. Note that
I dont see a need to distinguish between
Mary and God. One leads to the other; they
have united as one and act as one. Who am
I to separate what God has united? So when
I feel a divine presence, I dont worry
about whether its God the Father, Jesus,
the Holy Spirit, or Mary.
Our Lady of the Rosary and Jesus handing
rosaries to St. Catherine of Siena and St. Dominic
Now, if you have a rosary, youll hold
the crucifix and you are to recite "the
Apostles Creed", i.e. the list
of things a Catholic is supposed to believe.
Again, its not something one can force.
Reciting a story you disbelieve is not very
inspiring. So just tell God and yourself what
you do actually believe. This is a powerful
practice. Our Lady of Medjugorje once said
that the Creed serves as an antidote to atheism
and materialism in the world. So if all you
can manage at first is: "I believe in
God", youre doing great. Little
by little other parts of the Creed may come
alive for you. Its always good to at
least try the instructions of the Church on
for size and give them the benefit of the
doubt. Sometimes your mind may reject something
that your soul is actually quite comfortable
with. Sometimes you grow into something that
didnt fit at first. Other times you
grow out of something. Always turn to the
Holy Spirit as the supreme teacher. S/he will
guide you step by step, giving you just what
you need at every turn of the way.
On the bead above the crucifix you recite
one Our Father. Again, I use the freedom God
gave me to pray authentically. How else could
I pray from the heart? So when I am alone,
I dont pray: "Our Father who art
" but: "Our Father
and Mother who art in heaven and on earth
Similarly, I dont start the Creed with:
"I believe in God, the Father almighty
but: "I believe in God, the Father and
Mother all-present, all-knowing, all-loving,
On the three following beads you recite
three Hail Marys: "Hail Mary, full of
grace, the Lord 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, Amen."
Some people object to routinely referring
to themselves as sinners. They think this
constitutes negative reinforcement. The idea
is to reinforce humility, which is next to
godliness. But as long as it feels destructive,
I guess its o.k. to say: "pray
for your children, now and at the hour of
our death, amen." Some days though, you
must know youve been bad and then its
healthy to acknowledge that and sit with that
for a while. Personally, even when I feel
good about myself, praying for "us sinners"
gives me a chance to include the whole human
race in my prayer, including the warmongers,
politicians I dont like, killers, etc.
I remember when I was first instructed to
do a Buddhist purification practice. I did
it once and felt so pure afterwards that I
couldnt see the need to do 100,000 more
of those long mantras. But a friend of mine
said: "As long as you think you exist
as a separate person, you still have something
to purify." That always stuck with me.
As long as our experience is not like Pauls
when he says: "It is not I who lives,
but Christ in me" we still have the seed
of negativity in us.
One thing I love about the Hail Mary is
that it reminds us of the hour of our death.
Every religion, especially Buddhism, stresses
how important it is to be mindful of our impermanence.
Praying about it every day is a good practice.
On the next bead I recite: "Glory be
to the Father (and the Mother), the Son (and
the Daughter) and to the Holy Spirit, as it
was in the beginning, is now and ever shall
be, world without end, amen." Now you
are ready for the 15 "mysteries".
The 15 Mysteries of
Every decade of 10 Hail Marys is under the
tutelage of a "mystery" a
scene from the lives of Jesus and Mary. St.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits,
recommends putting yourself into those scenes,
not intellectualizing about them, but just
being there with an empty, open mind. Then
the Holy Spirit will teach you through them
spontaneously, without your mind having to
understand anything. Instead you may feel
something change in your energy, in your emotions,
or in your body. If you follow the Holy Spirit,
praying the rosary wont be about visiting
some story that happened 2000 years ago; itll
be about bringing Mary and the trinity into
the present, into your body and soul.
There are 5 joyful, 5 sorrowful, and 5 glorious
mysteries. I love how this rhythm acknowledges
that life has joyful, sorrowful, and glorious
phases. It also tells me that you dont
get to the glory until youve fully allowed
the experience of joy and sorrow. When I first
started praying the rosary and I still had
some really bad days at times, I used to look
forward to the sorrowful mysteries, because
it allowed me to sit with sorrow without any
resistance or judgement that sorrow is bad.
