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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 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 fiends 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 ignorantlyy 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.

(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.

Mark Twain