Dag Hammarskjold: His spiritual writing and peacemaking genius are shaping lives to this day

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Dag Hammarskjold's Legacy
Dag Hammarskjold stands outside the United Nations headquarters in 1953, the year he first arrived with little expectation that he would prove to be a peacemaking giant.

Dag Hammarskjold stands outside the United Nations headquarters in 1953, the year he first arrived with little expectation that he would prove to be a peacemaking giant.

Dag Hammarskjold inspired so many of our readers to respond, over the past week, that Read the Spirit is adding one final part to our series on the Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of the spiritual classic, Markings. (Use our convenient series index, below, to enjoy the rest of our Hammarskjold coverage.)

Dag Hammarskjold:
Learning
peacemaking
from a spider

First, today, we’re sharing an email from Hammarskjold’s biographer Roger Lipsey, who sent us this recent “find” in his ongoing research. Roger writes:

Thank you for the Read the Spirit coverage. This week, I am speaking about Dag Hammarskjold to a lively, intelligent audience of young United Nations people from all over the world. Here is one passage about him that  I came across too late to include in the biography, but am sharing with audiences, now.

Hammarskjold once revealed something of his shrewdness. The report is from Christian Pineau, French foreign minister during the Suez Crisis:

He had no illusions about the possibilities for settling the great conflicts that divide the planet, nor even the difficulties among neighbors in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. His sole objective was to avert or limit bloodshed.

“To that end,” he explained to me one day, “I start by seizing on the problem in the name of the United Nations. Then I guard against proposing a solution too quickly. Coming from me, it would immediately be suspect and rejected. But I complicate matters as much as possible; I multiply exploratory conversations. I act like a spider tying up an insect to immobilize it before eating it. I weave my threads around the problem to the point of making it invisible or, if you prefer, incomprehensible. In the end people no longer have a clear notion of what made them adversaries—and renounce fighting.”

“Alas,” he added, “it’s not always a success.”

Thank you Roger Lipsey for sharing this vivid anecdote!

Dag Hammarskjold: Indelible Childhood Memories

As Editor of Read the Spirit, I was not surprised this week to hear a number of childhood memories from adults in their 50s and older. As Editor, I was moved by a childhood memory myself to interview Roger Lipsey about his new biography (the interview is Part 1 in this series). In the mid-1960s, my own father literally preached Dag Hammarskjold’s message. My father, now-retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. Donald Crumm, bought Markings the week it was released in English. He was the pastor of a mid-Michigan congregation, at the time, and wound up preaching a month-long series of sermons on the spiritual lessons of this great peacemaker. I was 9 years old and those sermons are some of the first I can remember to this day.

This week, we’ve selected one extended childhood memory to publish. This moving memoir was sent to us by Deborah Taylor Valencia, 52, of Northville, Michigan. Her father was James Clagett Taylor Jr., a native of Sebring, Fla. Debbie currently facilitates an interfaith study group at Northville United Methodist Church continuing to broaden the insights gleaned from living abroad and the inspiration her parents instilled about lifelong learning.

Debbie writes:

This photo is part of a United Nations visual memorial to men and women who have lost their lives in the service of peacemaking. Click the photo to visit the UN website and view that photo montage.

This photo is part of a United Nations visual memorial to men and women who have lost their lives in the service of peacemaking. Click the photo to visit the UN website and view that photo montage.

“Who is Dag Hammarskjold?” Jeopardy fans of all ages recognize that question. But, Hammarskjold is far more than an answer in a trivia game for me.

Each time I hear his name, I recall my own awakening to this great soul. It was in the mid-1970s while living in Lusaka, Zambia, as the daughter of a US Diplomat that I came to know of Hammarskjold. My family was adventuring in the northern regions of the Zambian Copperbelt. After a day of wandering along bumpy roads, we had one more stop. As three weary tweens we were bordering on uncooperative with our parents and their deemed “worthy, must see site.” They lured us by telling us details of a suspicious plane crash and so we were keen to spot the crash site, hidden in the dusty haze.

Traveling down a long dirt road, I do recall stands of tall trees as we arrived and parked near the landmark. We crawled out of the cramped Ford Cortina to notice a simple marker with a notably Scandinavian name. In an exasperated fashion we had the air of “This is it Dad? We drove all this way out here for this!?!”

We had no idea of the enormity of this loss to the world.

My father, along with my mother, then talked about the importance of honoring and remembering Dag Hammarskjold. Oddly, the facts my parents shared that day now seem fuzzy, while the intrigue of a “suspicious” plane crash remains. Most importantly, however, is the experience of visiting the site—and my father’s actions.

My diplomat father showed us such strong reverence to this great diplomat and statesmen, who held Service above Self (also a Rotarian, my Dad). As he impressed upon us how the world lost a peacemaking hero—tears rose up in my father’s eyes, and he wiped them away.

I knew at that moment that we were on sacred ground. I saw clearly and understood well that my parents were passing on the universal belief that all nationalities are here to serve and give back to the world. As we see the dignity in each other we are capable of humbly showing mercy, seeking justice, and creating peace through mutual giving and understanding. We are united, as the human family.

Currently, a museum now stands at the site of the memorial we visited long ago. I imagine too there are much improved driving conditions. Back in the USA over the many years when showing slides at local schools we would always include the picture of the memorial to ensure that the name Dag Hammarskjold was introduced to younger generations.

My father, as a diplomat, understood the brave efforts of Hammarskjold, and at the same time I sense he recognized a shared spiritual connection in Dag’s efforts to heal the world. As I read the stories in Read the Spirit this week, I see similarities to my own father’s faithful character. Hence, as we approach Father’s Day (my father’s 50th and last was 2011), I consider this a tribute to Dad, a person of great insight and courage. His service taught us the true value of loving, understanding and honoring your neighbor. To this day, I am drawn to courageous, humble, peace-abiding “heroes” who inspire a universal belief in humanity.

Desmond Tutu has often said, “We are made for Goodness.”

Dag Hammarskjold and my father would have agreed.

Care to Read More about Peacemakers?

Small Blessed Are the Peacemakers coverReadTheSpirit publishes three books by global peacemaker Daniel Buttry: Interfaith Heroes, Volume 1, with profiles including Gandhi, St. Francis and Rumi; Interfaith Heroes, Volume 2, with profiles including Pope John Paul II, Hans Kung and Thich Nhat Hanh; and Blessed Are the Peacemakers, with profiles including Dorothy Day, Pete Seeger, Diane Nash and Ken Sehested.

And speaking of Ken Sehested: You may also enjoy reading Ken’s remembrance of the late civil-rights activist the Rev. Will D. Campbell.

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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