Ecstasy and the Energetic Structure of the Jewish Prayer Service: Praise, Worship & Glory

Sharon Alexander
27 min readMay 23, 2021

By Sharon Alexander, originally published 2011

“Singing in the Spirit will be a great part of the coming revival. There will be whole services in which congregations will stand in the glory and worship in the Spirit.”

— Sister Ruth Heflin, 1990/2000 (p. 190)


The Jewish prayer service is not typically acknowledged as having an ecstatic structure. But the ecstatic recipe of the charismatic Christian service, a worship service based on the Jewish one, has been well-explored by Heflin and others. In this article, the original ecstatic goal of the Jewish service is analyzed.

The congregation comes together singing praises to God (“T’hilim”). This is an act of “will”; one does not need to start from a place of sincerely appreciating God. These songs are known as the “Shir Hama’alot,” the “Songs of Ascent.” The congregational goal is to “ascend the mountain” together; in effect, to raise the frequency of the group and to create a resonantly coherent group field in that higher frequency. This coherent group field is called by Christians “one accord,” (literally, “one heart”). By definition this is an altered state, a trance state, sometimes experienced as a “holy hush.” Only in this trance state is it possible to “enter into the presence” of the divine, the personal “I-Thou” space of worship (“T’filah”), where one may “sit at the foot of God” and pour out one’s heart. Within that altered state, one may bond with, or, in other words, fall in love with, God. It is in the surrender to the higher authority of the divine — actually entrainment to that field — that acts of healing and miracle are known to occur.

At some point, one may have the experience of stepping up to yet a higher state of organization or energy — the ecstatic state of being immersed in the feeling of unconditional love or grace. When that happens, it is possible to have a synesthetic experience, in which “all the senses have become alive to God.” and one feels the “rain” of blessing falling down. This is the experience of Glory (“K’vodo”), the felt experience of God’s vital force. The sensory organs are attuned to the field of this loving presence and palpably perceive it. In that ecstatic state, it is also possible to receive revelation — information and help from higher sources. That is the true purpose of the ecstatic religious service.

What is the goal of the Jewish prayer service?

With the exception of the ultra-orthodox Chassidic experience, visitors to a mainstream Jewish service would not typically describe what they witness as “ecstatic.” Neither, for that matter, would most congregants.* The prayer service has a great deal of content. The main goal of the service is often seen as “getting through the prayers.” In traditional Judaism, there are three services a day and on three of days of the week a portion of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is also read. In the orthodox service, one sees a lot of standing up and sitting down, a lot of “shuckling” (rocking backwards and forwards), a lot of flipping of pages of the prayerbook, and possibly a bit of looking at one’s watch. The mitzvah (or commandment) is to say the prayers, not to have an ecstatic experience. Most of us, if we follow in the siddur (the Jewish prayerbook) at all, it is to remember to say all the prayers in the right order.

Though there has been a significant revival in the United States to liven up Jewish services since the 1970s, beginning with the concept of participatory sing-along services, largely influenced by the folk music movement, the result of bringing more songs into the service has arguably been the creation of greater group coherence in the congregation. Until recently, there has been very little public discussion of ecstasy as a goal of group prayer.

But In the summer of 2005, Newsweek Magazine devoted an entire issue on the subject of “Spirituality in America.” The premise? There is a growing fascination with and even obsession with the ecstatic experience. I summarized their message in sermon form at a Jewish conference held that summer:

There is a profound desire to know God directly; to viscerally feel God within; to have the ecstatic, transcendent personal experience of God. People want to open to God and pray to God out loud; joyfully, ecstatically, with their whole body and spirit. People want to be moved by the Holy Spirit, to experience the ecstasy of the Holy Spirit, to be able to say “I feel the Spirit come down upon me.” To be transformed by that experience. To transcend, to ascend, to the realm of glory; to the rapturous place where God’s presence is felt and where miracles actually occur.

