The Prayer Project

Prayer as Practice from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality

The Prayer Project is designed to help Jews explore prayer as spiritual practice: something we engage in with specific aims, forms, and techniques to cultivate our conscious connection with God. 

Many Jews think about other practices such as meditation, yoga and Tikkun Middot, as spiritual disciplines. But prayer is more often regarded either as something that happens spontaneously without forethought, or as something encoded in “services” which one simply and passively “attends.”

Most Jewish teaching about prayer is precisely that: teaching about prayer! One may learn the history of how the Jewish prayer book was compiled or specifics about the meaning of certain prayers themselves. One may also learn prayerbook Hebrew to be able to say the words of the prayers, along with synagogue etiquette (when to stand, sit, cover the eyes, etc.), all of which is certainly important and may help one engage in external acts of prayer.

But what of the inner dimensions? What about learning how to train the mind and heart to engage in the inner experience of prayer itself and to allow it to deepen moment by moment as it unfolds in the mind, heart, body and spirit? For such training, one needs an expert teacher, clear instructions, dedication to regular practice, and a community of fellow practitioners for support, inspiration, and insight.

Toward this end we have developed month-long intensives featuring video instruction and on-line discussion (with an optional, live, small-group, weekly processing call with the instructor). Each intensive focuses on one particular prayer modality, such as: chant; traditional, prayer book-based Jewish prayer; contemplative prayer; and, engagement with psalms.

The Prayer Project: Overview

 

The Prayer Project consists of eight 30-day prayer intensive modules:

  1. Contemplative Jewish Prayer: Presence, Intention, and Surrender
  2. Sacred Hebrew Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love
  3. Hitbodedut: Cultivating Spontaneous Conversations with God
  4. Jewish Liturgical Prayer: Finding our Authentic Service
  5. Receiving and Extending Love: Jewish Prayer through Meditation
  6. Liberating the Voice: Niggun as Authentic Prayer
  7. From My Flesh, I See God: Embodying the Amidah
  8. Praying In, and With, the Natural World

These 30-day prayer intensives are designed to help you focus on cultivating a specific modality of prayer practice. Each Sunday, you will receive an email with a half-hour video teaching, recorded by one of our master teachers. These video teachings accompany a written lesson, which may include links to Jewish texts, secular writings, poems, music, videos, and other references to supplement your learning. You can choose the best time in your schedule to watch the half-hour video teaching and read the written lesson, as well as to log onto the community forums to post your questions and reflections. Throughout the week, you will receive daily emails, which will encourage you to keep up with your own internal work with twenty to thirty minutes of daily practice.

As an optional supplement to the course, you may also choose to participate in a weekly processing group with your instructor. These groups are available on a first-come, first-serve basis for an additional fee of $75. They offer the opportunity to engage with your teacher and other participants in a “live” environment, using Zoom video conferencing technology.

Cost: 
Month-Long Prayer Intensive Module: $100
Month-Long Prayer Intensive Module Plus Weekly Live Processing Group: $175

Interested in bringing a Prayer Project module to your community? Contact Nancy Flam:

Upcoming Online Prayer Project Intensives

Liturgical Prayer: Discovering Our Own Authentic Service

Rabbi Jonathan Slater, October 27 – November 22, 2019

One of the greatest treasures of Jewish religious life is the siddur, the prayer-book. It reflects generations of spiritual struggle and exaltation, expressed in prayers of great poetic richness and nuanced theological reflection. While it is “one book,” it is made up of layers of texts, each one articulating its own way of expressing the deepest cares and yearnings of the Jewish heart. Yet for many Jews, this same book is an impediment to prayer. Forced to say someone else’s words of prayer, to live into someone else’s experience of God, to follow the flow of someone else’s heart, many people feel stymied, silenced.

In this module we will study and practice with the main prayers of the siddur, and also investigate different modes of praying through body, heart and mind –to discover which prayers might serve as a vehicle for our, authentic native expression in the context of Jewish tradition.

From My Flesh I See God: Embodying the Amidah

Rabbi Myriam Klotz, December 1 – 27, 2019

The Amidah, or Standing Prayer, forms the backbone of daily Jewish liturgical worship. The physicality of this prayer is essential to its expression. In this module you will be invited through the gates of this prayer into the realm of embodied prayer practice more generally.

We will inquire together: How can we deepen our prayer through physical gesture, presence and posture as we stand and stretch into the blessings that form the vertebrae of this prayer? What opens in our prayer lives if we expand our intention to pray with the body? What happens as the prayer emerging from the heart expresses itself not only through lips, but also through arms and legs, through bowing or uplifted spine? How does the body in stillness or movement express authentic prayer? At the same time as we will delve more deeply into this central Amidah prayer and its worded intentions, we will explore how to embody prayer more generally. Participants will be led each week through a guided, audio practice.

