Thursday, November 18, 2010

Harvard prayer walkers

James and Nicole, who do “prayer walks” at Harvard on Friday mornings, asked that neither their real names nor the name of their church be used because they are concerned about potential ramifications for their relationship with the University. Their church, which runs “faith groups” at several local colleges, recently established one catering to Harvard students. In addition to the prayer walks, they hold fellowship meetings at Nicole’s apartment near campus. ...

I first heard of James and Nicole’s group in August when a tall young man wearing a dress shirt and slacks stopped and offered to help me carry some gear back to the Outing Club. As we walked down Plympton Street, he told me he was on campus doing a prayer walk.

Until then, I had thought the only group doing prayer walks on campus was the Justice House of Prayer Boston. Since June I had been attending meetings for thesis research at their house in Central Square...

On the Friday morning I tag along with James and Nicole, we meet at Au Bon Pain at 11 a.m. Missy’s there too, with a young woman from Texas she just met who is now staying with her while she’s in the city. Before we start, James and the others pray, asking God to show them whom to talk to or where to go. They do, and Missy shares first. “I got a picture of a lion,” she says, interpreting this to stand for courage. “I also got a picture of someone smoking outside the science building.”

Nicole says she saw a green tree but doesn’t spend time analyzing the image.

“Mine was really random,” James says. “I got a picture of a kangaroo.”

With that, we start for the Yard. Missy and her friend split off, and I go with Nicole and James. As we cut across on the path in front of Grays, James prays for God to open students’ hearts. We pass in between Weld and University Hall, and I notice something on top of one of those posts that deter cars and bikes. I drop behind so I can look closer. It is a tiny pink plastic kangaroo.

My first thought is that James planted it, but neither he nor Nicole stop. They don’t seem to have seen it. ...

Missy and her friend are waiting for us, excited to tell us how they found the woman in the red jacket and the red hat they were looking for. I had forgotten this particular vision. “We saw a lot of smokers outside the Science Center,” Missy says. James talks about the boy with the cast and the man visiting his brother-in-law. I ask if they saw the kangaroo. They think it’s cool, but not a big deal. I appreciate that they don’t try to use this as evidence for anything.

I say good-bye and return, alone, to the post by Weld, but the kangaroo is gone. ...

A few months after our Starbucks conversation, I’m reminded of Will’s question, when he asked me if I think they’re completely weird. ...

Temple has just realized he can’t find his car keys. The other staff and guests call out suggestions while he searches the prayer room and the adjacent kitchen. The part-time staffer tells him God had given her a vision that the keys were still in the trunk. She says it like she’s kidding, but she’s not, not really. Temple insists that he already checked, but when he can’t find them anywhere inside, he goes out again. A moment later he comes back, holding the keys. The part-time staffer grins.

“The Lord speaks to me,” she shrugs.

It’s tempting to be a little amazed, but by now I expect this sort of thing. The prophets joke about being prophets.

“You said they were in the trunk,” Temple protests, explaining that he’d found them stuck in the front door of his car.

The staffer shrugs and explains that her vision had been of the keys in a keyhole. She has automatically interpreted the metal surrounding the keyhole as the trunk. There’s a regular attendee with a scraggly orange beard and combat boots. I’ve almost never heard him say anything, but now he offers what sounds like a rule he’s learned by heart, a basic principle in dealing with prophetic visions: “You gotta say what you see.”
--Chelsea Shover, Harvard Crimson, on saying what you see

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