And then of course it would transform, as
any suffering you quit resisting eventually
The Hail Mary as a Mantra Meditation
Traditionally one is instructed to focus
on these mysteries, while using the Hail Marys
as a sort of mantra: you dont think
about the meaning of the words you recite,
you just feel the energy and blessing it conveys.
It provides a sacred screen onto which the
mysteries can be projected. But here again,
follow your heart and the Holy Spirit. Sometimes
just reciting the Hail Marys brings on such
a strong sense of Our Ladys presence,
that I just stay with that and ignore the
changing mysteries as much as possible. Other
times certain mysteries have a strong pull.
Then again, God may draw me into complete
silence of words and thoughts, and I know
thats always a good place to follow
into and remain in as long as one can. When
the mind starts wandering again, I return
to the rosary.
How do I know that silence is the best way
of being with God? A, because the masters
of all religions agree that the most intimate
union between God and the soul happens in
silence. B, because the Bible confirms the
value of silence. Here are just three examples:
"Be still and know that I am God."
(Psalm 46:10) "Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for Him." (Psalm 37:7)
"Be silent all flesh before the Lord."
(Zephaniah 2:13) C, because Mother Mary requested
in Fatima that when we pray the rosary, we
spend fifteen minutes in silence. D, because
in Medjugorje she said on 7-25-1998: "In
the silence of the heart, remain with Jesus,
so that He may change and transform you with
Why then should we not skip all those words
and mysteries and just remain in silence?
Because we usually cant. We may look
silent from the outside, but inside our mind
is often chatting up a storm or falling asleep.
Ive seen Buddhist monks fall asleep
by the row. I think its more efficient
to follow God into silence when s/he knows
were ready and draws us. On the other
hand, it all just takes practice, no matter
what method of prayer the Spirit leads you
Back to the rosary: If you get so distracted
or bored that you cant focus at all,
neither on mysteries, nor on Gods presence
in the Hail Marys, here is what you can do.
First of all, dont take it personally.
Its got nothing to do with you in particular;
its just what the mind does. These are
perfectly normal obstacles on the path. The
more you practice, the more they will diminish.
Most likely theyll never dissolve completely,
but that doesnt matter. Even one true
moment with God is worth sitting there, bored
and distracted, for an hour.
Try not to resist boredom. It is the threshold
to divine peace. The Tibetans say: "Real
meditation doesnt start until youre
bored. Before that youre just playing
with your mind." So when boredom comes,
like anything else that may arise during prayer
and meditation, just notice it without judging
it as good or bad, right or wrong. Just be
with the experience without any resistance.
If you manage to do that, it will soon transform
into an indescribable peace.
Expect distractions and dont beat
yourself up when they happen. Instead, every
time you notice that youve completely
forgotten about your prayer and meditation,
return to it with the utmost gentleness. Try
not to have any further emotion caught up
in the fact that you were distracted, it just
adds more distractions. Even if you are distracted
80-90% of the time that is not at all unusual.
But every time you remember your meditation
(maybe because you are fumbling around with
a rosary) and you return to Gods presence,
its like the prodigal son or daughter
coming home. Its a happy occasion, and
the more often you get distracted the more
often you can experience that happy homecoming.
So, the more Hail Marys you have promised
to recite, the more chances you have at getting
distracted and returning home to God and to
your true self again and again, until one
day you may be able to stay home for good.
In order to become more confident with meditative
prayer practices, I would recommend reading
more about it. There are great Christian meditation
teachers like Thomas Keating. But reading
about Buddhist or Hindu meditation is also
valuable, because for millennia these religions
have been focusing on teaching meditation.
Charlene Spretnak, a catholic philosopher,
professor, and author of "Missing Mary:
The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in
the Modern Church", is just one of countless
Christians who acknowledge how much Eastern
meditation has helped their Christian spirituality.
