Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Praying in Public Spaces

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: Spirituality, faith, meditation, Landscape Architecture, J. William Thompson, prayer, public spaces,

Landscape Architecture April 2009What is the appropriate space for prayer? Landscape Architecture—an accessible, engaging magazine published by the American Society of Landscape Architects—offers some points to chew on in its coverage of the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, which opened in Baltimore last October.

Situated next to a parking ramp, surrounded with a cage-like security fence, and locked up at night, the location prompted Landscape Architecture editor J. William Thompson to wonder back in February: “Who chose this site for the Prayer Garden, anyway?” Thompson points to Matthew 6:6, which calls for keeping prayer to private spaces.

Readers fired back in April’s letters: “What better place to bear witness than a busy street in downtown Baltimore, a city whose street corners are sometimes open-air drug markets or refuges for the homeless?” Catherine Mahan and Scott Rykiel write. (Baltimore landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. designed the garden.)

“Although the prayer garden in Baltimore may not be conducive to quiet meditation or contemplation, any venue is fitting for prayer,” another reader writes. A reader completing her master’s thesis on designing spiritual spaces emphatically disagrees: “Would I pray in this garden? The answer is NO.”

So, I’ve got to ask (nursery-rhyme style): Mary, Mary, quite contrary / from where does true prayer flow? Would you pray in a public garden? Even next to a parking ramp?

Source: Landscape Architecture