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

Module details and scheduling information is provided about the next set of modules that will be offered. You can check the dates and register.

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 $50. 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: $150

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

Upcoming Online Prayer Project Intensives

Liberating the Voice: Niggun as Prayer

Rabbi Sam Feinsmith and Aviva Chernick
May 5 – May 31, 2019

So many of us struggle with the language of Jewish prayer – Hebrew. Even if we feel comfortable with liturgical Hebrew, we may still feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of words that characterizes Jewish prayer. Then there’s the issue of holding back our free expression for fear of judgment or ridicule. In an effort to decode the prayers’ meanings, “get it all done,” and avoid shame, we may get stuck in the mind, losing our authentic connection to the heart, the body, and our spiritual core.

The practice of niggun (wordless chant) can reawaken that connection 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. During this four-week practice intensive, we will study the spiritual underpinnings of the practice of niggun through hasidic text. We will use what we learn to develop our capacity for receptively paying attention to the body and heart as we chant so that our vocal expression might flow freely and authentically from our inner lives. We will use attention and voice to cultivate heart-opening emotions such as awe, compassion, yearning, gratitude, and love. We will sing niggunim as both a companion to traditional Jewish prayer and a way into some of its words. No prior experience with Jewish prayer, singing, text study or mindfulness meditation is required.

Praying In, and With, the Natural World

Rabbi Mike Comins, June 2 – June 28, 2019

So many of us feel divinity in nature, where God’s creation pulls on our heartstrings and the obstacles to prayer seemingly melt into the earth. Rabbi Nachman taught that when we go outside to pray, the energy of the grasses, trees and plants joins us and helps make our prayer whole. In this prayer module, we will explore how listening for God and praying in wild spaces can elevate our practice and enliven our connection with God.

We will explore Judaism’s wisdom regarding the special relationship between human beings and the natural world. We will take a deep dive into biblical texts and the writings of Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and then apply the gleanings of our inquiry to contemplative practice in the natural world. We will work outdoors with walking meditation, blessings, psalms, and spontaneous, unscripted prayer. While it is helpful to be in a wild place removed from civilization, the practices are fruitful in a back yard, a local park or walking down a neighborhood street.

From My Flesh I See God: Embodying the Amidah

Rabbi Myriam Klotz, [Dates TBD]

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.