The most visible example of congregational ecstatic experience is presently found in Pentecostal, charismatic, holiness, evangelical, or gospel Christian churches. “Praise,” “worship,” and “glory;” most Jews would identify these terms as coming from the Christian worship service and would not associate the concepts with Jewish services. It wasn’t until, living in Israel from 1992–1996, that I was introduced to a Pentecostal church located in East Jerusalem. Its minister, Rev. Ruth Heflin, had just published a little book entitled, Glory: Experiencing the Atmosphere of Heaven(1990/2000).

As a Jew, I began with a visceral repulsion to exploring the orientation of the Christian service and the Christian relationship with God. I found the concepts in Sister Ruth’s book so foreign and even threatening, that I ended up translating the terms to Hebrew. Praise became “t’hilim,” worship became t’filah,” and glory became “k’vodo.” I was unaware that terms like revelation, victory, anointing, and grace, all come originally out of Jewish biblical and siddurreferences.

Imagine my surprise upon reading this little book, written from a Pentecostal Christian perspective for other Christians, when I realized that she was actually explaining the ecstatic energetic structure of the Jewish service! The fact is, I have since learned, if you look at a copy of the Mass in Hebrew, you will see that the deep infrastructure of the Mass is identical to that of the siddur. Communion is the Amidah.

Re-examining the siddur, I was amazed to find that the Jewish service has been specifically designed to take the congregation into an ecstatic altered state. The following is excerpted from the Reconstructionist Shabbat Prayerbook, Kol Haneshamah (Teutsch, 1994/2002). The translations are true to the Hebrew. I have used “Yah” as a substitute for God’s name. For maximum effect, the reader is encouraged to read this section aloud.

Birchot Hashachar (the beginning prayer of the service):

And as for me, drawn by your love, I come into your house.

I lay me down in a humble surrender, before your holy shrine in awe.

Yah, how I love your house’s site, adore your Glory’s dwelling place.

And as for me, I fall in prayer, my body I bend down,

I greet, I bless, I bend the knee, before Yah who fashions me.

And as for me, my prayer is for you, Yah, may it be for you a time of desire,

O God, in the abundance of your love, respond to me in truth with your help;

Hodu L’adonai of the Psukey D’zimra (the opening psalms of praise):

Give thanks to the Magnificent, call on the name….Sing songs of God…celebrate the holy name….Tell among the nations of God’s glory, amid all peoples, of God’s wondrous acts….The skies recount the glory of divinity, God’s handiwork the heavens’ dome declares;

Nishmat and Yishtabach:

All breathing life adores your name.

All living flesh is raised to ecstasy each time we become aware.

Your name be praised eternally, our sovereign, you who are divine, and powerful, and great, and holy, throughout all the heavens and the earth….Blessed are you, Yah, the sovereign divine, so great in praises, God of all thanksgiving, source of wondrous deeds, who takes pleasure in our song and melody. Blessed is the one who lives eternally;

The worship part of the service beginning with the Bar’chu, where the congregant bows to God in awe and humility and service:

Bless Yah the blessed, forever;

Kol Hakol Yaducha:

Let all beings acknowledge you, all cry praise to you, and all declare: There is none as holy as Yah! All that is will thank You! All will praise You! And everything calls out: “None are Holy like Yah! …Bringer of light, with tender care, upon the earth and it inhabitants, in goodness you renew each day perpetually Creation’s wondrous work….None resembles you, our saving force, throughout all lifetimes and all worlds;

Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh:

…In an ecstasy of spirit, with pure speech and holy melody, all of them respond in awe as one, and cry: “holy, holy, holy, is the ruler of the multitudes of heaven. The whole world overflows with divine glory! (Everything is saturated with the Divine Presence!)…. Blessed be the glory of Yah, wherever God may dwell!

Sh’ma and V’ahavta:

…Blessed be the name and glory of God’s realm forever!

And you must love Yah, your God, with your whole heart, with every breath, with all you have;

Amidah (the silent standing prayer):

Open my lips, My Lord, and let my mouth declare your praise.

Take pleasure, Yah, in Israel Your people; lovingly accept their fervent prayer….May our eyes behold you, God, bringing your Shechinah (presence) home to Zion.

