It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:9)
They were just two adolescent boys entering the boarding area for our flight home from Nashville, with their heads buried in their cell phones. They entered with their mother and younger sister and sat down in the waiting area chairs and started digging through their back packs. And then they were suddently unique. They had each strapped a long black strap around their foreheads and then wound it down their left arm. A small black box was attached to the strap at their forehead and another near their bicep. They opened small books and started silently wording the text written in their books. They were nodding and even bowing a bit, and rocking back and forth from foot to foot in a somewhat rhythmic fashion. I saw their yarmulkes and realized they were Jewish boys, probably of the Orthodox tradition, that were most likely reciting their morning prayers while wearing their phylacteries.. They finished after a few minutes, and returned to their phones. The straps were put away, but the yarmulkes remained. And I found myself reflecting on this simple yet remarkable witness, as one way to integrate their faith life into their secular lives.
Then I thought about my faith life, and I wondered how often I make such a public witness to my faith. Wearing a cross no longer has any counter-cultural associations as they have become a staple part of the jewelry industry. My clerical collar identifies my calling in the world, but doesn’t really say anything about my faith life … I could serve a church but still be a spiritual knave. Saying a short prayer prior to a meal that I may be eating at Panera Bread or Tom and Chee’s … seems a bit of an understatement. Of course, I have always been a person who likes to blend into the woodwork. I don’t really like attention focused on me. So this is an especially challenging idea. But I was touched deeply by watching these two boys pray. I found it an inspiring moment that bolstered my hope that when Christ returns he will find faith on earth … at least among God’s first children. But what about the rest of us?
So maybe in your times of reflection this week, you might ponder the connection between your private piety and the public expression of your faith. Where do they intersect? Where do you find them to be distinctively different realities? Are there moments in time when each might be uniquely equipped to speak to thew world in a powerful way? I get it. This is not something we as “frozen chosen” Lutherans do very well. But maybe there is still time for us to learn. Might not a public recitation of the Apostles’ Creed on your break start up a conversation with a person who was struggling in their faith life? Isn’t it possible that a praying of the Lord’ s Prayer over your lunch could invite a fellow believer to join in and establish a connection with you? I don’t really know what this might look like … I have confessed, that it is not a strong part of my own personal piety. So maybe you can teach me a thing or two in this realm where the public and private natures of our faith meet?