Saturday, April 12, 2003

The War Prayer

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
the drums were beating,
the bands playing,
the toy pistols popping,
the bunched firecrackers hissing and
on every hand and far down the receding and
fading spread of roofs and balconies a
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,
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
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
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,
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
"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

"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.


"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.


(After a pause.)

"Ye have prayed it;
if ye still desire it, speak!
The messenger of the Most High waits!"

Mark Twain, 1905

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