The Making Prayer Real Story And FAQs
by Rabbi Mike Comins
Answering the question "Why pray?"
In my work with TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures and as a congregational rabbi, I felt the need for a Jewish book on prayer that distinguished between prayer-in-general and liturgical prayer, a book that asked “Why pray?” before “Why these prayers?”
When I pitched the idea to Jewish Lights, publisher Stuart Matlins agreed, but suggested that I get some help. Within a few months, I had interviewed some 50 passionate Jews on the nitty-gritty of their prayer lives. The contributors shared their personal struggles and triumphs. My own views on prayer were challenged, deepened and transformed.
This process resulted in a unique, hybrid of a book. One the one hand, Making Prayer Real is a typical, one-author narrative: here is the problem, here is how to deal with it. But the views of 50 others are woven into every chapter, resulting in a level of depth and nuance that I never imagined possible. Readers responded with enthusiasm; the book went into a second printing a month after publication.
The MPR Course Curriculum
In order to teach the book online, I developed a new curriculum. I soon realized that to attain maximal impact, I needed to make the curriculum available to other teachers for use in their communities.
I invited four Southern California colleagues to pilot the course in 2012, and a second group of eight from around the country taught the Course in 2013 and 2014. In addition to the typical components of a curriculum (lesson plans, videos and the book), I developed a virtual classroom for the use of synagogue classes. The teachers were supported with a 2-day training seminar and phone consultations during the year.
Along the way, I re-interviewed the contributors to the book, this time on video, so that students could augment the book with additional teachings in a pleasing, visual format. In addition, the curriculum was tweaked and refined according to the comments and advice of both teachers and students.
In the summer of 2015, I will complete a final round of interviews and revisions to the lesson plans and videos. I am also changing the format to make the curriculum more affordable and more accessible.
Re: affordability, the five modules of the MPR Course will now be offered individually and need not be purchased as a set. The various support modalities (virtual classroom, training seminar, phone support) will be offered, but they will no longer be mandatory. The Course is now delivered on USB drive to licensees, and much of what was presented in the teacher training seminar is now offered in the curriculum modules via additional, pedagogic videos especially made for teachers.
Re: accessibility, I have learned that the videos are fruitful in many venues beyond a class on prayer. This might include adult education classes, confirmation classes, community retreats, Havurah gatherings, parent meetings in the school, etc. I have also become aware of a growing need for compelling, accessible Jewish content for clergy-less gatherings. To this end, each module has a series of specially edited, shorter videos, entitled “Conversations,” to catalyze high-level discussion on Jewish topics with or without the presence of a professional Jewish educator.
What will I receive when I license the Course?
You will receive access to our password-protected website, where you will be able to download .pdf and high definition .mov files including"
- Lesson plans with innovative ideas and tested methodologies.
- Traditional and alternative prayer practices.
- Video montages featuring outstanding teachers of Jewish spirituality.
- Transcripts of the videos to shorten preparation time for teachers.
- A video message to teachers from Rabbi Mike Comins on each lesson with general background and pedagogic advice.
- “Conversations” videos designed to teach and then draw the viewer into dialogue on interesting topics outside of a class on prayer (such as the dvar Torah before a meeting, a parent session at the religious school, etc.). These videos are particularly useful when there is a need for high level Jewish content at gatherings where Jewish professionals are not present.
What are the terms of the MPR Course license?
The MPR Course materials are provided for the exclusive use of your institution, and may be used in any activity sponsored by your community. They may not be copied or lent to other institutions. (That’s the only way we can make our business model work.)
How do I know if it’s worth licensing?
Our goal is to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision. You will find extensive materials under “Teach” here on the website.
The pilot teachers have graciously agreed to serve as references and speak with or email colleagues regarding the MPR Course. Read a sampling of their comments on the Teachers’ Report and References page. Email us for their contact information.
The MPR Course features video montages of over 40 leading Jewish spiritual voices on prayer, often presented with commentary by Rabbi Mike Comins. Why video?
- Through video, some of the world’s most inspiring teachers are brought into the classroom. Just like the book, the contributors speak from the heart; they bring interesting content in an interesting way.
- The MPR contributors demonstrate the responsible use of spiritual language. They role model the discussion that will follow.
- The videos begin a conversation that students easily join. The contributors bring multiple perspectives into the discussion with intelligence, nuance and heart. Everyone finds someone they resonate with, and often, someone with whom they do not. The videos stimulate high-level thought and discussion among the participants.
How do synagogues present the MPR Course?
One synagogue taught all 20 lessons over a 22 week period. Others held a weekly class spaced over the academic year. Most taught the curriculum over two years, meeting one to three times monthly. One synagogue presented each module as an intensive; one month on, one month off.
Some taught the entire curriculum. Others chose the lessons most relevant to their community. Unbeknownst to me when I began, the curriculum turned out to be highly flexible. Most lessons work well as stand alone sessions.
Must I teach all 20 sessions?
This depends on your goals. The MPR Course was created to change the culture of prayer in our communities for the better. If this is your goal, it is recommended that you teach as much of the curriculum as possible in a consistent time frame. When the theory behind the MPR approach to deepening prayer is presented to students, which only makes sense as part of an ongoing class, the ability of the Course to transform individuals and communities increases exponentially. While most lessons stand on their own, the sum is greater than the parts.
Having said that, teachers are encouraged to adapt the curriculum materials to their specific needs. The videos are useful in a variety of settings.
Teacher Training and SupportWe offer three support options to aid communities in using the MPR Course curriculum.
The Teacher Training Seminar, now a one-day intensive, helps instructors prepare for teaching the MPR Course. I demonstrate key activities and prayer practices, present the pedagogic rationale behind the curriculum, and advise instructors on teaching the curriculum in their setting.
In the Practice Circle, teachers share best practices online, learn how previous instructors have tweaked the lesson plans for their classes, and receive my pedagogic support by phone.
The Class Website offers discussion threads, teacher and student uploads, the MPR Course videos for viewing at home, and class summaries that enable students who missed a class to keep up.
You will find full information on the Teacher and Class Support page.
A New Approach
Most of the recent work in transforming synagogue worship, such as Synagogue 2000 and 3000, addresses what happens on the bima and other changes in programming that the leadership might make. The Making Prayer Real Course compliments this approach by addressing the individual praying person—challenging people to take ownership of their prayer lives, and providing them with the tools to do so.
This leads to changes that are dramatic and subtle at the same time. Students report sea-changes in their experience of prayer. To the outward observer, however, the effect is subtle, as people participate in the same service they attended previously, only now they have a different experience.
Can the MPR course change the culture of prayer in my community?
The MPR Course is at the beginning of its path. It will be several years before we can answer the question with authority. What we know now from the pilot classes is the following:
- Students report significant improvement in their experience of prayer.
- Those who previously looked outside their synagogue communities for an in-depth spirituality class are finding what they need at home.
- The Course is facilitating new conversations between clergy/educators and lay people on prayer, soul, spirit and God.
- The cultivation of a group of skilled pray-ers makes tefilot more enjoyable for those leading them.
Changing One Heart at a Time
My hypothesis is that change occurs over time as a growing, core community of skilled and motivated daveners creates a connection with clergy and an atmosphere for soulful prayer. This might well lead lead to changes in the way services are conducted. And it might not. The primary change agent is not what happens on the bima.
The process is labor intensive as it invests in the individual. The culture of prayer is changed one heart at a time. The MPR Course does not offer a quick fix. (If there is one, please let me know!) However, the effects are deep and long-lasting.