Fifty years ago tomorrow (18 September), the plane carrying then-UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed under suspicious circumstances. He was traveling to Congo to negotiate a settlement in the conflict brewing in the southern region of Katanga. There was a secessionist movement led by Moise Tshombe, who was backed, not only by the former colonial power Belgium, but also by the UK and the US.
Dag Hammarskjöld’s death was deeply troubling in his native Sweden. He received a state funeral, a rare thing for a diplomat.
He was more than a political leader, however. He was a deeply spiritual man. He seemed to meld together the right balance of the mystical and the political. We truly need that self-effacing spirit in our world today. On the fiftieth anniversary of his death, I want to include a quote from his book, Markings, which was published posthumously:
“The ‘mystical experience.’ Always here and now—in that freedom which is one with distance, in that stillness which is born of silence. But—this is a freedom in the midst of action, a stillness in the midst of other human beings. The mystery is a constant reality to him who, in this world, is free from self-concern, a reality that grows peaceful and mature before the receptive attention of assent.
“In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.” (103)