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    The War Prayer

    by Mark Twain
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    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.
    If you're writing a The War Prayer essay and need some advice, post your Mark Twain essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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