We give praise for our lives, our souls, for daily miracles, an the wonder of it all! Goodness is Your essence. To thank You is pleasure;

The individual petitions, expressions of praise and of gratefulness to God:

From my distress, I cried out: Yah!” Yah answered, bringing great release.

Cry praise, all you who serve Yah.

I give thanks to you, for you have answered me.

I pray, Yah, send us your help!

The prayers preceding the reading of the Torah:

There is none like You among the powers, Yah, and nothing like Your works. You infuse all existence with Your essence.

You breathe Past, Present and Future into being.

To you, Yah, is all majesty, and might and splendor, and eternity, and power!

The prayers following the reading of the Torah including the Aleynu:

Let us praise the Name of Yah, alone to be exalted.

Yah’s radiance is upon the earth and the heavens.

Praise to all the fervent ones! Halleluyah!

We rise in praise/worship to the master of all. We bow and prostrate ourselves in thanks before the Holy One, the ultimate Monarch.

For Yah stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the Earth.

Let God’s great name be big and holy in this world that god created with will/by Divine desire. May the realm of the sacred be completed in our lifetime;

The ending prayers of the service, the Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing sometimes bestowed on the children):

May Yah bless you and protect you

May Yah’s face give light to you and show you favor

May Yah’s face be lifted toward you and bestow upon you peace;

Finishing with Adon Olam:

Master of Time and Space, who ruled before any form was created; when Your desire brought all into being. Beginningless, Endless, Power and Dominion. Anchoring rock for my pain in times of distress. Into You hand I entrust my life-breath. When I sleep and when I wake. Yah is with me. I shall not fear.

When you listen to a cross-section of prayers from the Jewish service, you can clearly see that it is every bit as passionate as the gospel service. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the Jewish service is expressly designed to take the congregation to an ecstatic altered state! The Pentecostal Christian understanding of the progression of the service has provided the keys to revivify these “freeze-dried prayers” (to use a term coined by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, 2011, p. 4.)

Though the experience of a holiness, Pentecostal, or charismatic Christian worship service may not overtly resemble that of a typical Jewish service, the underlying structure of the Christian service is actually based on the framework of the earlier form. During the course of her ministry of a Pentecostal church in East Jerusalem, Reverend Ruth Heflin developed a deep sense of the spiritual order of that Judeo-Christian worship service as a path of ascension, actually designed to evoke a profound mystical experience. This understanding led Sister Ruth to develop her simple yet revelatory recipe for raising the congregation to a group experience of ecstasy: “praise” to “worship” to “glory.”

A Different Recipe for Understanding the Structure of the Jewish Service: Praise, Worship, and Glory**

Praise …

Until the spirit of worship comes.

Worship …

Until the glory comes.

Then …

Stand in the glory!

— Rev. Ruth Ward Heflin (1990/2000)

T’hilim,” Praise: the realm of thanksgiving for what God’s actions

The traditional Jewish religious service begins with Psalms (t’hilim), prayers that are full of the word “Hallelujah” (Praise Yah!). “The command to praise God is the most frequent command given in the Scriptures. The injunction to ‘praise the Lord’ occurs over fifty times…(and the word) praise is mentioned 330 times,” declares Rev. Fuchsia Pickett in her book Worship Him (2000, pp. 124–125).

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. (Psalm 150)

God inhabits the praises of His people. (Psalm 22:3)

I would venture to guess that most of us have never stopped to think about what it means when we “praise” the Lord. Webster’s dictionary defines praise as “to commend, to applaud or magnify.” Most often in life, we might praise a child. “Good job,” we might say. “I’m proud of you.” “Praise” is an expression of sincere appreciation. So the Judeo-Christian prayer service begins with prayers offering sincere appreciation to God. We appreciate God for the magnitude and wondrousness of God’s creations and actions; and we appreciate God’s great love for us.

When we arrive at a house of worship and begin to pray, we are not always in the particular feeling state of gratefulness to God. The authors of the siddur, the prayer book, knew this. The psalms at the beginning of the service are designed, in fact, to require the conscious, willful opening of the heart to God; an opening of oneself to Spirit. That is the meaning of praise.

