Given in the Temple by Eleanor L. Shumway, Guardian in Chief, Sunday December 9, 2012
THE WAR PRAYER
Mark Twain is arguably one of the greatest American writers.
His Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is deemed the great American novel. His wit and insight are legendary. Twain’s last work was his autobiography, which he dictated and thought would be most entertaining if he went off on whims and tangents in non-chronological order. Some archivists and compilers have rearranged the biography into more conventional forms, thereby eliminating some of Twain’s humor and the flow of the book. The first volume of autobiography, over 736 pages, was published by the University of California in November 2010, 100 years after his death as Twain wished. It soon became an unexpected best seller, making Twain one of very few authors publishing new best-selling volumes in all three of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
Most of us do not know that during the Philippine-American War, Twain wrote a short pacifist story entitled The War Prayer, which makes the point that humanism and Christianity’s preaching of love are incompatible with the conduct of war. Remember, he had seen the ravages of the Civil War, as well as the Spanish(Philippine)American War. It was submitted to Harper’s Bazaar for publication, but on March 22, 1905 the magazine rejected the story as “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine.” Eight days later, Twain wrote to his friend Daniel Carter Beard, to whom he had read the story, “I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” Because he had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, Twain could not publish The War Prayer elsewhere; it remained unpublished until 1923.
I would like to share this with you now, along with some insight into prayer as laid out in the Teachings of the Temple.
First 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 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 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 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 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. 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. 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.
Now, prayer from the Temple point of view. This is from the Lesson entitled Prayer, Volume 1 of Teachings of the Temple. (Interestingly, written about the same time)
“Over and over again, in some slightly changed form, some of you put the same questions to me; over and over again I make the same replies. Unconsciously to yourselves you often ask that the governing laws of the Universe be changed in order that some personal idiosyncrasy or desire be gratified. You ask that the great law of Karma – cause and effect – be modified or changed in order that you may obtain some favor or win some power which you have not earned; that place, position, or opportunity be given you for which you are as yet unfitted, unaware that unfulfilled duties pertaining to such places or opportunities would result in unspeakable anguish to you.
“You are told that hatred, unbrotherly conduct, harsh criticism of others whether deserved or not, generates within your own auras a corroding, devitalizing form of force, which not only results in illness of the physical body, but which acts on the astral body and the organs of consciousness, on the mind plane, similarly to some of the noxious metallic poisons on the physical body; and yet some among your number are passing cruel to each other and to others who are dependent on you, and who justly or unjustly excite your anger. You often think you are justified in assuming a judicial air, or in violently condemning wrong doers; but it is not your possible justification that we are called upon to consider now; it is the action of universal laws, as applied to a would-be occultist. If you are satisfied to evolve with the masses, well and good; if you would pass beyond the masses, you must be subject to higher laws than those which govern material substance. You must try to realize that I, too, am limited.
“I can tell you of things to come, as I am able to judge by the visible signs, as well as by my knowledge of interior laws; I can tell you how certain catastrophes might be averted if the humanity of this age would listen and obey; but bear in mind, I cannot change the laws that govern manifesting matter; I cannot make two and two five, I cannot take two pecans from five and leave four, although I might be able to make you believe that I had accomplished that feat by means of hypnosis or some other ultra-physical power.
“One of the greatest difficulties you experience lies in your inability to accept as literally true the statements given out by myself and others in positions similar to my own, regarding the action of universal laws.
“The unyielding, unpliable man is invariably the man that is broken on the wheel of the world; the pliable man bends beneath the storm, and the storm either passes over his head and leaves him untouched, or touches him so lightly by comparison, that his rebound to a normal position is accomplished with very little difficulty when the danger is over.
“The strained, tense condition of the nerves from which countless thousands of people are now suffering, is responsible for much of the evil that falls upon them. The same law that renders a relaxation of the body necessary, is behind an equal necessity for soul relaxation the law commonly known as gravitation, and true prayer should result in this relaxation of soul. The energy which should be evenly distributed throughout all the nerves and muscles, is used up thoughtlessly or ignorantly, in sustaining this tension, while for the time being it enables the ambitious man or woman to accomplish herculean tasks in business or pleasure; consequently, the body is robbed of necessary force, and the mind cannot function evenly and naturally; antagonism is engendered, and finally, incipient disease or decay manifests. You must learn to relax this tension by power of will, and I have already told you how you must evolve such will power if you are to obtain it.
“If the positive energy of intense selfish desire is sent forth in prayer, and the energy is not powerful enough to force accomplishment of the desire that energy is dissipated, and the body in which it was generated and by which it was sent forth, is broken or beaten down by the reflex action.
“If from the higher point of renunciation, the soul while in a perfect state of relaxation sends forth a prayer to the Infinite, not for some personal favor, but of faith, of love for that Infinite—– the same law which compels one pole of electricity to respond to the other will compel a response from those Infinite domains, and the response will be in accordance with the real needs of the aspiring soul. You will frequently find that the surest way of winning a thing is to give up even the desire for that thing.
“Thought is one form of energy, words are other forms of the same energy; combined, they create a third form, and true prayer is of this other form. Created and sent out from the human heart, it can go as far as its inherent power can take it. If the prayer or aspiration is selfish, it meets on an interior plane other forms of the same energy, the desires of which are in opposition to it, and one neutralizes or destroys the other, and the consequence is, that neither desire reaches those who have the power to answer.
“The wisdom of the ages is compressed in the words spoken by, Jesus, ‘Not my will, but thine be done.’ It is only prayers preceded by that sentence and winged by an unselfish love, that asks only to love, not for love, that Omnipotence can answer. The highest power is only won by renunciation. Renounce with thy whole heart — love with thy whole heart –work with thy whole heart, and all things in heaven and earth are thine.”
I had planned to quotes bits and pieces from this lesson, to draw parallels between the two writings. However, as I thought it through, I decided to simply let them stand, side by side, and trust in your insight and intuition to make those connections. Connections not only between the two writings, but the connections necessary between our inner and outer selves and the process of prayer.
The thought that kept intruding into my consciousness was, “Be careful what you pray for, you may get it!”
Eleanor L. Shumway
December 9, 2012