“A person tempered in the fires of inner struggle can yield character capable of leadership for this tortured, frantic, unhappy age. What matters is to be only under God, in a living relationship to God, the only necessary precondition for self-knowledge so we can be victorious over ourselves.”
This is the anniversary week of the death of the second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld.
From the very beginning of my time at the United Nations, I was drawn to study his life, pray and meditate as well as invite both UN staff and Reconciliation Leader trainees to join me in prayer in his Meditation Room. [www.un.org/depts/dhl/dag/meditationroom.htm].
Hammarskjöld’s influence on me is profound as I develop Reconciliation Leaders in the United Nations community. I teach these trainees to incorporate prayer, meditation and reflection into their action life. I believe in the need to be reflective, meditative and vocationally called to bring strength, resources and true power to the work of leadership.
Hammarskjöld’s words inscribed outside his Meditation Room still move me. It is is introduction to the need to claim one’s inner life as the way to peace and feeling safe in the world. Hammarskjöld’s words redefine security as being within each person. This is an important step for UN reform as it requires changing the use of armed force to soul force.
“We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. This House dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace should have one room dedicated to outward silence and inner stillness. Join in this work of peace and enter this small room where doors may be opened to the infinite land of thought and prayer.”
When the Persian Gulf Resolution passed in the Security Council at the United Nations in New York City on November 29, 1990, authorizing the use of armed force against Iraq to “uphold and implement resolution 660 and all subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area,” I felt compelled to get on a train and go to the United Nations. I knew nothing about the United Nations other than what I had studied in school. I made a covenant with God that I would do everything in my power to end the use of armed force as it was being used in that resolution. Little did I know of the difficulty or the political ramifications of my covenant.
But I did know that my life and work were changing in that moment.
I learned the power of being led to the United Nations to redefine leadership as part of my soul’s journey when I experienced how quickly all my credentials came together. Joseph Eger invited me to represent his non-governmental organization (NGO) at the United Nations. Since his NGO was connected to the Department of Public Information, their charge was to be a public relations agent for the United Nations. I received an entrance pass. Although the paperwork took some weeks, I was finally able to go into the United Nations to work as a volunteer.
On my first day, I stopped by the meditation room just off the visitors’ entrance. Outside the door is a magnificent Chagall window with a simple plaque that begins with the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s second Secretary-General. He wrote about the meditation room as follows:
“We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence. There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in the center of stillness. Inside, there is a Swedish stone with a shaft of light on it.”
Hammarskjöld’s intention was to help others see simple things which speak to us all with the same language.
“We have sought for such things and we believe we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock. In the middle of the room, we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the sky gives life to the earth on which we stand, a symbol to many of us of how the light of the spirit gives life to matter. The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols, there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves. When our eyes travel from these symbols to the front wall, they meet a simple pattern opening up the room to the harmony, freedom and balance of space.”
Hammarskjöld suggested that the stone be seen as an altar, empty not because there is no God, nor because it is an altar to an unknown God, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and and in many forms. The stone in the middle of the room reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change. Made of iron ore, the stone has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavor must be based. The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. As written on the room’s door, “Of iron, man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron, he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man.”
‘The block of iron ore represents part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it? An abstract painting illumines one of the walls. Otherwise, only wicker backless benches furnish this simple room. This meditation room became my spiritual home at the United Nations. I found myself introducing the meditation room to people who had worked there for years but had never stopped in.”
Through the meditation room, Dag Hammarskjöld taught me that United Nations reform starts in the souls who find the center of stillness surrounded by silence. The reform comes from the notion of “inner security.”
I often meditate on Hammarskjöld’s understanding of citizenship, a calling of his soul:
“Everybody today with part of his being belongs to one country, while with another part he has become a citizen of a world which no longer permits national isolation. Seen in this light, there could be no conflict between nationalism and internationalism, between the nation and the world. The question is not either the nation or the world, it is how to serve the world by service to our nation and how to serve the nation by service to our world.”
Nancy Richardot Tenney says
Thank you for this piece that resonates deeply with me, My parents who loved Dag’s book “Markings” tried to teach me through it. I want to return to this meditation room I visited with my Father, Jean Richardot in 2005 four weeks before he left this world. He wrote Journeys for a Better World about his career in the United Nation’s.
Virginia Swain says
What a joy to connect yet again on Dag’s vision!!!