I’m very familiar with rosary beads. I love the meditation and the relaxation of this prayer. The beads slowly slipping through my hands, saying the ‘Our Father’ prayer Jesus taught and repeating the biblical prayers with the angel Gabriel’s greeting “Hail Mary full of grace, the lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28) combined with Elizabeth’s greeting “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Then asking Mary, as Jesus mother, to intercede for us to God while meditating upon the life of Christ.
I was thinking about what is called, the joyful mysteries of the rosary. For those not familiar with this meditation type of prayer, there is a single bead (the white one in the photo above) and then there are 10 beads (the pink). This sequence is repeated for a total of 5 decades. During each decade (1 Our Father and 10 Hail Mary’s), we think about a particular time in the life of Jesus. The joyful mysteries include thinking about how Jesus came into this world as commemorated in the bible’s gospel of Luke.
- The first decade starts at the moment of Jesus conception with the annunciation of the angel Gabriel.
- The second decade shows that even as a fetus, Jesus begins to make His presence known … a pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and the babe leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.
- In the third decade we meditate on Christmas … celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.
- The fourth decade is about bringing Jesus to the temple as an infant.
- In the fifth decade we look at Jesus as a youth and how He stayed behind to teach at the temple.
These are called the joyful mysteries. And they are joyful because God is entering into our human world in a very special way. This marks the beginning of building the way to heaven, our intended home when we leave the human world behind. But the real mystery of these joyful times was the amount of trust and sacrifice they required. The blending of fear and hardship along with happiness.
While praying the rosary we think about the real life surrounding these events. For example, Mary was approached by the angel Gabriel as an unmarried woman. Unmarried pregnant women were stoned to death. And Mary had to trust God with her life when she said yes to His plan at this meeting. How scary that must have been. Mary then went to Elizabeth and faced her cousin as a pregnant unwed woman, not knowing how she would be received. And Christmas … the hardship … the census, having to give birth away from home, in a cold stable. Then Mary took Jesus to the temple as an infant and was told a sword would pierce her heart … what did she think and how much did she worry for the safety of her child? In the final meditation we consider how Jesus stayed behind in the temple when Mary thought he was coming home with relatives … what fear must have gripped this mother at the thought of her missing child … particularly since those in political power had already tried to kill the child and then what joy she felt at finding Jesus.
Those are the joyful mysteries. When you think about it, that’s a lot like life for all of us. Our time here on earth as human beings is a combination of fear and hardship, happy times and times of awe. Think of how many people are drawn to the joy of Christmas … the gifts we exchange, the colored lights, and the family gatherings … then think of the actual birth of Christ in a drafty and smelly stable, no locks on doors, no running water … and consider that both shepherds and kings, the poor and the rich, came to worship there. What an unusual mixture of happenings.
It’s an interesting thought that to really know joy, you need some type of comparison, some type of stressful experience that is then overcome. Kind of like knowing light to know darkness or by knowing relief by first having experienced pain. I don’t regret the time I spent in my journey through chronic pain to healing … it’s taught me what works and what doesn’t so that I can be a better therapist for others. I would never take the joy from the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my period of suffering in exchange for a “perfect life.” It’s a strange interweaving. But I think it teaches us that joy in life is not meant to be a never-ending series of ideal experiences, free of pain and fear, but rather a life of faith and trust and courage … a life of rising above the challenges that we are all presented with and a life of helping others rise above their challenges too. It’s the mystery of joy.