The Battle of Harvard Square

The Battle of Harvard Square

This was our final semester at Harvard, which sets the story in the spring of 1972.

It was past midnight on a weeknight. E was already in bed. I was walking slowly and reluctantly west on Kirkland Street from our graduate student housing in Holden Green toward Harvard Square, not at all eager to meet the challenge that awaited me.

I had been working on a research paper when the silent command leapt clearly and unambiguously into my mind: “I want you to walk to Harvard Square and break the power of the spirits that rule there.” I looked up from my research material, stared blankly for several seconds, then returned to studying.

The words came again.

And yet again.

On the final occasion, I paused significantly longer. On many previous occasions the Holy Spirit had spoken to me, instructing me to do something specific. Only three years earlier, I had completely blown it and had dismissed (i.e., disobeyed) the instructions, leading unambiguously to several innocent deaths (see the first two paragraphs of Why Intercessory Prayer Works). I didn’t want to blow it again. But this was something on an immeasurably higher plane than anything I had previously experienced.

Because this is a story, not a theological treatise, I can’t devote a lot of space to explanatory notes. Suffice it to say that I had learned from experience that what the New Testament labels “principalities and powers” are literally real. Remaining unseen, there are in fact hierarchies of evil spiritual powers distributed variously over nations, cities, neighborhoods, or even organizations, with the marching orders to oppose all that is of God within their jurisdictions. It seems ludicrous to modern sensibilities, but such spiritual forces are unambiguously described in scripture—and to my surprise after encountering the risen Jesus a number of years before, I discovered experientially that they are real.

But heretofore my experiences had been minor skirmishes compared to what it seemed God was asking me to do now. It’s one thing to participate in a spiritual conflict against a few enemy foot soldiers, when you’re with several of your own troops and possessing overwhelming firepower. It’s quite another to confront regimental-sized forces, commanded by some of the enemy’s most lethal toadies—alone! Yes, of course, I wasn’t truly alone, I had Jesus on my side, etc., etc. I nevertheless knew, and dared to remind the Holy Spirit, that I literally could be killed in such a battle. It was no trivial request.

For the spiritual context, let me describe a lampoon map of the United States that you could purchase at various spots in Cambridge. The bulk of the map comprised a gigantic representation of Berkeley, California, on the West Coast, connected very closely to an equally gigantic representation of Harvard Square on the East Coast. Not much else mattered, anywhere in the country. That’s how significant my neighborhood appeared in the minds of much popular culture; and I’m confident that’s how significant it was spiritually.

It was pretty much a spiritual hodge-podge. Walk to Harvard Square and you almost inevitably would be asked to purchase some weed; you would see the seemingly always-present line of Hare Krishna dancers with their saffron robes and hand drums and finger cymbals, chanting/praying to Lord Krishna as they bobbed gracefully through the neighborhood; you would encounter members of the “Process” group, dressed all in gray and wearing gray capes, passing out literature and advocating for the supposedly “biblical” principle that, since Jesus called for us to love our enemies, we should therefore love Satan, and that was the key to universal peace. And other strange people.

By necessity and by God’s grace, E and I were inured to the environment. We loved to visit the Square, and especially (when we dared squander some very precious cash) to visit Brigham’s Ice Cream parlor and order mocha-almond-fudge cones “with jimmies” for thirty-five cents. I delighted in the bizarre mix of people in the Square, and enjoyed praying silently for all sorts of people. Even though we knew we were living in a veritable cauldron of spiritual darkness, positive aspects of the human and cultural variability were a delight to us. We loved it.

Our Christian friends, however, often experienced something quite different. When out-of-town friends would visit us for a day or two, it was not uncommon for them to express feelings of heaviness and oppression. As we drove closer and closer to Harvard Square, more than one visitor, as I was taking him or her to our apartment from Boston’s Logan Airport, said something like, “I’m developing a major headache. I’m going to need to take some aspirin as soon as we get to your place, and then just go to bed.”

For years, E and I had been insulated from the darkness. But as I walked west on Kirkland Street on that clear spring night, I understood that the protective shield God had provided E and me was being removed from me—that I was being asked to face the local spiritual powers without the covering I had known for nearly four years. I knew unambiguously that I was going up against MAJOR forces of evil, led by one or more of the most powerful demonic princes in this country.

Just me (and Jesus, of course).

The only comfort I was able to draw into my brain was the statement, You are of God. . . he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4 RSV).” I repeated that promise over and over and over and over to myself: You are of God. . . he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

By the time I approached Harvard Square (a bit less than a mile from our apartment), I felt relatively calm. Then the Spirit directed me to head not for the Square but for the Cambridge Common, a few blocks to the north, explaining that the buildings and continuing night life around Harvard Square would be distracting, while the Common (a roughly triangular park) not only would be less distracting but would permit me to pray aloud, should I so choose, without being self-conscious that I would be overheard. He explained that the specific location wasn’t important: I would definitely be praying against the demonic hierarchies that held sway over Harvard Square and its environs.

And so I found myself at the south corner of the Cambridge Common, ready to do my David-Goliath thing against powerful and brutish forces, aware on the one hand that I literally could end up dead within just a few minutes; but on the other hand, that the One who was in me was in fact greater than the greatest power the world could muster! I was glad to be at the Common and not at Harvard Square, since everything I did was vocal. It just seemed right that I should be praying, proclaiming, worshiping out loud.

I walked around the Common one entire circuit, doing nothing but praying in tongues: I figured that, since I had no idea what I was doing and since I felt totally in over my head, the most useful thing I could do was to let the Holy Spirit intercede according to the Father’s will (cf. Romans 8:26). I made the circuit again, this time assuming the authority of the risen Lord Jesus, who was King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and proclaiming that the power of all demonic beings, all servants of Satan, all opponents of the Lord Jesus, was broken and destroyed. Then I walked a third circuit of the Common, simply worshiping God, proclaiming his beauty and love and glory and faithfulness and salvation and his victory.

And then I walked home.

It took awhile to get to sleep after all that excitement. I was happy to find myself still alive, as I slipped into bed next to my lovely wife, who had been totally unaware of my adventure.

I slept late the next morning. As usual, I was as objective as possible about what had happened the night before. I figured it was possible that I had made the whole thing up, and that neither God nor his enemies were involved with anything that had happened. I always experience such doubts, and I assume that in some cases the doubts are justified and I was indeed inventing stuff from scratch. But in his kindness, from time to time our Lord lifts the veil in order to let me understand, “See? It was real! You truly were involved with unseen spiritual forces.”

This was one of those times. In spades.

The Harvard Crimson was/is a daily, student-run newspaper delivered free to all Harvard students. It appeared outside our apartment’s door every morning. That morning, the day after The Battle of Harvard Square, it was different. Instead of the standard banner we had seen every day for nearly four years, occupying the top one-fourth to one-third of the front page there was a graphic that appeared to be (or was similar to) a woodcut. At the bottom it showed Harvard Yard (similar to its appearance as seen from the southern tip of the Cambridge Common); above the Yard was a mélange of airborne angels and grotesque demons in pitched battle, with the angels definitely demonstrating the upper hand. I poured over every inch of the paper several times, looking for an explanation of the graphic, or for its source. It’s possible that I failed to see something that was there; but so far as I could determine, there was no mention whatsoever of the one-time “battle” banner. It was simply there. Only on that one day.

Little did I know that this spiritual battle provided preparation for an even more intense conflict a year and a half later, about which you can read in Yom Kippur War.