I ripped open the package. Ho Hum. Another rosary book. I put it on the to be read shelf, thinking I’d get to it eventually. After I read all the other books waiting for my reviews. And then it got moved from the shelf to my laptop bag so that it wouldn’t get mislaid in the move.
And then one afternoon right before the move when the rosary cd came up on iTunes shuffle, and Bella found her plastic beads and started praying along, I remembered the book in the bag beside my chair and reached down to page through it while I listened to the prayers.
And was captivated. I flipped past all the introductory material, the personal testimonial and the about the rosary material that I later went back and read, and found the section I didn’t expect to be there: an illustrated set of meditations for all four sets of mysteries. Sandro Botticelli’s Annunciation, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Visitation, Rembrandt’s Presentation, Raphael’s Transfiguration, Titian’s Last Supper, Gaugin’s Agony in the Garden, El Greco’s Crucifixion, and many more. Great art will always grab my attention. There was also a scripture meditation for each mystery on the facing page.
And a bonus that I’ve never seen in any rosary book: on the left hand side of each page spread is a full-sized image of a decade of rosary beads, each bead just about the right size to be eclipsed by my thumb moving down the chain. I could pray the rosary with this book even if I didn’t have a set of beads with me because the book itself contains the beads. And it’s small enough to tuck into my purse.
Ok, I was sold. I went back and read the introductory materials. First of all there was the beautiful story of how the rosary reached out to a man in the depths of a dark night who had begun to doubt the existence of God.
One day I was sitting in traffic when I looked over to my right to see a bumper sticker on a minivan. It read: Knock and the door will be opened. “Yeah right,“I mumbled under my breath. I must have been daydreaming because the car behind me beeped its horn and when I looked up traffic had moved ahead. As I pulled away I noticed for the first time in a long time the set of Rosary beads that hung from my rearview mirror. I had gotten so used to them that I stopped noticing they were in front of my face every day.
I don’t know why I did what I did next, but I took those beads down and started praying in the car. Now, I had prayed the Rosary many times over the years and quickly abandoned it just as many times. But a new hope stirred inside me. Maybe it was the bumper sticker, maybe it was a last-ditch effort to get through to God and assuage this gloomy fear that was following me everywhere I went. I decided right then and there that I would work through the boredom and frustration I experienced in the past and pray the Rosary ever day until God opened the door. If knocking hadn’t worked, maybe the rattling of beads would.
. . .
God had not abandoned me, I just hadn’t been listening. That night I realized the Rosary wasn’t a way of getting God’s attention but was a way of getting me to pay attention. My life was never the same again.
This was a little more what I expected. But not exactly either. I’ve always had a hard time praying the rosary. Though I’ve never abandoned praying it, I’ve also never been able to make praying it a habit either. And Jansen seems to be rather like me.
This book is not just a book about a prayer, it is also “an invitation to fall in love with the Beloved. And if you’re already head over heels, here is an opportunity to keep tumbling.” The book is appropriate to introduce the rosary to a complete beginner who doesn’t know the first thing about it, even to non-Catholics who may be a bit wary—it suggests alternate prayers and meditations for those who are uncomfortable with the Marian aspects of the devotion. But it is also an invitation to those of us who know the rosary well to rediscover it.
“Imagine for a moment,” Jansen invites, “that you have just fallen in love with the person of your dreams.” He details this perfect relationship that is mutual and nurturing and makes you feel more human as you fall more deeply in love with your beloved. And then he asks you to imagine this relationship growing and deepening and then to imagine the day that you are invited to meet your beloved’s parents:
Your beloved knocks. The door opens. You meet Mom.
And she turns out to be the nicest person you’ve ever met.
She welcomes you into the family, and she radiates kindness and beauty. All that worrying, all those moments of self-doubt subside, and in a matter of seconds you feel excited to be in her presence. You look around and don’t see the father, but you sense that he is everywhere in this home.
Now let’s take a step back. You have never experienced a love like the one you have with your beloved, and, while you feel an openness, you admit to yourself that this person can be a mystery to you. You have questions. It’s not that you don’t feel close to your beloved, it’s just that you begin to hunger and thirst to know everything about this love that has come into your life. And to be perfectly honest, you feel intimidated, because your beloved is such a complete person, and you feel more often than not, less than whole.
What were you like as a child? What were your parents doing before they had you? What were your friends like? Did you ever get lost? What were some of the loneliest times of your life? Why did you come into my life?
You’ve held off asking some of these questions of your beloved, but here in front of Mom, you feel strangely comfortable to let loose. It’s as if she is standing there ready to embrace you and help you understand everything. Who better than your beloved’s mother to answer all these questions swirling in your mind? Who better to provide insight than the woman who carried your beloved in her body for nine months and who experienced the pain and joy of bringing her child into the world?
You begin to ask all your questions, and this woman who you’ve just met seemingly transforms into your own mother. She smiles and takes down a scrapbook and the two of you begin looking at pictures. This is a picture of me when I first found out I was going to have a baby, she says. This is a picture of my cousin and me, we were both pregnant at the same time. Here’s one right after the birth. So many people came to visit us. Here are a few pictures of a wedding we attended, and this is a picture of . . .
As I read this passage, I wiped the tears from my eyes and more than anything wanted very much to sit down and pray a rosary, to spend time with the mother of my beloved, looking at the family photo album and dwelling there in those events. I will never look at the rosary quite the same way again.