The point of praising God at the beginning of the service, directing all hearts to God in sincere gratitude and appreciation, is to consciously and intentionally raise the group’s energetic state. “When I come into the House of the Lord, I offer my lips and I will to praise,” says Pentecostal Sister Ruth (Heflin, p. 84). Gospel singing is active consciousness; directed will, otherwise known as “intention.” It doesn’t matter what mood one is in when entering the service. You can be angry, sad, whatever.

The importance of this consciousness-altering technique is known to spiritual masters. Sufi mystic and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan, for instance, in his book The Mysticism of Sound and Music (1991/1996), reminds us that attuning ourselves to praise God turns consciousness into will.

Why do Jewish and Christian prayer services begin with praises to God? Praise turns out to be one of the most powerful techniques for opening the heart. The heart, the most powerful generator of pulsations in the body, responds to our emotions. Studies by Dr. Rollin McCraty and his colleagues (2002) at the HeartMath Institute, a group studying the relationship between meditation and health, indicate that the emotion of sincere appreciation causes the heart to produce its most harmonious (coherent) rhythms. As Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (2011) says: “When you begin with appreciation, the door opens up for more serious prayer” (p. 11).

Sufi, Jewish, Native American — all mystical traditions know the rules for engaging the heart (for instance, Bair & Bair, 2007; Khan, 191/1996; Schachter-Shalomi, 2011; Carlebach, 2007, 2008; Zeller, n.d.; Mehl-Madrona, 1997). It turns out that the heart hears like a child and is only interested in speaking feelings. Heartsongs use simple words, present tense action verbs, words a child would use — words the heart can understand. “The Lord heals; He saves.…He comforts; He cares; He provides” (Heflin, pp. 93–94). Catchy melodies, repetition, call and response, and chanting let the heart sing along.

The coherence of the heart frequencies becomes very important when we understand the power of the heart to transmit its emotional pulsation to other people. HeartMath studies showed that the heart pulses actually directly affect the brain pulses of the other people who are nearby (McCraty et al., 1998). Mathematician Steven Strogatz notes in his book Sync (2003) that it is the power of resonance, the tendency of two vibratory objects of the same frequency to pulse in concert, that allows the heart to entrain a group’s frequency. The authors of the siddur knew that by setting intention at the heart level, the most powerful vibratory source in the body, they could entrain the whole group’s energy into a larger, cohesive field (known in charismatic Christian churches as “one accord”).

Another powerful technique for guiding the heart is “affirmation,” the expression of what one wants, with the conviction that it has already been granted. The congregation “sing(s) unto the Lord,” focusing on gratitude, yearning and rejoicing, using “affirmation” in its deepest sense to actualize the visualized goal.

The field phenomenon is “contagious.” Anthropologist Michael Winkelman (2003), an expert in shamanic ritual, has found that the positive power of group praise and affirmation produces euphoria, dissolves self-boundaries, creates shared experience, and actually “enhances psychobiological synchronization within the group,” resulting in a group identity (pp. 390–391). The congregation begins to resonate together, becoming a collective, coherent organization; a holy choir.

It is from within this aroused and synchronized group state that the experience of God is accessed by the congregation. By praising and lifting God’s name, the congregation intends to raise its unified vibratory frequency, lifting the energy together, “raising the sparks” (to put it in Judeo-Christian mystical terms). When the congregation feels the “anointing” fall on a particular song, explains Sister Ruth, it begins “to ascend the Holy Mountain to come into the presence of God.” This is why Psalms 120–134 are known as “shir hama’a lot”(song of the ascension.)

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord and who

shall stand in his holy place? (Psalm 24:3)

“Praise is essential,” says Sister Ruth. “It is the means of entering into the presence of the Lord (p. 86). And as we ascend, rising in praise, we have a sense of entering in.

“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving

and into his courts with praise:

give thanks unto him bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4)

“Praise is the entering in. But in the past, once we had gotten in, we often didn’t know what to do next,” says Sister Ruth (p. 86).

