"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, June 27, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: “a rosary,” a Personal Essay by Brian Doyle

I’ve been reading Brian Doyle’s collection of personal essays: the thorny grace of it: And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics.  This is the first time I’ve read Brian Doyle and he’s a really fine prose writer.   I just enjoy some of his sentences.  He writes on Catholic faith, life, and culture.  I’ll probably post more in the future, but just enjoy this essay, “a rosary.”  I’ll present the entire essay since it’s short, and it really moved me.  [By the way, Doyle seems to have a thing against capitalizing titles; both the title of the book and the essays are in lower case.]

If you wish to read a review of the book, read Julie Davis’ at Happy Catholic.

a rosary

I’ll tell you s story about one rosary and let it stand for so very many of these lovely silent haunting companions in our pockets and cars and purses and drawers and under pillows and wrapped in the hands of the dead.   

This rosary was made eighty years ago by a boy in the woods of Oregon.  He was a timber cutter working so deep in the woods that there were no roads and the men and boys rode into camp on mules.  He was seventeen years old that summer and very lonely and one evening he began to carve rosary beads from cedar splits otherwise destined for the fire.  He tried to carve a bead a night, sitting by the fire, and with each bead he would try to remember the story of the bead as his mother had told him.  There were the joyful mysteries of good news and visiting cousins and new babies and christenings and finding children whom you feared were utterly lost.  There were the sorrowful mysteries of men weeping in the dark and men beating men and men jeering and taunting men and men torturing men and men murdering men under the aegis of the law.  There were the glorious mysteries of life defeating death and light returning against epic darkness and epiphanies arriving when no doors or windows seemed open to admit them and love defeating death and the victory of that we know to be true against all evidence that it is not. 

When he had cut a bead for each of these stories he was finished, for there were at that time no luminous mysteries on which to ponder and pray. 

He threaded thin copper wire through each of the beads, setting the mysteries apart with larger beads cut from the yew, and he carved a cross from the shinbone of an elk, and he thought about trying to carve a Christ also, but the thought of carving Christ made him uncomfortable, and anyway he did not think he had the skill, and he did not want to ask one of the older men, some of whom were superb carvers, so he left the cross unadorned, as he said, and put the rosary in his pocket, and carried it with him every day the rest of his life. 

The rosary went with him through Italy and North Africa in the war, and into the wheat fields of Oregon, and back into the woods where he again cut timber for a while, and then all through his travels as a journalist on every blessed muddy road from Canada to California, as he said, and through his brief but very happy years in retirement by the sea, where his rosary acquired a patina of salt from the mother of all oceans, as he said. 

He had the rosary in his pocket the day he was on his knees in his garden and leaned forward and placed his face upon the earth and died, almost seventy years after he finished carving the rosary in the deep woods as a boy. 

His wife carried the rosary in her pocket for the next two years until the morning she died in her bed, smiling at the prospect of seeing her husband by evening, as she told her son. 

The son carried the rosary in his pocket for the next three days until the moment when he and I were walking out of the church laughing at one of his father’s thousand salty stories of life in the woods and in the war and in the fields and on the road and by the sea, at which point the son handed it to me, and said Dad wanted you to have it, and hustled away to attend to his wife and children, brothers and nieces and nephews. 

I wept.  Sure I did.  You would weep too.  Sure you would. 

I have the rosary in my pocket now.  I hope to carry it every day the rest of my life, and jingle it absentmindedly, and pray it here and there when I have a moment in the sun, and place it ever so carefully and gently on a shelf every night before I go to bed, touching the elk-bone cross with a smile in memory of my friend George, until the morning of my own death, when I pray for a last few moments of grace in which to hand it to my own son, and then close my eyes and go to see the One for whom it was made, who made us, amen.

Very short, very powerful.  I can show you how the distinct images, the combination of long and short sentences, the repetitions, and the forward movement of the narrative all work together to make this a powerful piece.  But set aside craft here.  That just fills me with faith.


  1. What a wonderful story. Thank you so much Manny for sharing it with us. It is really moving.

    God bless you.

