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Posted & filed under Email Newsletter Full Article | 3 Comments on Embodied Practice: Full Moon at its Fullest.
Just as the moon has cycles of growing fuller and then empty, so too our bodies move through cycles of filling and emptying. This Saturday and Sunday (June 22-23), the moon is at its fullest, and closer to the earth, than it will be at any other time of the year. Some commentators use the Hebrew word keseh to refer to the full moon. Keseh echoes the word kos, which means “cup”. The full moon is like a cup filled with abundance.
Here’s a movement practice you can enjoy outdoors this weekend as you bathe in this full moon’s brimming light:
Stand comfortably outdoors and if possible with bare feet on the earth. Feel the sensations of the earth against your feet.
Take your arms out to the sides of your body and send all ten fingers spread wide apart.
Root your feet into the earth, and take a deep full breath in through your nose.
As you inhale, stretch your arms out to the sides and let them extend wide, creating a circle as the hands meet above your head, fingers stretching up towards the big full moon. Lift your heart up towards the sky and lengthen through your neck.
Next, tilt your head up and lift your eyes to gaze at this full moon, this keseh. As you exhale, keep your arms extending up to the moon and your eyes gazing there as your focal point.
On your next inhale, draw the moon’s light down through your fingers and arms and into your body and let it fill you fully with its warm lunar glow. Slowly release your arms back out wide to the sides as you exhale and lower them slowly, mirroring the shape of this full moon.
You can repeat this simple movement several times, and you might recite the following blessing:
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha olam, oseh maaseh bereshit.
Blessed are You, Eternal One, Sovereign of the Universe, who makes the work of creation.
When I was in rabbinical school, our mentors would tell us that we each had one sermon to give, and that we would have to figure out how to give that sermon in various ways throughout our lives. At the time, I found the instruction comforting, for I understood it to mean that our essential work was to be true to our own souls and our unique insight, and labor creatively to share that teaching over and again through our Torah.
What our mentors didn’t tell us is that we might find one, single verse through which we would strive to give that message in new ways, over and over again. I would have found that instruction to be frighteningly limiting, overwhelmingly challenging, and confusing. How could one verse yield new aspects of my one teaching, endlessly?
And yet, that is exactly what I am learning this year through my study and teaching* of the Birkat Avraham, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg (the third), as part of the Institute’s “Torah Study for the Soul,” created by Rabbi Jonathan Slater. Through his own study, Rabbi Slater discovered that every week, likely during the Seudah Shleesheet (the third meal on Shabbat afternoon – a special, tender time for study and prayer), Rabbi Weinberg would give a drash on the coming week’s sedra (Torah portion), through the lens of one particular verse: Psalm 69:14. “Va’ani tefilati Adonai et ratzon; Elohim b’rov hasdechah aneini b’emet yisheicha. As for me, may my prayer come to You, O YHVH, at a favorable moment; Elohim, in your abundant love, answer me with Your sure deliverance.” Psalm 69, verse 14 was for the Birkat Avraham a never-ending fountain of inspiration, truth and delight.
So what is the message, endlessly given, through a reading of these twelve words, turned over again and again, deconstructed, reimagined and variously emphasized, to yield an ever new presentation of the central insight at the core of Rabbi Weinberg’s soul?
Well, in truth there are a few core teachings that Rabbi Weinberg shares through the lens of this verse, but one of them is this: We have the power to work with our minds in such a way as to see God unfolding through all events that happen to us. We pray for the entrance into that awareness. Any time our prayer reveals to us the fundamental and overriding reality of hesed (love) is indeed, a favorable moment; and it is this that delivers us from suffering and delusion.
Now, this is not likely to be a message one hears once and “gets,” even through the brilliant investigation and serious Torah play of Rabbi Weinberg. Rather, it is a message one might hear and perhaps be inspired to try embodying through contemplative, devotional practice. But then, inevitably, the clarity of the teaching will slip away, and one will need to hear it yet again from the mouth of one whose life embodies it. Such reinforcement, such refinement is necessary for the constant deconditioning and reconditioning of our habits of perception. Which may be one reason Rabbi Weinberg, in his wisdom, comes back to share this teaching in so many different ways.
