…the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.

Several years ago I stood to pray where a great elm tree once stood. Beneath the magnificent tree one hundred and fifty years earlier a pot of burgoo simmered, and young men of Eureka College joined the Union army.

The words below are from a book that could have rested in the pockets of the 29 students and faculty of Company G as they gathered under Eureka College’s Recruiting Elm. That prayer book is almost identical to the one carried by Confederate soldiers, making the words even more poignant on the tongue of a divided nation.

I pray we are less divided today.

Selections from A Soldier’s Prayer Book from the Civil War:

O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant The President of the United States, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live ….
… Prince of peace, give us grace seriously to lay to heart, the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord, that as there is but one body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all; so we may henceforth be all of one heart and one soul, united in the holy bond of truth, of faith and charity; and may with one mind and one mouth, glorify thee …
… O ALMIGHTY God … we make our humble cry to thee in this hour of our country’s need. Thy property is always to have mercy. Deal not with us according to our sins, neither reward us according to our iniquities; but stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, and be our defence for thy name’s sake. Have pity upon our brethren who are in arms against the constituted authorities of the land, and show them the error of their way. Shed upon the counsels of our Rulers the spirit of wisdom and moderation and firmness, and unite the hearts of our people as the heart of one man in upholding the supremacy of Law, and the cause of justice and peace. Abate the violence of passion; banish pride and prejudice from every heart, and incline us all to trust in thy righteous Providence, and to be ready for every duty. And oh, that in thy great mercy, thou wouldest hasten the return of unity and concord to our borders, and so order all things that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations …
ALMIGHTY God, the Saviour of all men, we humbly commend to thy tender care and sure protection, these thy servants who have come forth at the call of their country, to defend its government and to protect its people in their property and homes. Let thy fatherly hand, we beseech thee, be over us; let thy Holy Spirit be with us; let thy good Angels have charge of us; with thy loving kindness defend us as with a shield, and either bring us out of our peril in safety, with a heart to show forth thy praises for ever, or else sustain us with that glorious hope, by which alone thy servants can have victory in suffering and death; through the sole merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen