As I grow in the knowledge of my faith, my level of religious observation evolves and deepens. I love discovering the meaning and beauty inherent in the ancient practices of my beloved Judaism, the practices that nourish my soul.
Recently at Shabbat service, however, I found myself altering the way I worship once again. I remained seated throughout the entire service, and did not rise during the parts where the congregation is exhorted to stand: Amidah, the Barchu, or the Mourner’s Kaddish.
No, it’s not a matter interpreting the text, a “Hillel says rise, Shammai says sit” kind of rabbinic debate.
I had to finally acknowledge I simply couldn’t rise.
I’ve struggled with the effects of lupus and the accompanying severe joint pain and fatigue for some time, managing to just handle it, with what I’d like to think of as dignity in the face of discomfort—AKA saving face. But that week, though, which came after marking my 40th birthday, I hit another obstacle: renal failure.
It seems that diet, medical management, and lifestyle changes had slowed, but could not stop, the progression of disease. A call with test results once again changed the course of my life: I’m preparing to go on the kidney transplant list. I felt depleted, and in desperate need of my Jewish community.
So instead of staying home curled up on the couch, I made my way to shul for services.
What does religious observation look like when you are unable to physically participate? Do physical (and mental, for that matter) limitations exclude us from a meaningful, involved worship? Does any of this make me any less Jewish?
The short answer, naturally, is no. Physical health is not indicative of spiritual health. Sitting during the Standing portion of the service does not decrease observation, but merely reframes it into a more workable, adaptable context. Needing water or a little caloric sustenance for medical reasons on a fast day, similarly does not diminish the spiritual sustenance received from ceremony.
In Judaism, we choose life. Sometimes, in that choosing, we have to adapt, and that adaptation can look awkward and feel awkward. However contrary the adaptation appears, though, it’s still life.
So the next time we’re in shul, if you see me or someone else “sitting during the standing,” don’t judge. Instead, toast “l’chaim” with me. To life.