Born in Jonkoping, Sweden, 29 July, 1905 Dag Hammarskjold was the fourth and youngest son of Agnes and Hjalmar Hammarskjold. His father, Prime Minister of Sweden, was heavily occupied in state affairs, causing a two month delay for his baptism and naming. At that time he became: Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold.
Dag grew up in a home where his father was busy and absent much of the time. As a result, his mother, a very religious woman, dominated the home. It was through her side of the family that Dag was taught spiritual matters. However, it was much later in life that he began to truly believe the things he had been taught as a child. Primary in those beliefs was that in a radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and no life is more satisfactory than one of public service. This required sacrifice of personal interests and a commitment to stand for one’s convictions. Soon after being elected Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag wrote for a radio program:
I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom “self-surrender” had been the way to self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say Yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbors made them face, and to say Yes also to every fate life had in store for them…. Love—that much misused and misinterpreted word—for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expression in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering—or happiness.
Dag, always an excellent student, was well respected by his classmates. He studied economics and then law and soon got into banking. He helped coordinate government plans to alleviate the economic problems of the post war period. While an excellent economist, Dag struggled to know how best to use his natural gifts. He was highly ambitious and at the same time felt unworthy. This dangerous combination led him to thoughts of suicide at times. As late as 1952 he wrote:
So! That is the way in which you are tempted to overcome your loneliness—by making the ultimate escape from life. No! It may be that death is to be your ultimate gift to life: it must not be an act of treachery against it.
Somehow he knew that the solution had to be in finding a calling in which he could forget himself and serve others. The only way forward was to grow into faith in God and enter into real service for Him.
In 1953 the retiring UN Secretary General recommended Dag Hammarskjold as his replacement. Seen as a technocrat without political views, Dag was easily selected to that post. While he established and managed 4000 administrators (regularly working 18-20 hours/day), setting up regulations to define their responsibilities, he was also engaged in smaller projects. Of interest to this spirituality column is Dag’s active planning and supervision of a “meditation room” in the UN Headquarters. This room was a place dedicated to silence for people of all faiths and religions.
Dag Hammarskjold became a true example of a professional man of action who was undergirded by contemplation. He became an important intervener for peace all over the world. He was often involved in international struggles in three of the world’s continents. It was on a trip to negotiate a cease-fire in the Congo in 1961 that he was killed in an airplane crash. After his death his journal was discovered in his apartment.
He had been a very reserved man. He never married. He enjoyed nature and often carried his camera with him as he spent time outdoors. He stated that it was using the camera that taught him to see. He loved silence and solitude but that did not preclude loneliness. I sense that writing in his journal became an essential ingredient in being in relationship with God. He had described his journal as “a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself and with God.” We don’t know the reason, but we do know that he did not associate himself with organized religion. But in reading his journal we find one deeply in relationship with God.
Dag began writing his journal as a young man. It begins with a poem and ends with much poetry. The majority of the entries are not dated, but they are marked by spans of years. Since the page arrangement of every publisher varies, I will simply note the years in which each quotation falls.
1925 – 1930
Thus It Was
I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.
1941 – 1942 The Middle Years
Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend them.
The Strait Road—to live for others in order to save one’s soul. The Broad—to live for others in order to save one’s self-esteem.
1945-1949 Towards New Shores
At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I’s. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one—which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I.
He seeks his own comfort –
and is rewarded with glimpses of satisfaction followed
by a long period of emptiness and shame which sucks him dry.
He fights for his position—
all his talk about the necessary preconditions for doing something
worthwhile prove an insecure barrier against self-disgust.
He devotes himself to his job—
but he is in doubt as to its importance and, therefore, constantly looking for
recognition: perhaps he is slowly nearing the point where he will feel grateful when
he is not criticized, but he is still a very long way from accepting criticism when he is.
1950 Night Is Drawing Nigh
The overtones are lost, and what is left are conversations which, in their poverty, cannot hide the lack of real contact. We glide past each other. But why? Why--?
We reach out towards the other. In vain—because we have never dared to give ourselves.
Hunger is my native place in the land of the passions. Hunger for fellowship, hunger for righteousness—for a fellowship founded on righteousness, and a righteousness attained in fellowship.
Only life can satisfy the demands of life. And this hunger of mine can be satisfied for the simple reason that the nature of life is such that I can realize my individuality by becoming a bridge for others, a stone in the temple of righteousness.
Don’t be afraid of yourself, live your individuality to the full—but for the good of others. Don’t copy others in order to buy fellowship, or make convention your law instead of living the righteousness.
To become free and responsible. For this alone was man created, and he who fails to take the Way which could have been his shall be lost eternally.
Mixed motives. In any crucial decision, every side of our character plays an important part, the base as well as the noble. Which side cheats the other when they stand united behind us in an action?
When, later, Mephisto appears and smilingly declares himself the winner, he can still be defeated by the manner in which we accept the consequences of our action.
Assenting to his possibility—why? Does he sacrifice himself for others, yet for his own sake—in megalomania? Or does he realize himself for the sake of others? The difference is that between a monster and a man. “A new commandment I give unto you: that ye love one another.”
The stream of life through millions of years, the stream of human lives through countless centuries. Evil, death and dearth, sacrifice and love—what does “I” mean in such a perspective? Reason tells me that I am bound to seek my own good, seek to gratify my desires, win power for myself and admiration from others. And yet I “know”—know without knowing—that, in such a perspective, nothing could be less important. A vision in which God is.
Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.
