The younger Dag Hammarskjöld wrote in his diary with that disconcerting mixture of self-confidence and self-criticism which are prerequisites of an honest self-awareness. When the Apostle Paul urged the Roman Christians not to "Think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but that each consider yourself with sober judgement" he was asking a hard thing.
And when Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with the following words he was likewise aware of how hard unfiltered self-awareness truly is:"Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves."
Hammarskjöld is part of that same long tradition of Christian thought and realism about the human condition, and the elusiveness of self-understanding. If we do not take time to know and understand ourselves there is little chance we will know and understand the world and our place in it, or God and his purpose for us, or for the world.
So whatever Hammarskjöld writes in Markings, it is an essential hermeneutical key that he is writing about himself to himself; and this is not an exercise in solipsistic thought experiments, it is Hammmarskjöld exploring the inner landscape of his mind, emotions and will, seeking to map his whole inner life. That is why he can write with such stern self-rebuke:
"How can you expect to keep your powers of hearing when you never want to listen? That God should have time for you, you seem to take as much for granted as that you cannot have time for him." (12)
What makes Markings a valuable book of spiritual direction and constructive psychological self-questioning is the way entries such as the above meet head on one of the recurring complaints of those who wish they were more spiritual, more authentic and more disciplined in their spirituality. C S Lewis once complained in a lecture about 'poor little talkative Christianity', and in doing so identified a form of praying that is all about words, talk, the selfish one sidedness that if unchallenged is the ruin of a relatioship. I think that is the force of Hammarskjöld's self corrective about never wanting to listen; the flip side of that is always wanting to be talking!
This connects and fits precisely with what Hammarskjöld wrote around the same time, in his late 30's and as Chairman of a major Bank. It is fascinating to ask what was going on in the life and mind of a man who as a banker was asking deep existential questions about who he is, what he is for, what if any purpose his own life might have, or indeed what purposeful power might be operating outside his life, calling him to self-knowledge, self-giving and ultimately self-sacrifice. Here is what he wrote, while still a bank Chairman:
The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak. Is this the starting point of the road towards the union of your two dreams - to be allowed in clarity of mind to mirror life and in purity of heart to mold it? (13)
By the time Hammarskjöld was appointed Secretary General of the United Nations he had come to a mature and austere view of sacrifice as the fundamental value of human aspiration and achievement. Just before his death in 1961 he confided a late entry in Markings: "But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that therefore my life, in self-surrender, had a goal."
Here is the clarity of mind and purity of heart for which he strove, intellectually and emotionally. Like Kierkegaard, one of his favourite authors he had learned that "Purity of heart is to will one thing." And in his own words acknowledged that repeatedly in the later entries in Markings:
Ready at any moment to gather everything
Into one simple sacrifice. (xiii)
Simple does not mean straightforward, easy or uncomplicated; it means singular, focused, the union of heart and mind to life's purpose. That moment when he "said Yes to Someone" was his personal Caesarea Philippi, the ultimate moment of self-knowing and self-surrender to what God had called him to do, and that to which in saying Yes, he would be saying no to all other options. Few of us can aspire to that kind of clarity of mind, singularity of purpose, concentration of energy, and sacrifice of personal ambition. The irony in Hammarskjöld's case is that this was a very ambitious man, who had somehow encountered a truth and a power that reconfigured ambition to an obedience to that which was greater than himself. And at that point we are back with the theology of Paul and his call that those who are followers of Jesus and bearers of his cross should "present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is their reasonable service."