Independence Day

The following piece, “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain, sums up pretty well how I felt on Independence Day as I reflected on the gung-ho, John Wayne, cowboy diplomacy attitude espoused by so many of my fellow American Christians.

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 fulttering
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 with 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 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 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 and 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 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 — excpet 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, and 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 your neighbor at the
same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs
it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on 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 the
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!

“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into
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 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 in the wastes of their desolated land in
rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in 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 pilgrimmage, 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. Amen.

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

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