She learned to calm her mind with Vipassana
meditation and now uses that skill while praying
Now lets look at the individual mysteries.
The Joyful Mysteries
1. The Annunciation
This is when the angel of God comes to Mary
to announce her conception of Jesus.
I was lucky enough to receive some meditation
instructions from a Jesuit priest in graduate
school. He encouraged us to recall this scene
and to imagine that we were either Mary, or
the angel, or God, depending on how the Spirit
moved us, and then to just see how that feels.
Without him I probably never would have dared
to imagine being any of those. So when you
imagine a scene, just wait and see if the
Spirit draws you into or to any particular
person, or maybe a particular shade of light,
or maybe even an object.
Anything can happen here, if you leave the
Holy Spirit in charge. Today I just had a
sense of big wings and lots of feathers in
front of me and a tiny glimpse of what it
might have felt like to be "overshadowed
by the Holy Spirit". Other times the
emphasis is on the promise that indeed one
day (though maybe not in this life) I will
conceive God into my very being and become
one with Him/Her/It. It could happen at any
moment and I should be ready at any moment.
The annunciation brings up questions for me:
"Am I ready to house God in my body?
Am I willing to offer my whole life in service
to God and humanity?" Sometimes I notice
how I may continually say that my goal is
divine union or enlightenment, but part of
me really doesnt want that to happen
any time too soon, because it would kind of
change my whole life. So then those two voices
need to dialogue peacefully.
This is when Mary goes to see her much older
cousin Elizabeth who is also miraculously
pregnant with John the Baptist. Upon seeing
Mary, Elizabeths baby leaps in her womb,
she is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims:
"Blessed are you among women and blessed
is the fruit of thy womb! Blessed are you
To me, this is about love between spiritual
sisters, about supporting each other on our
path, about recognizing the divine in all
people and helping it get seen. If Im
concerned about any particular conflict between
people, I dedicate this mystery to them.
3. The Nativity
The birth of Jesus. Here I always pray that
Jesus and Mary may be born in me. Today the
sense was that nurturing an infant in your
womb and then giving birth to it is not only
joyful but also hard work and pain. Yet, when
the work of giving birth to God into this
world is challenging or painful, it is still
also joyful because its so worth it.
Jesus in the Temple
Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple
for the customary "consecration to the
Lord". At this occasion the prophetess
Anna and Simeon recognize the Messiah and
the latter predicts his success as well as
To me this is about presenting my precious,
vulnerable inner child, the seat of Christ
in me, to God in his temple. The whole world
is Gods temple and its often scary
to expose myself to it, but with practice
it becomes easier.
Jesus in the Temple
Mary and Joseph have lost the 12 year old
Jesus at a festival in Jerusalem and cant
find him for three long days. Finally they
discover him where he thought it should have
been obvious: in the temple.
According to Paul, our bodies are the temple
of the Holy Spirit. Yet we desperately search
for God everywhere, except in that temple.
Even when you know where to look, its
not so easy to recognize Jesus within. For
me, this mystery is a prayer to find and recognize
Jesus in me and in the whole world
Gods greater temple.
If you meditate in the Jesuit style the
last three mysteries are all about contemplating
God in his complete humanness. You get to
witness Mary laboring to bring Jesus into
this world. You see the seven day old bundle
of a God-baby and then the twelve year old
God-boy. This should help us contemplate God
in everyone were with, including ourselves.
The Sorrowful Mysteries
1. The Agony
in the Garden
The night before Jesus crucifixion.
Hes scared; hed like to be able
to avoid whats coming, but he surrenders
to the Fathers will. He asks his disciples:
"pray with me and stay awake with me."
But they fall asleep, abandoning him.
I love this mystery, because here I see
Jesus wanting to be with me, wanting me to
pray with him and being upset if I forget
him and fall asleep on him. It reminds me
of Our Lady of Lourdes who also would get
a little irritated if Bernadette ever got
distracted from her during an apparition.