  2. Great story Manny!

    Although, I've never heard this story before, I'm sure that it must have influence others because my mom, God bless her soul, she had a wooden rosary that looked similar to this one on her wall. To my surprised when mom died, all of our siblings believed that I should get this rosary. After I received "IT", i had no choice but to keep "IT" in the little chapel that my wife had created for me. She knew that I prayed and went to church almost every day back then and so long story short, she decided to put me in a closet. Well really back then there was no need for this closet because our five girls were all gone...

    Sorry for going off on a tangent again. :)

    Anyway! After I received this rosary, "IT" was too large to keep in my pocket cause each beads were about an inch in diameter so I placed "IT" on the wall in the chapel that my wife had created for little old me. Don't tell any body's spiritual reality cells, but when I started praying in my then chapel, it seemed like I couldn't stop. Manny, "I" mean many of our children didn't find it funny when they came for a visit and were told that I would be with them shortly cause i was almost finished.

    Hey long story short, man, I mean Manny, I'm out of the closet now because after having burned hundredth if not thousands of candles in my chapel while praying. Longer story shorter, one day I ran out of candles to burn and believe it or not, my wife said that she forgot to buy more but did have only two left. Honest to good old dad, they were two "PINK Candles" that were left and wouldn't YA know "IT", those "pink candles' caused a fire and burned many valuable possessions which included the cross that dear old mom gave me but hey, I'm still out of the closet and no human lives were lost and that's what truly matters. Right?

    I hear YA Manny! After having read a little about your theory to prove, that angels really do exist in different forms, all I can ass whom, "I" mean assume is that some angel (S) disguised as gods must have really started that fire! :(

    Go Figure! LOL :)

    God bless

    1. My mother has one of those huge rosaries too. She's got it hanging from a portrait of my father. It's sort of like a shrine too. That is so sad on the fire. As I was reading I was thinking I would never do that. I have this fear of candles starting fires. I had my mother go with electric candles for her shrines. God bless.

  3. Thank You for the kind words Manny

    As for lit candles, I've indirectly heard it from my wife that all of our children feel the same as you do about them. They've given up telling me what to do because I can be very stubborn at times but I'm still not too old to know that I would be silly and many might even call me stupid :) if I continued using lit candles after what happened. GOD (Good Old Dad) must agree with me cause the new church that I've now been attending for about three years had a couple of old electric brass Anthique Lamps Candles that they sold to my wife for a small donation. I honestly believe that these electric candles were sold by chance because they were announced for sale during Mass and my wife was first to get her hands on them.

    I hear YA! But then again Victor, Go Figure angels now!?

    Manny! Don't tell any body' spiritual reality cells but my wife still has not created a new chapel for me and I don't pray as often as I use to so please don't stop putting in a few good words to The Old Man for me if ya get my drift?

    Don't tell anyone but I still don't read the good book, "I" mean The Bible cause I'm afraid that some of my five per sent age "Jesus" cells might fly away and then where would "I" be now? :(

    Manny because you've moved my spirit, I'm also going to tell you of a miracle that happened during that fire in my chapel. I had told my wife to call the fire department because it was the right thing to do and I armored myself with one of my very large bath towel completely wet and went into the flames. As I walked in, I noticed that the flames were only scattered in one spot surrounding my best friend family crucifix that he gave me before he was forced by love to change religion. Anyway, believe it or not I saw the flames all around that crucifix and the fire did not seem to be moving from that spot and/or burning nor touching anything else. I must have been in shock because I stood watching those flames not doing any damage which seemed like for a good minute. Call me crazy but a little time later, I thought that I heard the flames quietly telling me that it was leaving to do some real damage and within a split second of sensing that, I threw the towel on the fire and it was completely put out.

    I'll start closing by saying that the fire men did a professional job in making sure that no sparks or flame had been left behind. I did tell the chief and/or the one who was in charge in so many words that the two pink candles started the fire but I guess he didn't believe me cause no one took me to a mental hospital and for the record, the only think still wrong with the crucifix is that His Right Hand has been set free from the cross. LOL :)

    God Bless