What do you do when a prayer… sort of stinks?

Did you know there’s a prayer for pooping? This tidbit is a classic Jewish fun fact shared with every Jewish child, eliciting plenty of giggling. As an adult, I have become much more familiar with the morning liturgy, including the “poop prayer” of my childhood: Asher Yatzar. However, the more I have come to know Asher Yatzar, the more I feel that it isn’t a piece of our liturgy that really works for me.

In English, a “traditional” translation of the prayer would read: Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many hollow spaces. It is obvious and known before Your Seat of Honor that if even one of them would be opened, or if even one of them would be sealed, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You even for one hour. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously. (Translation source: MyJewishLearning)

This is a strange prayer to begin with, for a few reasons. It can be difficult to reconcile our notion of what is holy with the bodily functions and goings on of the bathroom. But also, as someone who struggles with chronic illness, this prayer has proven extra difficult for me, as it seems to imply that a body that works differently might not be fit to pray before God.

My freshman year of college, I developed food intolerances and a chronic illness. While I struggled to figure out my food intolerances, I went months with symptoms that left me unable to live how I did previously. My symptoms definitely did not leave me in absolute wonderment of the intricate body that God designed.

Any time I came across Asher Yatzar, I wanted to scream. “You’re darn right that when things go wrong with my body, I can’t stand before You!” Standing through the whole Amidah wasn’t accessible for me when my chronic illness flared up. 

My struggles with my chronic illness have been eased over the years by carefully finding the treatments that worked for me. But my outrage when faced with a prayer like this one, a prayer that says an imperfectly working body is not one that can come before God to pray, has made me think a lot about the ways that we in Jewish communities value different kinds of bodies. How does Asher Yatzar help us do the work of creating inclusive prayer spaces for every body in our community? My answer: it doesn’t.

I’ve grown to be very aware of the way my own body simply can’t do things. On days like those, I still want to scream when I read Asher Yatzar. I’ve also grown extremely grateful for the times when everything does seem to be in working order. On days like those I still don’t like to read Asher Yatzar, because what good is a prayer that leaves me, and I’m sure many others, feeling like we don’t have an equal place coming before God?

My chronic illness has not changed my faith. Even during flare ups, Jewish communities are a source of strength for me. There is nothing I would rather do on a Friday night than be with a group of people who have all come before God, standing in body or spirit, to pray. I want to be part of this community. I want it to be more inclusive than the “poop prayer” seems to be.

The good news? We can all write our own prayers.

So, in my quest to make Asher Yatzar work for me and the communal goal of inclusion, I wrote my own version of the prayer for people like me who feel strong and capable and spiritual and religious even when they can’t always stand before God to pray.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, 

who created humankind in Your image,

from whom I inherit my imperfections.

It is a reflection of my own holiness

that I get up every day and take on the world,

when every moment I fight my limitations.

You didn’t give me this body any more than I chose it,

but now I choose to nurture it, physically and spiritually;

I choose to seek wholeness despite the myriad pieces

that form the intricate and incomprehensible, 

colorful and confusing mosaic of my body.

Blessed are You, Adonai, in whose presence I am whole.

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