Not that I need to beat myself up for getting
distracted, which is perfectly normal, but
it helps me to think somebody cares. Not wanting
to offend or sadden my divine family is an
added incentive to pay attention. It makes
the magnetism stronger.
On other days this is the time to unite
with Jesus in any feelings of abandonment,
fear, or not knowing that I may be experiencing.
If someone asked me to pray for them because
theyre scared of something, I dedicate
this mystery to them.
2. The Scourging
at the Pillar
Jesus is flogged and beaten. This
is a hard one to get into for me. I dont
usually get too close, but focus on the Hail
Marys and on the general idea of opening to
the reality of suffering without resistance.
Like all of the sorrowful mysteries, this
one deals with the question: "What do
I do in the face of suffering, whether its
my own or others? How do I keep myself
from shutting the worlds suffering out?"
The answer is: "Pray, keep God/dess at
your side, stay open, stay in love, dont
resist." If I do get closer, I feel Jesus
love, and his sacrifice, the pain he accepted
for our sake.
Much like the great Buddhist bodhisattvas
(enlightened beings), Jesus purifies our negativity
by taking it upon himself. The Eastern masters
say, in order to really profit from a bodhisattvas
sacrifice one has to rejoice in it, appreciate
it with thanksgiving, rather than feel guilty
for it. Our joy is what transfers his merit
to us. Joy opens the heart to receive the
blessings of Jesus sacrifice (whether
one calls him God or a bodhisattva). It focuses
on him. Guilt usually focuses on oneself;
it is only good if it opens the heart.
Crowning with Thorns
Today I just felt Jesus face, crowned
with thorns, real close to mine. Nothing has
to be thought or understood to receive blessings.
When Im less inspired and more in my
head, I take a moment to contemplate the crown
of thorns as a symbol of mastering the mystery
of suffering. According to the medieval mystics,
there is great peace and freedom and joy to
be gained from accepting suffering. I believe
them; Ive had glimpses, but I have a
long way to go. May the crown of thorns teach
me what Im ready for.
In Buddhism too, you cant enter nirvana
until you know the "noble truth of suffering"
in every detail and without any resistance
In the Gospel Jesus specifically asks all
of us to pick up our crosses and follow him.
Carrying ones cross, means accepting
ones life just the way it is, however
it is, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the
bliss. Its about being in the present
moment, without any resistance, even when
Im happy. When everything is good in
my life and I pick up that "cross",
my peace deepens to encompass all of creation
in the present moment. Other times everything
is good but there is still the cross of just
being human in a suffering world. Picking
up that cross, means I am aware of the peace
and the imperfection at the same time. Its
a peace with compassion, a tiny taste of what
a bodhisattva might feel like who could be
in nirvana or heaven, but chooses to share
this world with us fools for our sake.
5. The Crucifixion
For me, this is a time to practice total
surrender to Gods will and presence.
I often spread my arms to their sides to stretch
open. Thus I concentrate on holding still
for God, no matter what, even when Im
afraid he might rip my heart open.
The Glorious Mysteries
In the Glorious Mysteries we see a lot of
movement between worlds. Jesus has descended
into the realm of death, or into the "netherworld",
he resurrects to the human realm, then ascends
into heaven, then God descends again as the
Holy Spirit, then Mary is also lifted up into
heaven. So to me there is an overall theme
of making yourself at home not just on this
earth, not just in one realm, but in the whole
universe, which is Gods home. And God,
our father and mother, says: "Mi casa
es tu casa!" (My home is your home.)
1. The Resurrection
Especially since Mel Gibsons "The
Passion" I have this sense of Jesus coming
out of the earth, out of the dark cave, sprouting
into the light of our world from deep in the
earth. Like the Easter song says: "Now
the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
laid in the earth, like grain that sleeps
unseen; love is come again, like wheat arising
green." When I am with Jesus during the
resurrection, I get to root deep into the
dark earth and then sprout into the light.
2. The Ascension
Jesus ascends into heaven while his disciples
look on. When I put myself into this
scene, among the disciples, my heart wants
to break. Its so hard to let Jesus go.
