The Inner Dimensions of Chant by Rabbi Shefa Gold

Kol Zimra Chant Leader's Training. Photo © Janice Rubin Kol Zimra Chant Leader's Training. Photo © Janice Rubin

I am now in the process of gathering a new group of adventurers who are called to explore the power and magic of chant as an embodied, heart centered Jewish spiritual path. This adventure is called Kol Zimra.

Kol Zimra Chant Leader's Training
Kol Zimra Chant Leader’s Training. Cohort 8 begins April 2015. Learn More. Photo © Janice Rubin

I have discovered that when you have learned the words and the melody of the chant, you have only mastered its surface. And you have only engaged your own surface. As you practice the chant in the spirit of adventure and exploration, and with the humility to know that you really don’t yet know what it means … you are clearing away preconceptions and opening to new possibilities. You are discovering the vast dimensions of your own soul.

Even if I have chanted these words hundreds of times, I have not yet experienced them in the context of this moment, this place, this situation, this combination of circumstances. I know that fresh meanings may very well emerge out of this new synergy. Psalm 149 says, “Sing to God a New Song!” Every song is new when you approach it as a bold adventure with the surprising combination of humility and curiosity.

When I open my mouth to chant, I come with a sense of expectancy (something amazing is sure to unfold) but without expectations (I really don’t know exactly what will happen, or who I will be at the end of the chant).

We live in a world that is continually calling us to the surface. Appearances seem to be everything. The sheer pace of life seems to require superficiality. The quick wit is rewarded. It feels like we are always trying to keep up with the momentum of our lives and with the speed of this spinning world. Yet when I slow down I am rewarded with the richness and depth of each moment’s gifts. When I slow down I marvel at how much I’ve been missing in my rush to keep up.

I’m sorry to say that the prayer service that I inherited, with its style and obligation to say so many words, so very quickly, became for me an obstacle to prayer. My solution was to take one phrase at a time and explore its depths. That exploration required that I would also be exploring my own depths. “From where is this chant coming? “ became as important a question as “what does it mean?”

In my goal to become whole-hearted in my chanting, I became aware of many facets of self, many inner voices that each clamored for my attention and recognition, and some aspects of self that remained hidden in the shadows. One of my teachers, Paul Ray, called this “The Parliament of Personality.” One of the goals or purposes of Chant is to integrate all of these separate parts and become whole-hearted before God. As I’m chanting, I turn within and ask, “Who’s NOT chanting? I call in and welcome the fullness of who I am and who I’m becoming.

With the power of my Chant, I open the door at the center of my heart, so that I can be filled with inspiration and become the vehicle for Divine Presence.  It is the “innerness” of the practice that makes it transformative.

In the Book of Exodus, which tells the story of our journey to Freedom, Moses realizes that the only way to accomplish this journey and reach The Land of Promise is for God’s Presence to be within, between and among us as we go. Even after all the trouble of the Golden Calf, the murmurings and rebellions… Moses knows that it is only this “innerness” that makes our holy journey worth all the bother.

Rabbi Shefa leading chant
Kol Zimra Chant Leader’s Training. Photo © Janice Rubin

With the following chant, I address myself to You, God — the Great Mystery, with the knowledge that, “I can’t and don’t want to do this without You!” In the silence after the chant, I make a place inside me for that Divine Presence to dwell.

יֵֽלֶך ְ־נָא אֲדֹנָי בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ
Yelech na Adonay b’kirbaynu
Please God, Go within us. (Exodus 34:9)

If you are called to this path of spiritual leadership that invites God, the Great Mystery into its center, please join me in Kol Zimra 8, starting this April.