“The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country

was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the

holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands

playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers

hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding

and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness

of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched

down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the

proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering

them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by;

nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot

oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and

which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones

of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while;

in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and

country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid

in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which

moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time,

and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove

of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway

got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal

safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended

no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave

for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were

there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions

of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing

charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult,

the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then

home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged

in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear

ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends

who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of

honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest

of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from

the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it

was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and

with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating

hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion

and lightning thy sword!*

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember

the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful

language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful

and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble

young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their

patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle

and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make

them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset;

help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag

and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless

step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister,

his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet,

his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract

to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even

to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering,

he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the

preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the

preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his

moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered

in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory,

O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside

-- which the startled minister did -- and took his place.

During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with

solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep

voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty

God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the

stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard

the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it

if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall

have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full

import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in

that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of --

except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has

he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two

-- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of

Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.

Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing

upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse

upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing

of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are

possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which

may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered

part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the

other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also

you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly

and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these

words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient.

the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant

words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed

for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which

follow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it.

Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part

of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our

hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them

-- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our

beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us

to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help

us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their

patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with

the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to

lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help

us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing

grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children

to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in

rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer

and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail,

imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it --

for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight

their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy

their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white

snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the

spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who

is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore

beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire

it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because

there was no sense in what he said.

The War Prayer in the early 1900s as a response the Philippine-American

War of 1899-1902. This document is public domain and may be

reproduced at your leisure.

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