The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Never look down'

After the airplane crash, a personal diary was found among his (Hammarskjöld's) possessions. In 1965, the diary was published with the simple title Markings, including a foreword by the poet W.H. Auden. In the light of the published diary, the world came to know another side of this highly visible dignitary.

What has impressed me most of all about his spiritual diary is the pervasiveness of the walking image. For example, he described his overwhelming sense of God driving his life toward an ultimate purpose in the following words: "Never look down to test the ground before taking the next step: only he who keeps his eyes fixed on the far horizon will find the right road." He inscribed these words while still in his twenties.

Hammarskjöld kept company with Christian spiritual writers, and he explained his own quest with these words: "The longest journey is the journey inwards." He was an introspective man who did not wear his piety on his sleeve, but reading and rereading his personal diary should convince almost anyone that his outer political activism was fueled by an inner journey of tremendous force. He felt at one with God's created world and once exclaimed, "In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation."

He used his mountain climbing experiences to describe the risks of the life of faith: "Really, nothing was easier than to step from one rope ladder to the other — over the chasm. But, in your dream, you failed, because the thought occurred to you that you might possibly fall."

Again, mountain climbing is compared to the perseverance required by the spiritual seeker: "When the morning's freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and, suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wishit is then that you must not hesitate."

Much as he loved the Christian mystics, Hammarskjöld was not a quietist who left everything to God, but rather affirmed, "In our era the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."

Did Hammarskjöld discern that death was near? In the spring of 1961, the year of the fatal airplane crash, he wrote in his diary:

The gate opens: dazzled,
I see the arena,
Then I walk out naked
To meet my death.

From beginning to end, Dag Hammarskjöld did not look down but kept his eyes on the goal, the mission he believed God had given him. He was a phenomenal walker and mountain climber who really felt at home in the natural world, a singular combination of mystic and activist. He has given us an admirable example to emulate.

This week's front page features:

UgandaPeace at last: In Uganda, Lutherans walk with war-torn people. (Photo at right.)

5th of May: It's Stross' birthday — and my personal holy day.

Faith at the border: Small but strong, the Border Servant Corps works at the U.S.-Mexican border.

'Lawyer of faith' breaks barriers: Nance is first African-American woman dean at the University of Arkansas.

Also: Immigration troubles more readers.

Also: Facing reality.

Also: Synods to discuss draft social statement on sexuality.

Read these articles on our front page ...

On our staff blog:

Julie B. Sevig Julie Sevig (right) asks: Are you a nomophobe?

Andrea Pohlmann blogs about prayer Web sites.

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February issue


Embracing diversity