“Praising” together as a congregation can be said to be an induction process of “tuning to God’s frequency.” We raise our sparks together, ascending the mountain, invoking the higher authority. This group coherence creates an atmospheric change in the room. It is palpable, thick, hypnotic. This felt sense is sometimes referred to as the “holy hush.” This is a realm of resonant entrainment and trance; “entrancement.” This is the “entrance” to the realm of worship; the entering into the presence of God.

T’filah,” Worship: the realm of devotion to God

The purpose of all prayer is to uplift the words,

to return them to their source above….

The words fly upward and come before Him.

As God turns to look at the ascending word,

life flows through all the worlds

and prayer receives its answer.

Likkutim Yekarim 10a

Arthur Green and Barry Holtz

“Your Word is Fire

Prayer, or T’filah in Hebrew, is also called Avodah, putting oneself in the service of God. A great deal of what we call “prayer” in our services is directed at ourselves — reminding ourselves to love God, that there is only one God, how great God is, our obligations to God, and so on. But real prayer only occurs when we are actually talking to God, actually opening our hearts to God. Real prayer comes from a place that is new and a little scary. Professor of religion Donald Miller speaks of “worship…as a form of sacred lovemaking,” an intimate personal conversation with God (Poloma, 1997). As Ted Andrews writes in his book Sacred Sounds (1992/2005):

Prayer is dialogue that institutes change. It is a dialogue with the universe and with the divine. Most importantly, it is a dialogue with those parts of yourself that resonate with the divine….Theinvocation within prayer unites our meditative state of consciousness with the power of the Word and with our innate force of will (pp. 100–101; emphases mine).

“(W)orship (from the Old English word “worthship”) brings the majesty of God into the midst of the people,” says Sister Ruth in her book, Glory (Heflin, 1990/2000, p. 106). “(T)he spirit of worship (comes) upon you,” and you find yourself in God’s presence, alone with God. In the praise part of the service, God has been typically addressed in the third person, as “He/She.” But as the service enters its worship phase, worshipers transition to a personal “I-Thou” relationship, beginning to address God as “You.” Time slows down in this space. This is a realm of devotion; where one has the feeling of sitting at the foot of God and God is listening. One may pour out one’s heart, one’s most intimate feelings, in deep private conversation with the Source of All. “(In) the atmosphere of worship…(we find ourselves) weep(ing) before the Lord” (Heflin, p. 92).

When we truly pray, we typically come to ask God for help. We are used to speaking about what God can DO for us. But in finding ourselves in the actual presence of the divine, we may end up finding ourselves overwhelmed instead by the wonder of who God IS. Here it is possible to fall in love with God.

“All breathing life adores your name….All living flesh is raised to ecstasy each time we become aware….Your name be praised eternally, our sovereign, you who are divine, and powerful, and great, and holy, throughout all the heavens and the earth.”

— Nishmat, Yishtabach, Bar’chu

Sister Ruth expresses it like this:

There is a realm in God so great that, even though you may have come with a dozen petitions and requests, …when He asks, “Was there something you wanted to say to Me?” you reply, “No, Lord.” “Was there something you wanted to ask Me?” “No, Lord!” No questions, no requests, no petitions. Everything has been satisfied. In His presence the things that seemed big to us become so insignificant. (Heflin, pp. 104–105)

“(T)here is a great sense of majesty and awe” (Heflin, p. 111). “Worship is the art of learning to express our love for God,” affirms Rev. Fuchsia Pickett in her book Worship Him (2000, P. 13). As Rev. Pickett says, “A worshiping heart longs to gaze upon the Beloved and know the fulfillment that comes when the gaze is returned” (p. 12). “The relationship of divine love we experience in our worship brings the deepest satisfaction to a human heart that it is capable of experiencing” (Pickett, pp 18–19).

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10

Worship, says Rev. Pickett, is an experience of the surrender of the heart to a higher/divine authority (p. 8; my emphasis). “Worship is an attitude of the heart in which the heart bows down before God” in devotion and honoring (Heflin, p. 128). Worship is the realm of “love and adoration unto the Lord” (Heflin, p. 89). We want to get “lost in worship” (pp. 89–92). One begins to pour out the heart to Him. One may spontaneously raise the arms in an expression of the opened heart.

