Friday, June 3, 2016

Praying Without Ceasing with the Master Beadsman

My beautiful new chotki made by Phillip Rolfes.
It lives in the dash of my car to remind me to
pray on the go.
Some time back I wrote a blog post about the Eastern prayer rope called the chotki, upon which is said the Jesus Prayer.  This simple prayer, taken from the words of the tax collector in Lk 18:13, is one of the most powerful tools in our prayer arsenal.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In these few words one can find the most essential elements of our faith.  Who is the prayer directed to?  Jesus Christ, whom we acknowledge as Lord and God.  Who are we before God?  We are humble sinners.  What do we ask of our Lord?  Loving mercy.  In this one short sentence we are reminded of these fundamentals of our faith.  There is no better prayer to keep in the forefront of your thoughts as you go about your day.

Keeping a chotki or prayer rope close at hand and using it frequently is one very effective way to stay mindful of the need to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

In my previous blog post I recommended a few places I had found online to order a chotki of your very own.  I already owned chotkis from some of these resources; others I did not, but liked the look of the ones featured on their web site.  The important thing is not where you buy your prayer rope, however -- it's that you use it!

Since that time I have continued to pray with the chotki frequently, and have developed definite preferences for what I like to use.  My go-to chotkis are 3 or 4 ply wool with large wooden bead spacers from St. Paisius Monaserty.  I love the feel of wool in my hands (perhaps that comes from my raising sheep or my love for textile arts) and I love the feel of the large knots the 3 or 4 ply wool affords (perhaps that comes from my having large fingers).  In fact, I have given away any chotkis I owned that were smaller than 3-ply.

One chotki maker I did not have direct experience with was Phillip Rolfes, "the Master Beadsman."  Even though I did not own one of his creations, what I wrote was:
One site I find especially interesting is The Master Beadsman, who is apparently simply a Christian man living in Ohio who really likes making prayer ropes and selling them via his blog site. He makes Greek and Russian styles, in various lengths, to order. So if you are looking for something custom, he may be a good person to reach out to.
I was pleased when Phillip contacted me shortly after I published that post with the offer to make me a free chotki if I would review his product on this blog.

This is not really a product review blog -- however, how could I pass up the opportunity to own a hand-made custom prayer rope from someone as talented as the Master Beadsman?!  I had to say yes!

As you will see if you browse his web site, Philip makes his prayer ropes from a variety of materials and in a variety of styles.  Rather than pick one, what I did was to describe for Philip the prayer ropes I already had and ask him to make me something a bit different.  A couple of weeks later, his work of art arrived in the mail.  It is absolutely stunning.

It is a Russian style prayer rope (with tassel), made from gold colored satin cord, with 100 knots and a decorative metal bead every ten knots.  He uses two different knot styles, one with no space between the knots (which was taught to him by a Ukrainian nun) and one that allows a little spacing.  I chose the latter, thinking that the spacing would make the knots easier to feel as I was praying.  I'm glad I did.

I thanked Phillip immediately when it arrived and told him I wanted to pray with it a bit before writing a blog post.  That was about 6 months ago!  I owe Phillip a huge apology for taking so long.  Christmas led into the Spring Semester which led to the general busyness of the school year -- the while "the Master Beadsman" business card remained by my computer as a reminder to write this blog post.  Now that summer is upon us and the semester is over, I finally have time to make good on my promise!

As I said previously, I have definitely developed a personal preference for wool prayer ropes made with large knots, with big wooden beads.  I just like the way these feel between my fingers when praying.  This prayer rope is neither of those things, so to be honest, I wasn't sure how much I would use it.  Turns out, I use it quite a lot.

Another important aid to remembering to pray frequently is location, location, location.  You are not going to remember to use your prayer rope if you have to hunt it down every time.  Keeping it close at hand is a reminder to prayer throughout the day.  This is why it is good to keep a prayer rope in your pocket (they even make them to wear around your wrist).  By the way, this is good advice for the rosary, as well!!!

I have several chotkis, so I decided I would keep the one Phillip made for me in my car.

I was surprised when I got my new (to me) 2012 Subaru Outback that it came
equipped with a convenient chotki-holder in the dash!
There is a cubby in my dash that seems tailor-made for holding a rosary or chotki, so I decided to make use of it.  This is where my new chotki lives.  And it turns out that 100 knots is just the perfect amount for praying between home and the parish, and between home and campus.  Because of where I decided to keep it, I've probably gotten more use out of this chotki in the last six months than any other I own.

You can see how beautiful it is in the photos.  The craftmanship and attention to detail is impeccable.  It truly elevates my prayer experience to be able to pray with something so beautiful.  So thank you, Philip!

In our correspondence, Phillip shared a little about his background.  He writes:
Just a little background on me, my wife suffers from an auto-immune disease, and we recently found out that she may have arthritus in her back. Our eldest daughter (6) is fairly physically and mentally handicapped, and has a number of behavioral issues to boot. Our other two children are "normal" healthy children, and are rather rambunctious! So prayers are always greatly appreciated.
The very first time I used his chotki was on a walk down my street, and I prayed for Phillip's intentions.

Regarding my preference for a wool prayer rope, I want to reiterate that this is just my personal preference.  Not everyone likes the feel of wool, including Philip.  He writes:
You are correct, the ropes I make definitely have a different feel from wool ropes. That's actually rather deliberate. I've yet to use a wool rope that's really appealed to me. I wanted to make a prayer rope that had a great feel and looked beautiful. I like to think of them as "functional art." That's one of the reasons I'm always playing around with different materials, beads, designs, knots, etc. I've been making these for nearly a decade now, and have learned a thing or two by trial and error, talking with others, watching videos, experimentation, etc. I'm always open to suggestions and new ideas if you want to throw some my way!
If you, like Philip, prefer something different from the traditional wool chotki, definitely give his creations a try.  You won't regret it.

To reach Phillip Rolfes and to see photos of other prayer ropes he has made, or to commission him to make one special just for you, please visit his web site:

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