The Art of Prayer

Praying together in Jerusalem

Photo by McKenna Phillips on Unsplash

The Queen’s Jubilee in the United Kingdom was made a public holiday which allowed me to join via Zoom, Elijah Interfaith Institute and Praying together in Jerusalem.

I first joined in 2020 when we were all in lockdown. Indeed it hadn't been on Zoom until lockdown. I haven't been free on a Thursday at 4 pm since maybe July of the same year.

The first of three teachers was Rabbi Baruch Brener. His bio reads as follows,

“Baruch Brener is an Israeli theater director, teacher and ordained orthodox rabbi. He has for the last 25 years been a central motor in researching and experimenting with tools for combining a deep and knowledgeable study of Jewish sources and spiritual practices with qualitative work in theatre, movement and voice. He is also engaged in educational frameworks and workshops where secular people with little knowledge of Jewish sources become acquainted with them in a non-coercive, intense and open manner”

He encounters many people longing to pray. He runs a ‘School of prayer’ to give them a fresh understanding of prayer.

He spoke about the ‘Field of prayer’ which I understood to mean (as he talked us through an exercise in prayer) an interior seeing that sees the vastness of all things.

I noted his words, “There is nothing deeper” “Don’t ask for things” and “Perceive life as deep as possible”

Although a Rabbi he spoke about it being prayer without theology and that by using the body we can draw wisdom. He mentioned ‘Focussing’. I looked it up having a sense that it was a school of some sort,

“Focusing is a process grounded in experiential listening as developed by Eugene Gendlin. It is a powerful way of interacting with innate body-felt knowing and leads to mutual respect, authenticity and compassion. We are a cross-cultural organization dedicated to supporting individuals and groups world-wide who are practicing, teaching and developing Focusing and its underlying philosophy.”

The course below is run by Baruch Brener

The second speaker was Douglas E. Christie, his bio reads as follows,

Douglas Christie is a Professor and the Chair of the Department of Theological Studies at the Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. His primary research interests focus on contemplative thought and practice in ancient and medieval Christianity and on spirituality and ecology. His work has appeared in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Spirituality, The Cambridge Companion to Christian Mysticism, Horizons, Cross Currents, The Anglican Theological Review, Weavings, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Studia Patristica, The Best Spiritual Writing, and Orion. Christie’s current work is focused on the idea of mystical darkness and the contemporary sense of exile, loss and emptiness.

He used poerty of Hadewijch of Brabant, 13th C and Czeslaw Milosz on prayer

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

Czeslaw Milosz

The third teacher was Swami Atmapriyananda, his bio reads,

Swami Atmapriyananda is a member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders and Vice Chancellor of Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University since 2005. Inspired by the ideal of renunciation and service as taught by Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, he joined as a Brahmacharin (spiritual trainee) in 1978 at Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha, Belur Math, the Headquarters of the worldwide organization, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.

He seemed to continue the unspoken theme of ‘Prayer without theology’.

He chanted some prayers as he spoke. You will find him chanting in the video below

For me, he summed up prayer by likening it to a child wanting food when hungry. When we ( at least some of us ) have a deep dissatisfaction with the present state we pray. We may not recognise it as prayer but it is that cry from within.

If you wish to watch the session click on the link below

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Gordie Jackson

Gordie Jackson

Speaks with a Northern Irish accent, lives in Hertfordshire, England.