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About “Markingsmass: A Liturgy for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation”


Click here to go to MARKINGSMASS A Liturgy for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation
Based on excerpts from Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings

Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary General of the United Nations when he died in a plane crash in Africa in 1961 while on a peace-keeping mission. Widely admired for his performance in that role, he was rewarded posthumously with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Distinguished as his diplomatic career was, it has been equaled remarkably in public interest in a very different sphere—that of Christian spirituality–by the publication of Markings, a sort of diary or journal published after his death. It has remained in print since the 1960’s and is generally considered one of the great Christian devotional classics of the twentieth century, frequently compared with the works of St. Augustine, Pascal, Merton and other important Christian writers.

The title in the original Swedish refers to “waymarks,” guideposts or cairns which hikers use to mark their routes. The book marks the remarkable spiritual journey of a multi-talented and highly cultured man. He includes poems (sometimes haiku), prayers, quotations, maxims, jottings and other musings to present an honest and poignant record of his spiritual journey.

Hammarskjold grew up in the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden where his family was closely associated with that of Archbishop Nathan Soderblom, an important ecumenical leader and himself the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Through that relationship, he had contact, while a University of Uppsala student, with Albert Schweitzer, another extraordinary Christian who also excelled in disparate areas, as a Biblical scholar, Bach interpreter and medical missionary.

Markings includes many items written in response to biblical passages–especially from the book of Psalms and the gospels—as well as to elements of the traditional liturgy of the Western church. He also frequently cites and comments on the writings of medieval mystics.

Markingsmass brings together Hammarskjold’s words in dialogue with the liturgy of the Western mass, the basic communion service familiar to Roman Catholics, Episcopalians/Anglicans and Lutherans. Although he did not have words in response to all the basic elements of the mass, those that fit have been placed together here in the usual order in this liturgy. In one case, the Song of Praise is not a traditional Gloria but, we think, clearly praises a One who brings beauty, peace and joy, while calling us to follow Him.

It should be noted that the liturgy uses the archaic English terms “thee, thy, thine and thou.” So does Markings, one of whose translators (the one who didn’t know Swedish!) was the British poet, W.H. Auden, a friend of the diplomat. These archaic English forms, familiar still to those who appreciate King James and Shakespearean English, are akin to the Swedish and German intimate second person familiar, which doesn’t exist in modern English. This usage here is most appropriate, because the diarist, an accomplished linguist fluent in four languages, had a fondness for older beautiful expressions (he often had a 1762 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, noted for its elegantly eloquent translation of the Book of Psalms, with him, as well as an archaic French version of St. Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ). At the time of his death he was working on a translation of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou.” The “thou” cognates suggest an intimacy and reverence which cannot be equaled by “you” usages.

Although one of the 20th century’s most prominent Christian mystics, he had no formal training in theology, having earned degrees in linguistics, literature, history, economics and law, as well as a doctorate in political economics. He was a member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prize in Literature. A broadly cultured man, he wrote brilliantly on subjects as diverse as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the needs of the developing world, or hiking in northern Sweden.

He came from a distinguished family, his father having been Prime Minister of Sweden and a key figure in the development of international law. His mother came from a family of clergy and academics. She introduced him to devotional literature, such as The Imitation of Christ, which she gave him at the time of his youthful confirmation. Even during very hectic days of international crises he took time to reflect upon the Bible and liturgy as well as the works of medieval mystics, especially Meister Eckhart and St. Thomas a Kempis.

In a recent (2013) biography, Hammarskjold: a Life by Roger Lipsey (University of Michigan Press), the author magisterially tells of the remarkable relationship of his vocation as a peacemaker to his understanding of being a disciple of Jesus. Lipsey calls this “engaged spirituality.” An excellent theological study of Hammarskjold by Swedish bishop and professor Gustav Aulen is titled Dag Hammarskjold’s White Book:The Meaning of Markings ( Fortress Press, 1969).

The hymns suggested are fittingly Northern European. “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” shares the melody and compassionate message of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, which Beethoven used in his Ninth Symphony, which was performed at Hammarskjold’s two inaugurations as Secretary General and at his memorial service.

This liturgy was put together by this writer, who believes Hammarskjold left an extraordinary legacy in making the Christian Word fresh, while living his discipleship as a peace maker. His poetry and his witness indeed provide Waymarks/Markings to guide us in our human journey.

It should be noted that this service contains some very creative poetic expressions and images by a Christian mystic and seer. Worship leaders can of course not use words felt inappropriate for their assemblies.

I need not say that peace, justice and reconciliation—as well as protection of the environment—are urgent and most worthy causes. I share this liturgy with the hope that praying with and contemplating the words of an extraordinary peacemaker who lived his vocation as a follower of Jesus in word and deed would inspire us to bring more peace, justice and reconciliation to our sphere.

It is recommended for use on or near: September 18, his date of death and commemoration in many Lutheran churches; July 29, his birthday; December 28, Holy Innocents’ day; Memorial Day; Veterans’ Day; October 24, UN Day; New Year’s or other appropriate occasions.

Click here to go to MARKINGSMASS – A Liturgy for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation – Based on excerpts from Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings

Review & Commentary