Courage rooted in faith
We have been exploring Dag Hammarskjöld’s understanding of courage—physical courage, the courage of one’s convictions, and now the tie between courage and faith. The word "faith" was intensely alive for Hammarskjöld. It designated a world of experience and passionate inquiry—in fact two worlds, because it referred in his lexicon both to religious faith and to faith in humanity. In public talks, he forcefully spoke of the need for faith in humanity, and in the same breath often spoke of courage, as if the two were inseparable. In his private journal, Markings, he explored his own religious faith and the inspiration and restraints it offered in his life of service. Never more than in this entry will we encounter fact that Hammarskjöld was a deeply religious individual. For some of us, this is acceptable, even to be celebrated as a good and wise feature of his approach to life. For others, it is unsettling: was his excellence as a world leader somehow necessarily tied to religious faith? If so, was that a weakness or a strength? The question can only be answered privately as each of us encounters Hammarskjöld. In the passages below—a larger grouping than usual—the first set reflects Hammarskjöld’s religious faith, the second his insistence on the need for faith in humanity.
Hammarskjöld perceived in the example of Jesus of Nazareth the perfect model of courage rooted in faith:
He broke fresh ground—because, and only because, he had the courage to go ahead without asking whether others were following or even understood. He had no need for the divided responsibility in which others seek to be safe from ridicule, because he had been granted a faith which required no confirmation.
There are prayers in Markings
, freshly written, simple, demanding. Among them this one, to which Hammarskjöld returned some weeks later; his reconsideration appears just below it. The tie between faith and courage in his view of things is evident in this prayer to the Trinity:
Before Thee, Father,
In righteousness and humility,
With Thee, Brother,
In faith and courage,
In Thee, Spirit,
(Markings, 123, translation slightly revised)
"—With Thee: in faith and courage."
No—in self-discipline, faith and courage.
(Markings, 137, translation slightly revised)
A late prayer in Markings
, written two months before Hammarskjöld’s death, restates the intimate tie between religious faith and courage:
Upon our efforts,
In love and faith,
Righteousness and humility,
May follow Thee,
With self-discipline, steadfastness, and courage,
And meet Thee
In the stillness.
(Markings, 214, translation slightly revised)
Hammarskjöld lived in a world of dialogue, decision, action—and firefighting as dangerous international events occurred, often with little warning. It was a world that called for courage. In public talks, as noted earlier, he would link courage and faith: faith in life, faith in humanity, faith in the mission of the United Nations, however awkwardly and partially pursued. For example, at a flag-raising ceremony in front of UN headquarters:
As [the flags of member nations] fly side by side in front of these buildings, may they be a constant reminder—alike in times of disappointment and of achievement—of this engagement to which men of goodwill of every nation, race, and culture are called upon to give their faith, their courage, and their loyalty.
(Public Papers 3, 62)
The intensity of a man’s faith in life may be gauged by his readiness to say yes to the past and yes to the future, to recognize the good he has inherited while being ready to accept change…. Today, as so often in the past, we need a rediscovery of courage and of faith in man by leaders on every level of the social scale, in every walk of life, from the local community to this Assembly Hall of the United Nations.
(Public Papers 2, 98–99)
We know that salvation lies in an acceptance of knowledge as a goad and a guide, with the courage of faith and the firm hand of responsibility.
(Public Papers 2, 378)
No lasting success is possible without the patience and the courage to face facts—any more than it is possible without the faith that mankind will reach its goal if we, every one in his own place, is willing to pay the price. (Public Papers 2, 466)
Although there is enough in this sequence on courage and faith to furnish good hours of reflection, a few words about the place of faith in Hammarskjöld’s life may be a worthwhile addition. It’s not so easy to speak about faith. Secular humanists or agnostics—men and women of good will, with experience-based ethical and cultural views—may have difficulty even imagining the dynamics of religious faith and of individual religious search. Such a thing can seem archaic, illusory. On the other hand, persons for whom religious faith is real and who work away at some form of practice—prayer, intentional kindness, or meditation—tend to find it not just normal but essential to have this central current in their lives.
Hammarskjöld’s faith, Christian and touched by wisdom traditions worldwide, provided stability, self-restraint, a path to inner life, an ideal, lifelong aspiration, a poetry of the mind and heart (in the biblical psalms, above all), and a sense of vast context in which all things unfold. His faith in God and deep attachment to the life and teachings and sacrificial death of Jesus, both God and brother, represented for him an axiomatic reality, unchanging truth in a world of change and frequent disaster. "Faith is, faith creates, faith carries," he wrote during Christmas season 1956. "It is not derived from, nor created, nor carried by anything except its own reality" (Markings, 145)
. There is no evidence that he ever doubted his faith—although at times he deeply doubted himself.
Religious faith, and its kin, faith in humanity despite the odds, added to his clarity of vision, recognition of duty and service, and willingness to act with courage and decision. It banished fear—although not once for all. He wrote, again in 1956,
Give us peace with Thee
Peace with men
Peace with ourselves,
And free us from all fear.