He was standing between the little red fire engine and the six-legged camel lying on the floor just in front of the Cheshire cat tower. Facing out the airport window and bobbing right-to-left in constant motion, He was oblivious to everything around him.
I first noticed him while I was waiting to board my Zurich to Bucharest flight. He caught my attention as he draped himself in his white prayer shawl with blue stripes across the bottom. Then he took out his phylactery, kissed it, and put it on his forehead.
"Strange looking character," the man from Dallas standing next to me said to his traveling companion. And the man was right. He was a strange looking character who didn't care at all that he was standing among the children's toys in an airport play area, praying. Somehow he had determined that the window where he stood faced Jerusalem. It was a cloudy day, and there were no signs that said Jerusalem this way, only A66, my terminal and gate number. Yet he was doing exactly what Solomon said Israelites away from home should do--pray toward Jerusalem. Even Jonah, deep in the darkness of the fish's belly, turned toward the temple in Jerusalem in his desperate prayer of repentance to God during his moment of repentance from rebellion.
What makes a man find a window facing Jerusalem in the Zurich airport, wrap himself in a prayer shawl, place his phylactery on his forehead, and bob from right-to-left while praying among the children's toys? What makes a man allow himself to be labeled, "a strange looking character?" Habit? According to his clock it was time to pray. Fear of God's judgment? According to his thinking the discipline of works would get him in good with God. A law that must be kept, no matter what? According to his understanding, not to pray would get him in bad with God. And what about you? Would you become a strange looking character in an international airport in order to pray? Of course not. This is the very thing Jesus warned us against when He told us not to pray so others could see us.
But what does prayer mean to you? Would you interrupt what you have to do because it's your time to pray? Do you build your day around your prayer time--your inviolable prayer time? Or do you just fit in prayer as you can so it becomes a kind of dry river bed in your soul that gushes forth in a flood when life becomes so barren you must have the sweet refreshing taste of God's presence? And then go on your way until you need another prayer fix?
Think about it. If law means that much to a strange looking character in the Zurich airport, how much more must grace mean to us? Enough to pray even when it isn't convenient?
I last saw that man as I entered the jetway to board my flight. By then he had his prayer book out and was getting ready to sway in the Jewish prayer way, a strange looking character wrapped in his white prayer shawl with ] across the bottom, his phylactery on his forehead, facing Jerusalem, standing between the little red fire engine and the smiling six legged camel lying on the floor just in front of the Cheshire cat tower.