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Formation Blog

RSS By: Pastor Jonathan Linman

Pastor Jonathan Linman shares his thoughts about formation.

Remembering Dag Hammarskjöld

Aug 24, 2011

Pastor Al Ahlstrom provides his reflections on Dag Hammarskjöld. You can use this in your newsletters and bulletins around September 18.


We commemorate Dag Hammarskjöld on September 18. Because this is the 50th anniversary of his tragic death in a plane crash in (what is now) Zimbabwe, I think we might give special attention to this Lutheran diplomat, economist, poet, and mystic (of a particular Lutheran sort). He was elected second Secretary-General of the UN (succeeding another Lutheran, the Norwegian Trygve Lie) in 1953 and re-elected for a five-year term in 1957. He died in the midst of negotiations over conflicts between the newly independent Congo and a break-away province, Katanga.


Dr. Philip Pfatteicher’s Festivals and Commemorations (1980) has ample resources for congregational use, with quotations from his journal discovered after his death, Markings (NY: Knopf, 1964) translated from the Swedish by W.H. Auden and Leif Sjöberg.


For preaching ideas, I recommend Bishop Gustaf Aulen’s Dag Hammarskjöld’s White Book, which is available in public libraries as is Markings. Study reveals wisdom dealing with prayer, ministry in public service, theology of the cross, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice, in life-long conversations with such forerunners as Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, Luther, Kierkegaard, Thomas à Kempis, and Buber; with Albert Schweitzer (commemorated on September 4) an un-named disputant.


Hammarskjöld’s family (his father having been Swedish Prime Minister during WWI) were close to the family of Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, and the young student served as a steward at the 1925 World Council of Life and Work at Uppsala, a founding event of the century’s ecumenical movement. One of his major public papers was a contribution to Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe series.


As we join many in remembering the decade since September 11, this provides another facet in our reflections and prayers.


Three months before his death in the African jungle, Hammarskjöld wrote on Pentecost, 1961:


I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back,” and “to take no thought for the morrow.” Led by the Ariadne’s thread of my answer through the labyrinth of Life, I came to a time and place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which is a catastrophe, and to a catastrophe which is a triumph, that the price for committing one’s life would be reproach, and that the only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humiliation. After that, the word “courage” lost its meaning, since nothing could be taken from me. As I continued along the Way, I Iearned, step by step, word by word, that behind every saying in the Gospels stands one man and one man’s experience. Also behind the prayer that the cup might pass from him and his promise to drink it. Also behind each of the words from the Cross.


[Markings, p. 205 in eleventh printing, 1965, not included in the Pfatteicher book]

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