"To know the mechanics does not mean that we are practicing the Disciplines. The Spiritual Disciplines are an inward and spiritual reality, and the inner attitude of the heart is far more crucial than the mechanics for coming into the reality of the spiritual life."
------- Richard Foster, *Celebration Of Discipline* 2nd ed. (Harper, 1988), p.3
Spiritual practices can be sound and helpful, but they can become the home of superstition and magic, too. Take, for example, prayer beads. This practice has traveled from India to the Sufi Muslims, through the Crusaders to the Roman Catholic Church, where it lives on in the form of the rosary. The idea is simple: a chain or bracelet of beads is used to remind you to pray and keep track of prayer wherever you go throughout the day. The beads can also be used to help you remember key parts of Jesus' life and work. When used that way, the beads can be a devotional blessing. Especially in tough and pressing situations, what you recall and re-speak with the beads can help send your attention and trust back to God. However, for most people who use them, in whatever religion, the beads (or the prayers associated with them) start to take on a magical or superstitious aura. It is as if, when used correctly, the beads had miraculous powers that God or the saints had to answer to, or as if they gave some unique contact with God, or as if saying them backwards or in some wayward manner could act as a curse, or as if forgetting to use them would cause your life to crumble. To that, one thing must be made very clear: NO bead chain, cloth, jewelry, flag, statue, talisman, icon, symbol, medal, or other object and NO devotional practice or body position or sequence of words or numbers, makes God respond any better to any prayer, nor makes heaven or earth or hell or anything else supernaturally bend to anyone's bidding. God does not work that way; the world God created does not work that way. Devotional aids are there to help you direct yourself toward God. The moment you believe they have any powers or merit of their own, you believe in magic, you are being idolatrous, and you are breaking the first of the Commandments. If you find yourself having that attitude, stop doing the practice or using the devotional aid, right now. Become more aware of your superstitious tendency, and try something else that might cause less of a problem for you.