I just got back from watching an extraordinary movie. Praying With Lior is about a boy with Down Syndrome who, with the support of his family and community, is preparing for his bar mitzvah. It sounds like the kind of Hallmark card-style film I would do my best to avoid, or catch on Lifetime as a guilty pleasure. It is neither of these things--it's art, complex and beautiful, a story of honesty, pain, loss, and closeness to God. Lior, as the title suggests, loves to pray--he is in fact a praying prodigy, his disability causing many deficits but also breaking down usual barriers to spiritual expression. When he sings, he seems to have a direct line to God. Although focusing on a Jewish coming-of-age ritual, Praying With Lior is about love, not religion, the story of a perceptive, witty young man blessed to be born into an amazing family.
Filmmaker Ilana Trachtman happened to meet Lior and his family in 2003 at a spiritual retreat center, which ended up changing her life in the form of this film. (Watch carefully and you'll recognize some leaders of the Reconstructionist and Renewal worlds praying along with Lior.)
If you're in New York City and reading this on Sunday, go immediately to Cinema Village on E. 12th St. This weekend's ticket sales will determine how long the film is booked in New York and elsewhere. (All of last night's shows were sold out, an excellent sign.) Praying With Lior will be at Cinema Village throughout the week, and then move on to film festivals all over the place.
I left the theater feeling cleansed and purified, as if the movie stripped away the non-essential pieces that clogged my soul. I hope one day I can be honest enough with myself and with God to be able to pray like Lior, as well.