Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Road Marking #3

Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings witnesses a spiritual and contemplative journey that the author began long before and then in tandem with his travels from Stockholm to New York to become UN Secretary-General, and subsequently throughout a world in conflict as a very visible "man of peace", as he is sometimes figured.

It is clear from Markings that Hammarskjöld did not separate his commitment to God from his commitment to humanity, and so it's no wonder that he died with copies of both the UN Charter and the New Testament in his hand luggage. Hammarskjöld's twin perspective - public/interventionist and spiritual/contemplative - is one of the reasons he so fascinates me. I am very interested in the relation between contemplation and action: how we come to occupy these realms at different moments in our lives, and how we move between them.

It is a relation that can also be understood as a dialogue between strength and humility. Hammarskjöld himself once touched on this through his understanding of the different qualities his parents had given him:

From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father's side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country - or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother's side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God. 

A marking in the road: fifty years ago exactly, on 19 July 1961, Hammarskjöld wrote a prayer/poem that included these lines:

Have mercy
Upon our efforts,
That we
Before Thee
In love and in faith,
Righteousness and humility,
May follow Thee,
With self-denial, steadfastness and courage,
And meet Thee
In the silence.

Out of the steadfastness of living comes the possibility of silence, action in fact leading the way to a certain kind of inner clarity. But the spirit and the wordly self have to understand one another, they have to meet.