Hitbodedut: Cultivating Spontaneous Conversations with God

Rabbi David Jaffe, January 5 – 31, 2020

According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, daily hitbodedut – talking spontaneously with God – is the most powerful path to spiritual growth. Over these four weeks we will try out this potent practice, starting with small amounts of time and building each week. Daily assignments will explore preparing to speak, setting intentions, time and space for practice and closing a session. We will address what it means to have a conversation when you are not sure to whom you are speaking or if there is any conversation partner at all!

A month of hitbodedut has the power to open the heart, clarify priorities, increase awareness of our soul’s desire and strengthen our connection with God. Hitbodedut is not designed to take the place of liturgical prayer but it can have a profound influence on the quality of our more formal prayer lives, as well.

Liberating the Voice: Niggun as Prayer

Aviva Chernick and Rabbi Sam Feinsmith, February 2 – 28, 2020

The practice of niggun (wordless chant) can awaken a connection to our spiritual core and provide us with a strong base of prayerful energy, intention, and presence to call upon as a companion – or alternative – to traditional Jewish prayer.

Together, we will practice foundational mindfulness skills that support authentic and free expression of prayerful voice.  These include breath awareness, sensing emotions in the body, attending to the embodied elements of sound and prayer speech, and noticing habitual mental tendencies that inhibit authentic expression.

Though we do introduce a small canon of niggunim in week 2, we build our mindful prayer skills through a deep encounter with wordless chant of a single niggun, unveiling its parts and layers from week to week. In modules 3-4 we add prayerful words to our chant, exploring the ways in which the language and poetry of prayer might elicit subtle sacred feelings (e.g. awe, joy, delight, wonder) and open a channel for authentic and heartfelt prayerful expression. Study of key Hasidic teachings will support our work of liberating our authentic voice.

For this Prayer Project module, participants must have significant, prior practice in mindfulness meditation. It is not suitable for complete beginners to mindfulness meditation. Questions? Contact prayerproject@jewishspirituality.org.

Sacred Chant: Healing the Spirit, Transforming the Mind, Deepening Love

Rabbi Shefa Gold, March 1 – 27, 2020

By cultivating a personal practice of chant, we are receiving the holy texts that we have inherited by making them wholly our own. Through daily practice supported by teachings, processing and reflection we will learn and explore the power of the sacred phrase as a tool of healing and transformation. Through experiential classes we’ll discover what makes a chant different from a song, by exploring the power of intention, repetition, focus, awareness of states, and the silence that follows a chant. We’ll learn to use chant to build the mishkan (sanctuary) of heart, body, relationship,community, and world, so that God’s Presence can be invited into our lives. We’ll study the process of cultivating amiddah (internal quality or characteristic) through the embodiment of a sacred phrase while meeting our obstacles and resistances with compassion and wisdom. Together we will work at becoming whole-hearted before God through deep devotional practice, so that when it is time to serve,our service will be the overflow of our own evolving and vital chant practice.

Receiving and Extending Love: Jewish Prayer through Meditation

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, May 3 – 29, 2020

The very center of the Jewish liturgy is love. Indeed, we suggest that prayer itself is an act of love and is designed to enhance the human capacity to love. The words and ideas are right there in every Jewish prayer book. In this month of learning together we will offer three sets of clear and specific meditation practices drawn from the discipline of “Sustainable Compassion Practice” to train ourselves to receive and extend love. By liberating our innate loving capacities of care, tenderness, compassion, equanimity and discernment, this work will lead us to a deepened way of engaging and living the central prayers of Ahavah Rabbah, Shema and Ve’ahavta. We will explore obstacles and resistances to receiving love; the non-judging, non-separating, open and accepting attitude that is necessary for experiencing oneness, unification and connection; and the possibility for extending love to our neighbor and to the stranger.

Contemplative Jewish Prayer: Presence, Intention, Surrender

Rabbis Nancy Flam and James Jacobson-Maisels, May 31 – June 26, 2020

The practice of contemplative Jewish prayer enables us to open our hearts, minds and souls and cultivate ways of being that realize our fullest selves in intimate contact with divinity. Through the daily practice of contemplative prayer supported by weekly teachings, discussion groups,practice instructions, daily inspirations and other resources,participants will be helped to cultivate states of presence,authenticity, intimacy, surrender and opening which are the fruits of the practice. Participants will also be guided as to how to cultivate whatever qualities of heart and soul they feel most in need of as part of their daily practice.The clearly structured and carefully guided contemplative prayer model offered here is grounded in the Piacetzner Rebbe’s quieting technique as well as the personal practice and exploration of the teachers.