I am grateful for Rabbi Slater’s inspired translation and commentary of the Birkat Avraham, and am delighted to hear the echoes of Rabbi Slater’s one sermon through this Torah, as well. Curious? Subscribe! (email email@example.com).
* I, like others in the Institute network, am teaching Birkat Avraham this year every week. That nearly twenty people show up every Tuesday morning at 8 am from far and wide, even through a New England winter, tells me that this year’s “Torah Study for the Soul” is truly inspired.
– Nancy Flam
Email newsletter February 2013
If you were to ask the Jewish person in the street if Jews prayed, you would likely be told that we do. If pressed further about what Jews do, you would likely be told that Jews recite the words of the siddur, or that they say blessings.
If you pressed further, to ask if Jews pray directly to God, with their own words, outside of the synagogue or recognized ritual moment, you would likely get a negative response. “We don’t do that! That’s how ‘they’ pray”. But, there is a long history of Jewish personal prayer, expressed directly to God. These are prayers of joy and thanksgiving, of sorrow and hopelessness, of need and anticipation. Some of these prayers include petitions – “please help me” – but some are simply a statement of the truth – “this is how I feel. Are You there?” Despite this history, Jewish personal prayer as spiritual practice is hardly known, and even less engaged in (or at least unreported!).
The absence of such prayer in Jewish life undermines the potential for communal and liturgical prayer to be meaningful. It is very hard to bring up the energy to pray – even if using someone else’s words – if one has no experience in prayer. Its absence also drains much of Jewish religious life of its vital energy. We may mouth words of prayer, but they will have no direction, no expectation of being received, no sense that they mean anything beyond a connection to tradition.
The Institute – under Rabbi Nancy Flams’s leadership – has begun an ambitious project: to make prayer a recognized, accepted and popular Jewish practice within our community in the next ten years (ambitious indeed!). One step toward that goal is to identify practices – Jewish practices – of personal prayer that we believe might be accessible and meaningful for contemporary Jews. Another step is to work together, practicing in community, experimenting with the traditional liturgy, to plumb its potential as a transformative prayer practice. A small group of participants in the project (all leaders in the field of personal and communal prayer and prayer-leadership) is now taking on those practices to “test drive” them, to learn about them. Our goal is to map out a number of prayer practices – traditional and contemporary, liturgical and personal – in the hopes of making it easier to teach them and to support individuals as they seek to deepen their experience in making prayer a spiritual practice.
In mapping these prayer practices, we are investigating first our own experiences: what was it like; what happened; what did it feel like; what happened afterward; what impediments to engaging in the practice did I experience, and what facilitated it, what was the impact on my life in the world, my relationships with others, my awareness of the needs of others, etc. Slowly, over time and practice, we expect to be able to formulate clearly what the practice is, why one might engage in this practice, what might be an expected outcome, and how to work with the practice over time.
Each prayer practice may have a different goal: one might be to draw closer to God, another to expand consciousness, another to open the heart to suffering and inspire compassion and action, yet another for liturgical prayer to be a transformative, contemplative experience. And, all of the practices may include all of the different elements. We are just beginning to look, to investigate and map the practices.
What is clear, at least so far, is that in deepening our own personal prayer-lives in these ways, we are becoming even more deeply connected to the tradition, awake to its potential and inspired in our spiritual lives. Making prayer a practice that is regular, focused, with goals against which one can clarify one’s intention and sense inner growth, can revive the spiritual life of the Jewish people. That is surely something worth praying for.
– Jonathan Slater
February 2013 email newsletter
Posted & filed under Email Newsletter Full Article | 6 Comments on Exciting Announcement for Rabbis and Cantors.