There are days this school term where I have the chance to worship in the Lutheran seminary chapel and yesterday, Sept 18, our prayers remembered the life and death of Dag Hammarskojold, the second Secretary General of the UN, who served from 1953 until his death in 1961.
Last week it was reported that the US National Security Agency might have information on the circumstances surrounding Hammarskold’s death in a mysterious air crash in Rhodesia (now Zambia), thus fuelling the mystique around this figure, who seems legendary and effective in comparison to more recent successors. Today the UN appears sadly irrelevant as a force for peace in the world, even if the UN of Hammarskold’s day is more mythic than real, akin to JFK’s Camelot.
What I didn’t know until I worshipped with my Lutheran friends yesterday was that DH was also a man of faith, and recorded in his thoughts in a journal, published posthumously, which he called Markings. I have only had a chance to read some brief excerpts of his writing, but was impressed by his careful and persistent thinking about the need for humility as the key to a life well lived. Here’s an example.
“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 earing, 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.”
― Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.