“Let all beings acknowledge you, all cry praise to you, and all declare:

There is none as holy as Yah! All that is will thank You!”

— Kol Hakol Yaducha

It is through our surrender of our egos to this higher authority — our entrainment to its field — that healing and miracles are known to occur. “(P)ouring out our love and adoration at His feet produces an atmosphere in which prayer is answered and miracles occur” says Rev. Pickett (p. 113). Worship allows us to make new decisions to change our lives. “If you want to be changed, worship is the key,” advises Sister Ruth. “We become like that which we worship” (Heflin, p. 105).

“Open my lips, my Lord, and let me declare your praise.”

— Amidah

God becomes the Beloved, declares Sister Ruth. We are immersed in God’s unconditional love, surrounded by the fragrant perfume of that love. It is at this point that we notice that all our senses have become alive to God. We have entered the ecstatic realm of “glory.” This is the experience we Jews have forgotten the most about. Since it is least familiar to Jewish practitioners, I will cover this experience in detail.

The Realm of Glory, “K’vodo”: The felt experience of God

Something begins to happen in the Spirit world,

When God’s creation begins to worship Him.

As the praise and worship goes up

The Glory of God begins to fall down.

— quoted from the website of the Apostolic Minister

What is the realm of glory? Experiencers lapse into poetic terms to explain the phenomenon; variously describing it as “the atmosphere of Heaven,” “the realm of the Spirit,” “the felt presence of the Shekhinah,” “the realm of Angels,” “the sound of Eternity.” Sister Ruth describes glory as the sound of God’s voice; as the radiance of God’s love, washing over us and through us. “God is not only in the light; He is the light, according to the scriptures,” explains Rev. Pickett (p. 71). “The Holy Spirit dwelling in us reveals to our minds and hearts that the life of God is in us” (Pickett, p. 73).

Sister Ruth describes the glory realm as:

the revelation of the presence of God. It is the manifestation of His presence….Earth has the atmosphere of air, whereas the heavenly atmosphere is glory, His presence. When glory comes down, it’s a bit of Heaven’s atmosphere coming down to us, a taste of His manifest presence. (p. 143)

She compares it to the air, which we don’t see but yet require for our very existence:

We are not conscious of the air unless we see the wind blowing the leaves on the trees. Yet, the earth is covered by it. In the same way, not one inch of Heaven lacks glory. Now, God is giving us a taste of that glory, Heaven manifested on earth. (p. 143)

When the experience of Glory arrives, you stand in the Glory and rest in the Spirit; merged with God in ecstasy, in unification, in thick, fragrant love, in bliss; basking in God’s grace. The glory realm represents a shift in our relationship with God. We are no longer focused on the heart relationship as in the worship realm; but rather on the awesome holiness and absolute beauty of God. This is the realm in which we “[c]ry out in His presence, not from pain but from ecstasy,” says Sister Ruth (p. 119). “This is why the angels cry, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” claims Sister Ruth (Heflin, p. 156).

Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh…In an ecstasy of spirit, with pure speech and holy melody, all of them respond in awe as one, and cry: ‘holy, holy, holy, is the ruler of the multitudes of heaven. The whole world is saturated with the divine glory!’”

Isaiah 6:3

“When we get in the glory realm we not only understand why the angels cry holy, we join them!” says Sister Ruth (p. 156). That is because in the glory realm, our senses perceive God.

Glory descends like snow, falling around you palpably. Describes Sister Ruth:

Sometimes the glory comes down as dewdrops. Sometimes it comes down as golden drops of rain. Sometimes it comes as a pillar of cloud. Sometimes it comes as a pillar of fire. Sometimes it comes as a mist. Some people see little sparkles, the glory dust that falls from His garment. Some see it as a gray or yellow smoke…. Some see the fire of God coming down as a ball of flame or tongues of fire…. People see it in many different ways. (p. 144)

Others experience “a kind of liquid that permeates every part of the being,” found sociologist Margaret Poloma (1997) in her research of charismatic church services. Reports one participant:

“The anointing seems to literally come down from the heavens,

I experience it as something like rain, joyous, thick, palpable, creamy, liquid, love, light, rain, that heals.”

