The Sh’ma is the central prayer of Jewish life, an affirmation that our God is Everything-That-Is-Was-and-Will-Be, the One Sovereign Reality of the Universe.
Not long ago, I had the privilege of leading a beautiful community in reciting this prayer using a particular approach I learned at my home congregation. Apparently, it just came to our rabbi one day and acquired the name “sh’mantra.”
The idea is that everyone approaches the words as they are moved — some faster, some slower, some sooner, some later. What comes out is a churning sea of sound — all different, but all one, all focused on love and awe of God.
The sh’mantra has always brought me a deep sensation of what I understand to be God’s presence — vast and overflowing, churning with pattern and possibility, universe-spanning and closer than the beating of my heart, enveloping, permeating, intimate yet profoundly Other.
This time, the experience played out in a room filled with about seventy deeply focused and committed pray-ers, among them at least a dozen working cantors and cantorial students.
So sit back, breathe a while, click ‘play,’ then close your eyes and let it wash over you. The sound you hear at the end is a number of the people in the room, myself included, weeping.