The seeds of the Job’s Tears plant (Coix lacryma-jobi) make terrific rosary beads. In fact, these lovely little gray or brown tear-shaped seeds were a particular favorite of the late Mother Teresa. They’re quiet, unassuming, economical, yet very beautiful. The Job’s Tears plant is a type of grass and is native to Malaysia and East Asia. The seeds are perfectly edible and are often cooked like barley or other grain and eaten hot or cold. They have a very tough, hard shell with not much inside, and they’re easily strung or wired into rosaries. If you live in the southern United States, you can grow Job’s Tears as an annual, but it takes a warm and early growing season for them to set their seeds.
I’ve found that it always pays to order a lot more Job’s Tears than you think you’re going to need. They’re generally very affordable, and what you usually get is a 36″ strand of randomly strung and assorted seeds. I find a lot of color difference and a lot of size difference on each strand. It’s the size difference that can really get you. I prefer (and I think most people expect) a rosary where the decades (or weeks) are nicely balanced and all the same length, so that when you “close the loop” on the rosary you can balance it between the fifth and sixth beads of the third decade and have everything look nice and even. It’s more esthetically pleasing and ultimately kinder to the person who’s going to be praying with that rosary.
Achieving this with a couple of hundred oddly-assorted seeds is a labor of love. I’m sure there are better methods, but what I generally do is to look at my strands to get a feel for the average size. I then begin laying out a single decade (or week) in a line, one bead next to the other. I’m not above making a little mark on the worktable or using a ruler. Once I have that first, crucial set of beads laid out, I lay out the next ten (or seven) right next door, matching bead for bead. You can actually slightly mix sizes in each group provided the overall length of the decade is pretty close to exactly the same. Just don’t sneeze or answer the phone while you’re doing this, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
Once that’s all done, I look through critically and try to substitute for color and plumpness, the two other qualities of Job’s Tears. I generally find I can get several rosaries out of each batch I order. No two rosaries will be exactly the same length or plumpness or color, but they can be made to match beautifully within each rosary.
You can team your Job’s Tears with an enormous variety of beautiful beads for your Pater or Cruciform beads. They harmonize beautifully with warm, darker wood tones. Or you could try some gemstones in natural, nuggety, pebbly sorts of shapes. The Anglican rosary pictured here used African “turquoise” (actually a form of jasper) in an homage to the birds.
Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful. “Even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.”
(I’ll be writing about other “all natural” rosary materials from time to time.)