Posed With Prayer and Purpose

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A DEEP musing? An earnest consideration? A spiritual communion? A humble prayer?

One can't help but wonder what this nun, so strikingly photographed by Neal J. Menschel, is thinking about.

Certainly, the circumstances surrounding the photo were dramatic. It was made at a religious service in Warsaw, Poland, several years ago. Members of the trade union Solidarity, banned by the Communist government, had come to pray for strength and guidance.

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Though packed with people, the church was peaceful, its atmosphere ``very moving, very serious,'' Mr. Menschel recalls.

The young woman first caught Menschel's eye because of her pose. It reminded him of a famous photograph of a nun waiting in prayer to hear news of a sunken cruise ship, the Andrea Doria, in 1956. ``I didn't try to duplicate that photograph, but it was on my mind,'' he says.

Can a work of art capture one's innermost thoughts, the most intimate communion with the Divine?

This goal has inspired artists throughout the ages. The outward signs, a bowed head or bended knee, seem only to acknowledge the humble thought that leads the way.

Religious scholars have called prayer the central phenomenon of religion, the process of addressing Him on whom man knows he depends. They have seen a difference between the prayer of petition, an urging or even bribing of a deity to favor the petitioner, and the prayer of contemplation.

This photo seems to be the latter, a prayer in which God, not man, is at the center. It's a conversation with a close and trusted friend.

It's a prayer of purpose and of power.

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