Grateful for Those Openings and Closings

Asher YatsarWe don’t talk about pooping in polite company but boy if you can’t poop, it’s nearly all you can think about.

When I was creating the Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health poster, I knew I wanted one of them to focus on the miracle of the systems of the human body—circulatory, respiration, digestion—all those (usually) silent systems that keep us going by oxygenating our blood and lungs, digesting our food and sending the nutrients where then need to go and sending the waste on its way so we can go.

A couple of years ago I participated in a year-long Jewish education class. One of the requirements was to adopt a new ritual—blessing the Sabbath candles, studying Torah (Hebrew Bible), finding a weekly reading to share with others. I decided to memorize the Hebrew text for what is colloquially called “the bathroom blessing.” Yep. We Jews have a blessing that can be recited after doing one’s business (wash hands, leave the loo, then say the blessing). In Hebrew, the prayer is referred to as “Asher Yatsar,” which references the One Who fashioned our bodies. It is included in the series of daily prayers recited each morning.

“Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who formed man with wisdom and  created within him many openings and many hollows. It is obvious and known before Your Throne of Glory that if even one of them ruptures, or if even one of them becomes blocked, it would be impossible to survive and to stand before You (even for a short period). Blessed are You, Hashem, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.”

This blessing encompasses all the working wonders of the human body. It is so simple and yet so profound. Where would any of us be if our openings didn’t open and our closings didn’t close in tandem with one other? Asthma, heart attacks, constipation—all conditions where our openings and hollows are stricken. The blessing also acknowledges the body’s miraculous powers of self-healing, properties which are now being assiduously studied as part of the cure to any number of diseases.

About the time I had memorized the entire Hebrew text, and was pretty good about remembering it each time I needed to recite it, my mother (now of blessed memory) was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Surgery to remove the cancer also removed the God-given openings and many hollows. The miracles of modern science crafted for her new, and permanent, opening and closing. For a while, every time I recited the bathroom blessing, it was with sorrow for what had to be done to my mother’s body and admiration for the equanimity with which she managed this new process.

photo credit: R.H. Hensleigh

How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

Good friend and artist Lynne Avadenka turned to this blessing for inspiration in creating her sculpture How We Know What We Know. Lynne was one of eleven artists invited to create a work based on discussions with scientists and doctors affiliated with the Taubman Cancer Institute in Ann Arbor, MI. The works were auctioned off with proceeds used to benefit the facility.

Her conversations with Dr. Lawrence, who works at the Institute, “ranged from topics of scientific complexity to notions of empathy, the gift and luck of good health, and the awareness of the time we have to do our work.” Avadenka said this led her “to consider a traditional daily prayer of thanks that draws attention to the miracle of the inner workings of our bodies: the openings and closings that allow us to be alive.”

Avadenka_2

How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

How We Know What We Know/photo by R.H. Hensleigh

 It’s your turn …

Create an atmosphere of gratitude for your family’s own openings and hollows. Order Mom’s 10 Commandments of Health and maybe even invite your kids to create a version of the bathroom blessing for your own family to memorize.

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One thought on “Grateful for Those Openings and Closings

  1. Elizabeth

    When I was visiting my orthodox son in Israel and had made a trip to the bathroom my son asked me if I had said my ‘bathroom’ blessing? I told him I have my own personal prayer: “Thank G-d I made it to the bathroom before I wet my pants!”

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