Down syndrome is an amazingly common genetic condition, occurring in one of every 800 live births. It’s estimated that 400,000 families in the U.S. have a child with Down syndrome. Yet in all my years of church attendance, not one of the congregations with which I have been associated has included a child or adult with the condition. So when we learned that our newborn grandson, Alec, had Down syndrome, I worried about whether this precious boy and his parents would ever find a spiritual home.
Then I happened upon Praying with Lior, a documentary that follows Lior Liebling, a teenager with Down syndrome, as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The film is funny, touching, hopeful, realistic, and challenging. And for this grandmother, it was transforming. Praying for Lior gave me hope that God is preparing a congregation to welcome my grandson, just as Lior has been welcomed by his.
When he was only as a toddler, Lior showed a gift for singing the Jewish prayers, always with gusto and usually slightly off key. Fortunately, the members of Lior’s reformed orthodox congregation consider themselves blessed by the opportunity to pray with him. The film begins with a tape recording of Lior’s mother, who died of cancer when he was just 6 years old, asking whether her son will one day be encouraged to have a Bar Mitzvah. The film ends with Lior celebrating with his congregation this most important event in the life of a Jewish boy. In between, Praying for Lior explores important questions, such as the nature of “disability,” what it means to be created in the image of God, and who is able to pray.
I highly recommend Praying for Lior to families encountering Down syndrome for the first time and to churches wishing to reach out to them. Prepare to be blessed.