Call to prayer

prayerboothNormally we don't write about columns in mainstream papers. But far too often columns in mainstream papers are nothing more than ego-filled rants. But The Baltimore Sun had such a great column this week that I have to highlight it here. Columnist Jean Marbella displays remarkable observational skills and stylish prose with her insightful column:

The art student thought she could pray for summery weather, but given yesterday's sunny skies and shirt-sleeve temperatures, it looked like someone had beat her to it. The unemployed inventor might have prayed for a job, or at least money to continue his life's work, but he doesn't kneel very well since a skydiving accident.

Neither Rin ("short for Katherine") Lack nor Tim Silverwood stopped to take advantage of "Prayer Booth" as they walked by it yesterday, but then, few apparently do. For one thing, it just looks like another phone booth, graffiti-smeared and slightly grimy, that has been abandoned during these cellular times.

But the blue-and-white sign above it says not "Phone" but "Prayer." And there's no way to call anyone -- on Earth, at least -- because there isn't a pay phone inside, but instead a fold-down kneeler like you'd find in a church.

The entire column is so well written that it's hard to determine what to excerpt. It turns out the prayer booth is a public art project, one of 30 pieces installed downtown last year.

Marbella interviews people rushing by the prayer booth, records their reactions and makes a confession:

What surprised me yesterday as I accosted passers-by near the piece is how many people do pray -- just not in the "Prayer Booth."

"I don't think it's the right place for it," said Seulki Lee, 22, another MICA student, "There are people passing by and too many cars going by."

She prays in her head in restaurants before meals, or at the start of the day.

Marbella also tracks down the artist behind the prayer booth -- Dylan Mortimer, a 28-year-old Kansas City artist and pastor at a nondenominational church:

He has four "Prayer Booths" in various locales, and they tend to draw both "sincere and sarcastic" users. The artist uses a bit of both himself: His instructions in "Prayer Booth" include the warning, "Please avoid the booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are religious in nature."

"I'm for people exploring their faith in public, in ways that honor those around them," Mortimer said. "It's a balance between censorship and propaganda."

Marbella also speaks with a public art coordinator, who provides some thoughtful artistic analysis of the piece and its environment. The result of this well-rounded piece of reporting about one piece of art is a beautiful story about a fascinating and complex city. So go read the whole thing.

Photo by Michael Kruse via Kruse Kronicle.

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