Sister Ruth describes the fragrance of God that may fill the room. Insists Sister Ruth (1990/2000):

God wants every one of your senses to be alive unto Him. He wants you to be thrilled with the sound of His voice. He wants you to be thrilled with the touch of His hand. He wants you to be thrilled at the sight of His countenance. He wants you to be deeply moved by His presence, as He comes near. (p. 118)

“The Lord wants us to know Him so intimately that we can present Him to others and can describe Him — from personal experience, from having seen Him, from

having heard His voice, from having felt His touch” (p. 129).

If one has not personally experienced the realm of glory, one might be inclined to read material about the state as metaphor, as poetry, but those who have experienced it swear that it is a real sensory phenomenon, an ecstatic synesthetic experience.***

“Synesthesia” is the experiencing by one sensory organ of a sensation normally attributed to a different sensory organ. It is caused by the confusion or crossing of sensory channels, as a result of a “disinhibition” of normal sensory filtering processes. The experience of glory is aroused and “induced” through group excitation and suggestion and seems to be a threshold experience or phase shift, a sudden change in perception at a switch-point, writes consciousness author Ken Wilber (1998).

It is important here to define the term “glory” as there is considerable confusion over its meaning. Most of us have become accustomed to associate the English word “glory” with radiance, a light phenomenon. In Hebrew, there are many words used to describe the radiance, luminosity, magnificence, and splendor aspects of glory; hadar, tiferet, hod,zohar. There are several more words used to describe glorification; hitpa’er (to magnify), halel (to praise), romam (to lift up). These are the meanings usually assumed by worshipers using the English term “glory”.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all flesh shall see it together:

for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Isaiah 40:5

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of

the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

— Habakkuk 2:14

However, the Hebrew term most often used in biblical references for “glory” is the word kavod. Kavod is used in Hebrew to mean “honor,” and its root is the same as for the words for “weight” and for “gravity” according to the Zilberman Hebrew-English dictionary, 1992, pp. 111, 123). So when the angels sing “the whole world is filled with God’s glory,” they mean God’s honor, weight, or gravity; thus a particular felt presence not necessarily synonymous with aspects of light. Glory is a change in perception. Perhaps we could say that glory is the sensation of the “gravity” of God.

The appearance of God’s glory on the mountaintop where Moses received the tablets of the ten commandments, is also called kavod. It was the kavod of the Lord that was experienced by the people as a pillar of devouring flame, smoke and intense sound, covered by a cloud (Chapters 19 and 24 of the Book of Exodus). And when Moses asks to have a vision of God’s “glory” (Chap 33), he uses the word kavod. However, the “glory” or “luminosity” that Moses’ face radiates on coming down from the mountain (Chap 34) is termed in the text, karan ohr, “rays of light.”

We don’t really know what creates gravity but there are physicists like Dale Pond (1996) who say that gravity is the effect of the “mutual attraction between harmonious (i.e., resonant) sub-atomic particles” (p. 83). It could be argued that “kavod” can be about the ability to manipulate gravity by identifying (i.e. synchronizing with, or resonating with, or becoming permeable to) larger gravitational systems, such as with the earth, the way a martial arts master can throw students across the room with his energy. Consciousness author Thaddeus Golas (1972/2008) referred to glory as an “expansion of self.”

It has been speculated by researchers, such as Professor Valerie Hunt (1989/1996), Claude Swanson (2003), and Phyllis Atwater (2003), that the ability to experience “glory” involves an “increasing or raising of one’s vibration level,” a quantum frequency leap of the mental field, also known as a phase-shift transition to a new state of consciousness.