Maturity: among other things, a new lack of self-consciousness—the kind you can only attain when you have become entirely indifferent to yourself through an absolute assent to your fate.
He who has placed himself in God’s hand stands free vis-a-vis men: he is entirely at his ease with them, because he has granted them the right to judge.
Except in faith, nobody is humble. The mask of weakness or of Phariseeism is not the naked face of humility.
And, except in faith, nobody is proud. The vanity displayed in all its varieties by the spiritually immature is not pride.
To be, in faith, both humble and proud: that is, to live, to know that in God I am nothing, but that God is in me.
Then I saw that the wall had never been there, that the “unheard-of” is here and this, not something and somewhere else,
that the “offering” is here and now, always and everywhere—“surrendered” to be what, in me, God gives of Himself to Himself.
The “unheard-of”—to be in the hands of God.
Once again a reminder that this is all that remains for you to live for—and once more the feeling of disappointment which shows how slow you are to learn.
So, once again you chose for yourself—and opened the door to chaos. The chaos you become whenever God’s hand does not rest upon your head.
He who has once been under God’s hand, has lost his innocence: only he feels the full explosive force of destruction which is released by a moment’s surrender to temptation.
But when his attention is directed beyond and above, how strong he is, with the strength of God who is within him because he is in God. Strong and free, because his self no longer exists.
Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.
Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive. In the presence of God, nothing stands between Him and us—we are forgiven. But we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others.
To rejoice at a success is not the same as taking credit for it. To deny oneself the first is to become a hypocrite and a denier of life; to permit oneself the second is a childish indulgence which will prevent one from ever growing up.
Twice now you have done him an injustice. In spite of the fact that you were “right” or, more correctly, because you were, in your conceit and your stupid pride in your powers you went stumping on over ground where each step gave him pain.
Not to brood over my pettiness with masochistic self-disgust, nor to take a pride in admitting it—but to recognize it as a threat to my integrity of action, the moment I let it out of my sight.
“Why,” you ask, “deny yourself something which does nobody else any harm and does you good?” Yes, why—provided it does not conflict with the path you have chosen. Your subsequent reaction to your behavior when you have forgotten this proviso—as one reacts to a lie or a humiliating weakness—is sufficient answer to your question.
So shall the world be created each morning anew, forgiven—in Thee, by Thee.
Did’st Thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give Thee all?
Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is—is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.
To be nothing in the self-effacement of humility, yet, for the sake of the task, to embody its whole weight and importance in your bearing, as the one who has been called to undertake it. To give to people, works, poetry, art, what the self can contribute, and to take, simply and freely, what belongs to it by reason of its identity. Praise and blame, the winds of success and adversity, blow over such a life without leaving a trace or upsetting its balance.
Towards this, so help me, God---
Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who “forgives” you—out of love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.
The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.
The heart aches.
Down the rocks,
The fingers numb,
The knees tremble.
It is now,
Now, that you must not give in.
On the path of the others
Are resting places,
Places in the sun
Where they can meet.
Is your path,
And it is now,
Now, that you must not fail.
If you can, weep,
But do not complain.
The way chose you---
And you must be thankful.
It was 2001, in the middle of a nine-week sabbatical that I accidently (or was it providentially) encountered Markings. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but my attention was caught. I had been reviewing a pile of journals that chronicled fifteen difficult years of my life. Much of what I read could easily have been described as whining. Knowing that these words, while therapeutically valuable in the writing, would not bless any other eyes, I had burned many of them. Now with Markings in my hand, I was encouraged and challenged. Here were the open, honest, searching words of a very humble man. Never did he refer to his brilliant career as a civil servant. He did not name another person or any of the historical events in which he selflessly participated. Yet page after page revealed Holy Spirit guided introspection that reflected piercing light into the self-protected corners of my soul. I gave thanks for that gift. I was also challenged to greater care and thoughtfulness in my own journaling process.
In recent months, I have been re-reading Markings. At times there is the thrill of recognition. Dag Hammarskjold articulated some things that have stirred within my soulful ponderings. Though my life holds little, if any, comparison to his, I also struggle with issues of loneliness and purpose. Some of his references to maturity and death seem hauntingly relevant. There is always invitation to deeper pondering when I sense something of true value that my soul has not yet been ready to recognize.
I know that I am not alone. Every human has questions, inner concerns or dilemmas. Some unconsciously go about life simply unable to voice their inner questions—thereby letting the questions fuel outbursts of rage or ignorance or unfair judgments upon those around them. I sense deep prayerfulness in Hammarskjold’s words. The words come forth bearing evidence of listening and hearing Holy Spirit before he releases his thoughts. Words without judgment, proscription, or finger pointing. Words that seek no acclamation. I sense, in him, a gifted spiritual guide.
Why does one read a book like this? Why do I invite you to read Markings? As I write, I’m aware that I pass on to you those bits and pieces that deeply connect with my own life. But my life is not unique. All of us are called to growth and deeper maturity. Hammarskjold put forth a couple of questions in the middle of a longer entry in 1952. “Is my contact with others anything more than a contact with reflections? Who or what can give me the power to transform the mirror into a doorway?” I suggest that an un-hurried reading of Markings can be a powerful tool to invite you through a doorway that leads to deeper maturity in your relationship with God and others. Won’t you join me?
How do I pay attention to my internal motives as I interact with others?
In what ways does my devotional life empower Christ-like activism?
What is the role of loneliness in my life? How might I better allow God to fill my loneliness?
Delcy Kuhlman is founder and director of Still Waters Retreat Center in Buchanan, Michigan.