“The War Prayer” by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The countrywas up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned theholy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bandsplaying, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackershissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the recedingand fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wildernessof flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marcheddown the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, theproud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheeringthem with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by;nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriotoratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, andwhich they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclonesof applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while;in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag andcountry, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aidin our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence whichmoved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time,and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapproveof the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightwaygot such a stern and angry warning that for their personalsafety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offendedno more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leavefor the front; the church was filled; the volunteers werethere, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visionsof the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushingcharge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult,the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Thenhome from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submergedin golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dearones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friendswho had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field ofhonor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblestof noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter fromthe Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; itwas followed by an organ burst that shook the building, andwith one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beatinghearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

*God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarionand lightning thy sword!*

Then came the "long" prayer. None could rememberthe like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautifullanguage. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-mercifuland benignant Father of us all would watch over our nobleyoung soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in theirpatriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battleand the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, makethem strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset;help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flagand country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiselessstep 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 cataractto his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale evento ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering,he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to thepreacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids thepreacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with hismoving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, utteredin 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 withsolemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deepvoice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from AlmightyGod!" The words smote the house with a shock; if thestranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heardthe prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant itif such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shallhave explained to you its import -- that is to say, its fullimport. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, inthat 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. Hashe paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two-- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear ofHim Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken.Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessingupon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curseupon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessingof rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you arepossibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop whichmay not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the utteredpart of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words theother part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and alsoyou in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantlyand unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard thesewords: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient.the *whole* of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnantwords. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayedfor victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results whichfollow victory--*must* follow it, cannot help but follow it.Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken partof the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of ourhearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them-- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of ourbeloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help usto tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; helpus to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of theirpatriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns withthe shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us tolay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; helpus to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailinggrief; help us to turn them out roofless with little childrento wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land inrags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summerand 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, blighttheir lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavytheir steps, water their way with their tears, stain the whitesnow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in thespirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Whois the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sorebeset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(*After a pause.*) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desireit, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, becausethere was no sense in what he said.

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