But there is no choice. He says to us what
he said to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection:
"Stop holding on to me!" (Also translated
as: "Dont touch me!" John
20:17) One has to let go of everything, even
all ideas about Jesus, emptying oneself completely,
in order to receive the Holy Spirit who gives
everything back a hundred fold.
3. The Descent
of the Holy Spirit
Rather than praying about or imagining,
just be there with the disciples and Mother
Mary and receive the Holy Spirit. Let it be
4. The Assumption
of Mary into Heaven
Rather than allowing her body to die, God
lovingly scoops up his mother, daughter, and
spouse and lifts her straight into heaven.
Many people, even Catholics, dont believe
in the assumption of Mary. But I dont
have a problem with it, because Ive
read stories about accredited Marian apparitions
where she expresses consent and appreciation
for this dogma. (Just like she confirmed the
Immaculate Conception in Lourdes.) If it makes
her happy, it makes me happy too. To me, the
question is not: "What is historically
true?" but: "What happens in my
mind and heart when I imagine this to be true?"
If its a meditation that leads me
or others towards divine union, more power
to it! If, in order to augment the power of
the Queen of Heaven on earth, certain cultures
have to think of her as immaculately conceived,
ever virgin, and assumed into heaven, thats
fine with me.
To me, the lesson of this mystery is the
same as with Jesus ascension: Getting
close to Jesus and Mary is like aiming an
arrow of love at God first you put
a lot of effort and care into aiming and drawing
the bow string, then you let go. You cant
hit bulls eye until you let the arrow
fly. Similarly, we have to let Jesus and Mary
go at some point, at least temporarily. If
nothing else, to make sure were not
suffocating them with our ideas about them
rather than directly experiencing their hearts
their core being. How do we know when
its time to let go? When the ascension
and assumption come around.
5. The Coronation
of Mary Queen of Heaven
They say, every time we pray the rosary,
Mother Mary is crowned with another crown
of roses. So the coronation is not just about
God crowning his spouse, mother, and daughter,
but also about us crowning her. Are you ready
to crown her the queen and commander of your
life? If yes, you get to bathe in her glory.
Now, having read all this, please clear
your mind of it all and go make your own experiences.
Each decade ends with a "Glory be",
then you announce the next mystery and start
that with an "Our Father". People
also intersperse other optional prayers. You
may end after the last mystery with any prayer
you like. One that is commonly used is: "Hail
Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our
sweetness, and our hope. To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve. To you do we
send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in
this valley of tears. Turn then, O most gracious
advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us; and
after this our exile, show unto us the blessed
fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary!"
The Rosary as a Bridge
I have determined that the biggest obstacle
to a regular practice of any prayer or meditation
is not distractions or boredom or sleepiness.
It is simply resistance to stopping whatever
it is we are doing and sitting down to do
nothing but "waste time with God".
In order to stop, one has to overcome the
first Newtonian law of motion called "inertia".
It says that, left to its own devices, an
object at rest will stay at rest, and an object
in motion will stay in motion. To change its
motion it takes an outside force. I used to
tell people: "Im not lazy and undisciplined,
Im just inert!" If you can get
yourself to stop and sit down, the battle
is basically won. But in order to overcome
inertia; most of us have to apply an outside
force like God, Mother Mary, a vow to pray
the rosary every day, a bell that goes off
and tells us: "Its time to drop
everything and pray!"
I find the rosary so helpful in this because
it soothes my mind. I dont have to think
about going from an active state to doing
absolutely nothing, from 100 miles per hour
to 0. Instead I can feel like Ill "do
the rosary", Ill be handling beads
and even if I cant promise that my mind
will be calm and collected, Ill at least
be able to do the recitations and fulfill
my commitment. Then, once Ive picked
up the beads, my mind gradually calms down
and pretty soon Im perfectly happy doing
Many people think silent meditation is superior
to praying the rosary, but if they cant
get themselves to actually do it, what good
does their "superior method" do?
Better to use the rosary as a break mechanism
for slowing the mind down and then let God
draw you into silence when youre actually