Becky White, 11, holds up two of the four types of prayer beads that members of St. Clement's Episcopal Church are making for U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Prayer beads
string hope
for troops

By Mary Adamski

While prayers for American troops are being offered in many island places of worship these days, the congregation of St. Clement's Episcopal Church is adding a physical, personal dimension to the spiritual exercise.

Members of the Makiki church met nights this week to string beads into Anglican chaplets, which are leaving Hawaii tucked in the pockets of soldiers being deployed to Iraq.

"It's praying plus," said the Rev. Elizabeth Zivanov, rector of the church, who was already in the habit of giving the bracelet-size prayer beads to troubled or sad people she counsels. Similar to Buddhist prayer beads and the Catholic rosary, they provide a tactile focus for repetitive prayers or meditations.

"We appreciate people in the community saying that they care," said Lt. Col. Keith Jones, division chaplain of the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, who accepted delivery of the first 200 sets of prayer beads this week.

"Some soldier somewhere will be frightened ... and at that moment will touch the beads and remember to pray, and remember that a lot of folks are praying, too," Jones said.

The Army chaplain said Sacred Hearts Academy students have also put their prayers in the hands of soldiers in their "Gum and Roses" project. Students attached bubble gum and a thumbnail-size silk rose to each handwritten note of thanks and prayer. About 200 were distributed this month by Army chaplains, Jones said.

In another troop support project, women members of Chabad of Hawaii, a Jewish organization, prepared about 100 food packages as gifts for Jewish sailors aboard ships in the USS Nimitz battle group, which left for the Persian Gulf earlier this month. The food gifts, or "shalach manot," are a tradition for the Purim holiday, which celebrates an event 2,400 years ago chronicled in the Book of Esther. Pearl Krasnjansky, of Chabad, said another outreach to the military is planned for Passover.

The Anglican prayer beads project continues, and other military chaplains are getting on board. The soldiers received black beads strung on khaki cord. Blue beads on black cords are in the works for Navy members. "The Navy has asked for 200, and the Air Force wants 50," said Anna Blackwell. "The Marines wanted to look at a prototype."

The highlight of each chaplet is a small olive wood cross, handmade by Palestinian Christians and distributed by a mainland organization, Blackwell said, and "making full circuit back to the Middle East."

About two dozen St. Clement's men and women have spent hours perfecting their bead-stringing craft, which must adhere to a pattern and requires some tricky knot-tying. Each comes with a card that explains that this little prayer guide is a small version of traditional Anglican prayer beads. The chaplet has an "invitatory knot inviting you to God's presence and prayer," cruciform beads representing the points of Christ's cross, and two sets of seven beads "representing wholeness and completion" symbolizing the seven days of Creation described in Genesis.

The card carries a verse from the 31st Psalm, the favorite of a St. Clement's member who serves in the Army. "Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe. For you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me."

"There is no right or wrong way to use the beads," says the guide. "Often the best prayers are spontaneous and come straight from the heart."

The Sacred Hearts juniors and seventh-graders copied familiar prayers or created their own, usually a prayer for a soldier's safety, in the Gum and Roses project, said Sister Irene Barboza. They have made about 5,000 of the pocket-size greetings as a service project through their social justice classes.

Barboza said the Gum and Roses project -- a twist on the name of the famous rock band Guns and Roses -- has been under way for almost 10 years. It was started by Larry Baron, a Flossmore, Ill., special-education teacher.

Jones described the St. Clement's prayer bead project in his monthly newsletter, using the project to remind 25th Division soldiers that they have the support of "complete strangers ... people who did not have to do a thing, or raise a hand, wanted every soldier to know about their prayer and support.

"Think about it. Some lonely sergeant will have fear that he or she cannot disclose to the troops. Someone will be caught in a firefight and will wonder, How in the world did I get here? Some persons will need encouragement to keep going. Someone will receive a life-threatening mission and will wonder, Can I do this?

"Just at the critical moment, they will reach into their pocket and grab the little prayer beads, remember to talk to God and recall that someone somewhere cares, and will gain the strength to move forward. That's good stuff."

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