Sister Ruth reflects on the power of ‘one accord,’ noting that “the glory doesn’t come until we’re in one spirit. When oneness of spirit comes, unity comes forth. When unity comes forth, immediately the glory falls” (Heflin, p. 153). It is in the ecstatic realm of glory that we open ourselves to the miraculous; where we receive visions, have revelations, experience healing miracles, reports Sister Ruth. People talk about seeing the Face of God. “When the glory comes, two things happen. One, the spirit of revelation begins to work in our hearts. Two, we are changed by the glory” (p. 153).

In Judaism, we come to tricky ground here. The place in the Jewish service where divine revelation was designed to take place is what is now the Torah service. (In Judaism, the Torah is considered to be the embodiment of Moses’ direct revelation, and there is argument as to whether additional direct revelation should be encouraged or whether the power of personal ecstatic experience is no longer sought or trusted.) But Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (2011) reminds us that we say the prayer, “Baruch atah Adonai notayn ha’Torah,” using the present tense verb, “Blessed is God who gives us the Torah”; the revelation is still coming to us, in the present moment.

In the Pentecostal Christian church, there is no such restriction on either prophecy or miraculous healing, both fruits of the ecstatic “conversion” experience. Declares Sister Ruth: “The first thing we notice about the glory realm is the ease it brings…. We may have prayed for the sick in one dimension, but when we move into the glory realm, healing just happens. There is no struggle” (Heflin, p. 159). God seems to work for us in this realm. In this realm we ‘let go and let God’.

Sister Ruth’s book seems nothing less than a recipe to an ecstatic experience through the Jewish and Christian prayer services. I maintain that the service is meant to — actually designed to — bring the congregation through these realms or worlds of altered state experience, to a state of altered perception; altered perspective if you will.

It remains for the younger generation of Jews to discover and recover the ecstatic nature of the Jewish service. These days many of those young Jews gravitate to the Orthodox Yeshivas (religious training institutions) in Israel to learn the nature of the Jewish ecstatic tradition. Many others find themselves exploring other ecstatic traditions, for instance Hinduism or gospel choir. There will always be those who are drawn to seek the ecstatic altered state experience of intimacy with the divine. Those Jews who go searching may be surprised to discover what is in between the covers of their own tradition’s prayerbook. I hope that when they do, they also have the opportunity to read Sister Ruth’s little book to help guide them to reclaim the experience behind the words.

“The most direct means for attaching ourselves to God

in this material world is through music and song.”

— Rabbi Nachman of Breslov


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© Sharon Alexander 2011. All rights reserved.

* Why do Jews come together to pray? The first issue we must examine is “ecstasy” itself. As a Jew, I must say that Jews don’t “do ecstasy”; or at least most congregations don’t — apart from the Chassidic sects. As Jews, and especially given our recent holocaust history, it may be that we are suspicious of such group altered state experience. Do you feel uncomfortable singing passionate praises to God? Does it feel too Christian, or just not Jewish somehow? Many of us are not used to worshipping in this way.

** There have been many attempts to examine the Jewish “prayer narrative” as a “personal spiritual journey,” as Jewish columnist David Suissa calls it. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, for instance, has offered the image of the journey through the “four worlds” or perspectives of consciousness: assiyah (the physical world of the body and action), yetzirah (the emotional world of relationship and affirmation), b’riyah (the intellectual world of symbolism and mental creation), and atzilut (the holistic world in which we are merged with the divine). From the perspective of the four worlds, the service builds to the highest ethereal realm and then returns back down to the mundane, earthy one. Another approach is taken by Rabbi Yoel Glick, who, while also acknowledging the buildup to climax followed by denouement, sees seven prayer sections each with a theme: “Awareness,” “Gratitude and Appreciation,” “Recognition of God and the Good,” “Affirmation — Light and Love,” “Communion,” “Contemplation,” and “Tikkun Olam and Oneness.” Each of these conceptualizations is helpful in becoming intimate with the structure of the service. But I believe I can add another helpful perspective to our understanding of the intention of the structural foundations of the service.

*** Though no one can prove to you what you have not yet experienced, I promise you that glory is a real, felt experience; as real as falling in love; as real as the experience of a baby bonding with its mother. So, in reading about glory and about grace, I encourage you to entertain the possibility that we are talking about a real phenomenon, accessible to all.