The Bishop’s E-pistle: Wild West Rosary

Arizona is still the Wild West in a lot of ways — maybe more than I had anticipated.

One of our congregations recently gave me an Anglican rosary they had made, which was a prototype of something they were hoping to sell as a fundraiser for the congregation.

The cruciform beads of this rosary are empty bullet casings. The intention is that this is a sort of “beating swords into plowshares” image where now you are praying with an icon of violence that has been redeemed and transformed into something full of grace.

Reactions have been all over the place — and there has been vigorous conversation in Diocesan House and my own home. My own immediate reaction was horror. “No!” I squawked. But as with so many first reactions, I realized I needed to sit and pray and think. Could bullet casings be redeemed and full of grace? Would there be people for whom praying with an element of so much violence could be healing or redemptive?

The more I sat with it, I heard how some of my own objections, like “bullets are inherently violent!” could also be said about the cross. The cross is a means of shameful, public, violent execution. It is also the sign of our salvation, but putting a bullet next to the cross was a reminder to me of how the cross was a stumbling block to so many first century Christians.

The cross should shock us.

So I experimented and prayed with it. It felt weird to feel a cylinder under my fingers rather than a sphere. They were eerily cold to the touch. The cross is right next to the first bullet casing, setting the stage for the juxtaposition right away. Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal one, have mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, indeed. Have mercy upon us for so many who die by bullets like these. Have mercy upon us who are the inheritors of those who crucified Christ, just as we are at the same time the inheritors of the Salvation he offers to all. Simul justus et peccator. At the same time justified and a sinner.

I am supportive of artistic projects that take weapons and turn them into garden implements. Artistically, I think there is another layer of work to be done on these rosaries — actually beating the casings into something more resembling beads and less resembling their original purpose. But I am so grateful for the theological and pastoral conversations that have percolated in the office because of this rosary. It has done what art is supposed to do: provoke, challenge, inspire, and sometimes even offend.