The War Prayer - 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 sputtering; on every hand and far down the
      receding and fading spreads 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 outpouring 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
      Sunday morning came-next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the
      volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a 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 heros,
      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 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 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 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 His Who hearth all
      supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you 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 by 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 the Father 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 their 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 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.