When people pray, things happen. Sometimes those things take a bizarre course.
Last month a 50-seat regional aircraft took off from La Guardia Airport. 25 minutes into the flight US Airways Express Flight 3079 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. The reason for the emergency landing – it involved prayer.
A 17-year-old passenger in a white sweater took out something he carried onboard, and strapped it onto his wrist and his head. Some on board understood the Jewish religion and knew that this is a part of the morning prayer. The object was tefillin, small leather boxes attached to leather straps that observant Jews wear during morning prayer. Because the flight crew and some of the passengers didn’t understand what it was, they reported it to the pilot. He immediately landed the plane.
This is quite understandable in a day where people are so conscious of what goes on inside airplanes. We have read about passengers who have hidden bombs in underwear or shoes. When flight crew and passengers saw the young man putting on the small leather boxes and straps, they became alarmed.
After being checked out at the Philadelphia Airport the young man was cleared of any wrong doing and the plane resumed its flight to Kentucky.
While this is amusing and interesting, it does lift up some lessons about prayer.
First, prayer is powerful. The mere fact that a young boy was praying caused a plane and all of its passengers to prepare for alternate plans.
The Bible is very clear about the power of prayer. It says in James 5:16, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Acts 4:31says, “When the people prayed the place was shaken.” Prayer can redirect the routes of people and prayer can give people a different ultimate destination.
A second lesson is the fact that some people didn’t recognize prayer. If one had known something about the Jewish religion they would have been impressed by a young man who was following the teaching of his religion that a young man prays within 4 hours after sunrise.
Many people criticize prayer today because they don’t recognize it or understand it or appreciate it or believe in it.
The third thing about prayer is to recognize that everybody doesn’t pray the same way. There is a lot of debate about whether we should pray in public, in our closets, kneeling, standing, etc. God is not limited to one particular mode of prayer.
It also reminded me of the importance of noticing what is going on around us. Because of cultural situations involving airline passengers, people were justified in their concern about the tefillin. Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Philadelphia police said, “There was an item wrapped around his head, straps or wires. The straps did appear to the flight attendant to be cables or wires. To the naked eye looking at it, it looked like that. She said it had wires running from it and going up to his fingers. When they notified the pilot of that, he had to follow his protocol. It is hard to Monday-morning-quarterback it.”
It also reminds me that we ought to learn more about the way other people pray. It might inform us and educate us. It also might keep us from being as judgmental or developing a tendency to stereotype people because they might pray differently from the way I pray.
Rabbi Greenberg, the young boy’s Rabbi, gave him advice for future flights. He said, “I would suggest, pray on the plane and put the tefillin on later. Pray now and fulfill the ritual later.”
The time to pray is now. Let us pray.