Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Shade of Wings

by Susan Weinberg

We all face times when life feels overwhelming. It is in these times of brokenness when many turn to prayer. Others may turn inward with meditation or creative acts. Our topic in this discussion was prayer, but we agreed to hold on an important underlying question: “Does the act of prayer require you to believe in God?” So, hold that thought and grab on to the concept of prayer wherever it feels meaningful to you. In small groups we spoke of finding prayerfulness in communal activity, in movement and in the outdoors. 

The Siddur, the Jewish prayerbook, became our sourcebook for this discussion as well as the work of both visual and musical artists. We began our discussion with Lab Artist Rani Halpern presenting on her recent work for the Interfaith Artists Circle on the theme of Meditation on Visual Prayer. 

Prayers. . . early stage - R.Halpern

Rani used the prayer from the morning service as her jumping off point for this visual midrash. This prayer addresses the body and soul, the gift of creation and healing. While visually beautiful, Rani’s work also contains layers of meaning, both literally and figuratively. She spoke of how the repetition of the lettering became a kind of meditation. She didn’t want it clearly enunciated, but rather a mumble as group prayers often are. She chose not to be representational as it felt too concrete for the soul and chose to make the letters more abstract in form. The design of her piece is layered and floating, some background, some foreground, both those private prayers of the heart and those offered more publicly. Rani used the cut-out letters floating against the letters written with an acrylic brush marker. It was pointed out that the way in which it was created also represented the progression of a day.


Rimon co-sponsored a virtual artist salon at the Sacred Arts Festival at the University of St. Thomas which also recorded comments on this work. You can find the presentation of three artists, one of which is Rani. All are well worth listening to, but you can specifically find Rani’s work beginning at 22 minutes.

Prayers of the Soul - Rani Halpern
Rani’s was a prayer with both words and visuals. We next turned to wordless prayer in the form of a nigun. A nigun is a wordless melody, a repetition of nonsense words. Sometimes it is slow and meditative, other times fast and jubilant. The nigun grew out of Hassidic tradition. It is a prayer for those times when we lack the words to express what we are going through. An example of a nigun is represented in this short clip by Joey Weisenberg who performs Revelation.

We examined some of the other significant prayers in Jewish tradition and I was struck by the poetry of them (for the full prayers go to handout-Sourcesheet for April). The Hashkevenu is a prayer that seeks peace when afraid. It is said in the evening in communal prayer or before one goes to sleep. The Hebrew contains the repetition of the sound of the Shin. Shh . . . shh . . .shh . . , it calms us into sleep. Hide us in the shade of your wings it urges. Shhh. . .

Prayer even leads us into the present as Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (Chief Rabbi of Safed) offers a new prayer of thanks for imbuing humankind with the knowledge and understanding to create a vaccine. And when do you say this prayer? Why before you get the vaccine of course. Certainly a time of thanks.

We closed the lab with a quote shared by Robyn. "We don't see things the way they are, we see them the way we are!" (attributed to the Talmud). Our prayers come filtered through the lens through which we see the world. And yet, that lens is not immutable. The very act of prayer encourages us to view the world through a lens of gratitude.