In recent years, a prayer tool called the “Pearls of Life” has become more common, particularly in the Emerging/Emergent Church movements. The Pearls of Life are an ecumenical Lutheran prayer beads/rosary. Unfortunately, the Pearls of Life (like every kind of prayer beads/rosaries) has occultic pagan origins and is used in an occultic contemplative way.
Before looking at prayer beads/rosaries in general, let’s look at the Pearls of Life. My first thoughts upon hearing about this were:
1) The Pearls of Life seem to be a Protestant version of the Catholic rosary (which is occultic and idolatrous). Many of the heresies of the Rosary will also be heresies of the Pearls of Life.
2) Both the Pearls of Life and the Catholic rosary involve ritual (which is occultic).
3) I assume the Pearls of Life, like the Catholic rosary, are viewed as a “means of grace.” They both involve salvation by works (people falsely believe they can get to Heaven by doing works).
Let’s look at the invention of the Pearls of Life. I found the following excerpt here. Note – throughout this blog, I am emphasizing certain points by bolding, and inserting comments in [brackets].
“This site is about Pearls of Life – an ecumenical rosary from Sweden. For better description there is a basic book of Pearls of Life by Martin Lönnebo [if he is heretical, his invention the Pearls of Life will be heretical], which you can order from a Swedish Publishing company VERBUM.
Martin Lönnebo, Lutheran emeritus bishop in Sweden, was considering what could help us in praying, what a person needs when he/she is distressed, how the church could support young parents to pray with their children… And he made a conclusion that a rosary could be a practical device for these purposes, and also a help in spiritual training [perhaps he was thinking of Richard Foster’s occultic Spiritual Formation], which he finds even more important than physical or mental training.
He named the rosary “Frälsarkransen”, which means “The Wreath of Christ” (the name is in Norway and in Denmark “Kristuskransen”). He wanted to emphasise the meaning of silence in prayer. Praying is not only speaking in words, it is being in front of God, with empty hands, listening. Just being. Seeing and touching the beads ease to concentrate and remember the most important things in life…”
And following are excerpts providing more details, found here:
The “Pearls of Life” (in Swedish, they are known as frälsarkransen, which means “the lifebuoy”) were invented by Bishop Martin Lönnebo of the Church of Sweden [in 1996]… Bishop Martin had long been interested in the spirituality of the Eastern Church and fascinated by the mixture of formality and informality in Orthodox worship, with its candles and icons and prayer beads, and he set about designing what became a “prayer bracelet”. After trial and error, he finally decided on a set of eighteen beads in which he summarised the message of the Christian faith.
Bishop Martin wanted a tangible means of communicating that faith, and from his studies of eastern spirituality he knew something of the ways in which beads are used as aids to prayer in world religions. In Islam, a rope of 33 beads enables Muslims to focus their prayers on the 99 Beautiful Names of God. there are similar aids to Hindu and Buddhist devotion. In Western Christianity the Rosary holds pride of place. It has a whole literature devoted to it, mostly by Roman Catholic writers, but with significant contributions from Anglican writers such as Austin Farrer and from the Methodist Neville Ward. In the Eastern Church ropes of “prayer knots” are an aid for those who wish to fulfil St Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), running through the rhythms of the Jesus Prayer.
Martin Lönnebo’s “Pearls of Life” are very different from the Rosary. There is no single prescribed way of using them as there is for the Rosary. They are, Bishop Martin insists, “a lifebelt not fetters”. Those who have sufficient leisure can work their way in prayer round the bracelet. In other circumstances it may be more appropriate to focus on a single bead or group of beads. They aren’t only a way of praying. They can also be used as a framework for teaching. The beads can be linked to stages in the life of Jesus, as well as opening up Christian experience. In the Church of Sweden, and in North Germany, they are widely used as an aid to catechesis. Our partner diocese of Växjö (which is, incidentally, immediately south of Bishop Martin’s former diocese of Linköping) has used it for some years now as a basis for preparing young people for their confirmation. Their great advantage is that they are discreet, and they are portable. They can be carried in a handbag or a pocket or they can be worn, like any bracelet, on the wrist.
The “Pearls of Life” are a means of developing prayer, deepening faith and broadening understanding. Some who use them do so at the beginning or end of the day. Some find them a helpful framework for a prayerful reflection on the events of the day that has just passed. Others like to focus on particular beads on particular days (for example, the Resurrection pearl on a Sunday)…
So what is the problem with prayer beads/rosaries? The problem is, they are a contemplative aid. Thus all Christian-based prayer bead/rosaries are occultic. It doesn’t matter whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican or whatever – they all work the same way.
I found additional excerpts here, which describe the specific dangers of all prayer beads/rosaries. (Although this article mainly discusses Tony Campolo, it also includes some very insightful info about prayer beads/rosaries):
To enter this “spiritual realm” [of Richard Foster’s contemplative prayer/contemplative spirituality] it is essential for the participant to empty the mind of all thoughts, as well as lay aside Biblical notions on sin, Jesus Christ, grace and salvation. There are a host of web sites aimed at Christians [there are more than 78,000 such sites on the topic]. Advocates suggest that instead of a “sacred word” you could use the Stations of the Cross as a labyrinth tool for prayer, or Anglican Prayer Beads. These prayer methods are closely akin to the Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel [which can be purchased on line for $25 ~ free shipping]. Just think of it: For only $25 you can contact God!
All of these “methods” to be employed in our prayer lives are intended to make us feel good about God ~ any God. And if we feel good about him, he obviously feels good about us. An ELCA web site tells us: “When most people think of prayer beads the Roman Catholic Rosary is most likely to come to mind – or perhaps Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu Prayer beads. Eastern Orthodox prayer ropes or beads are also very popular. But, the use of prayer beads is increasing among people of many faith traditions,…”
Through contemplative prayer in its various forms and practices we readily find the connection between Catholics, Buddhists, Lutherans, Moslems, Episcopals, Hindus and Evangelicals.
The ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church of America] site goes on to say that the “use of prayer beads creates a rhythm that discourages distractions and focuses attention so that the one who prays can more readily move into God’s presence.”
The Bible-believer wants to know: Where is the God of the Bible in all this? Is He equally present in all religions, able to be contacted by Moslems and Buddhists in the same way that a Christian comes to know Him through Jesus Christ? And what about Jesus? Did He need to die? Why, if God can be contacted using a method, what did Jesus’ death do for us?…
See also this detailed Wikipedia article, describing the occultic, contemplative use of prayer beads/rosaries in a number of world religions.
The book Praying with Beads by Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens (pp. vii-ix) also discuss the pagan history of prayer beads/rosaries. Click here to read online.
FOR FURTHER READING
Detailed Catholic article explaining and endorsing the Catholic rosary
Wikipedia article on the Catholic rosary