Introductory Note:

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (1905–1961) was a man of quiet, strong, unassuming faith. He was an important political figure in the twentieth century. He served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, when he died in a plane crash while on a peace mission in the Congo. He was born on July 29, 1905, in Jonkoping in south-central Sweden.

In 1933 he received his doctor’s degree from the University of Stockholm, where he subsequently served as assistant professor in political economy. In 1945 he was appointed an adviser to the Cabinet on financial and economic problems, helping to shape Sweden’s financial policy.

He was appointed unanimously as Secretary-General of the United Nations by the General Assembly in 1953, and served in that capacity until his death. During his tenure he was instrumental in fighting and helping to prevent injustice.

After his death the manuscript to the book we know as Markings was discovered in his house in New York with a note to his friend Leif Belfrage, saying that he had written this diary for himself but, “If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so.” He called this diary his “white book concerning my negotiations with myself—and with God.” Thankfully, Hammarskjöld’s Markings was published, and has been a source of wisdom to many. W. H. Auden said of the book, “when one has finished it, that one has had the privilege of being in contact with a great, good, and lovable man.”

—James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

1. To Say Yes

I am the vessel. The draught is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.

* * *

In the last analysis, what does the word sacrifice” mean? Or even the word gift”? He who has nothing can give nothing. The gift is God’s to God.

* * *

To be free, to be able to stand up and leave everything behind without looking back. To say Yes

* * *

To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself.

Yes — even to that element in one which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from a temptation into a strength.

2. Firmer, Simpler, Quieter

A landscape can sing about God, a body about Spirit.

* * *

Maturity: among other things, the unclouded happiness of the child at play, who takes it for granted that he is at one with his playmates.

* * *

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.

* * *

Your life is without a foundation if, in any matter, you choose on your own behalf.

* * *

Before Thee, Father, In righteousness and humility, With Thee, Brother, In faith and courage, In Thee, Spirit, In stillness.

* * *

Thine—for Thy will is my destiny, 

Dedicated—for my destiny is to be used and used up according to Thy will.

3. Letting the Task Rest Lightly in Your Hand

Thanks to your success,” you now have something to lose. Because of this as if suddenly aware of the risks — you ask whether you, or anyone, can succeed.” If you go on in this way, thoughtlessly mirroring yourself in an obituary, you will soon be writing your epitaph — in two senses.

* * *

Do what you can — and the task will rest lightly in your hand, so lightly that you will be able to look forward to the more difficult tests which may be awaiting you.

* * *

When the morning’s freshness has been replaced by the weariness of midday, when the leg muscles quiver under the strain, the climb seems endless, and, suddenly, nothing will go quite as you wish — it is then that you must not hesitate.

* * *

Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive. In the presence of God, nothing stands between Him and us — we are forgiven. But we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others.

4. Temptation, Agony, and Stillness

—Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
Let all that is in me serve Thee,
And thus free me from all fear.

* * *

There are actions — justified only by faith — which can lift us into another sphere, where the battle is with Principalities, Dominions and Powers.” Actions upon which — out of mercy everything is staked.

For Thy holy life is our way, and your adorable patience the road by which we must approach Thee.”

* * *

The third hour. And the ninth. — They are here. And now. They are now!

Jesus will be in agony even to the end of the world. We must not sleep during that time.” (Pascal)

We must not — And for the watcher is the far-off present — also present in his contact with mankind among whom, at every moment, Jesus dies in someone who has followed the trail marks of the inner road to the end:

love and patience,
righteousness and humility,
faith and courage,

* * *

Understand — through the stillness,

Act — out of the stillness,
Conquer — in the stillness.
In order for the eye to perceive color, it must divest itself of all colors.”

5. God Finds a Use for Our Efforts

What next? Why ask? Next will come a demand about which you already know all you need to know: that is the sole measure of your own strength.

* * *

Hallowed be Thy name,
 not mine
Thy kingdom come,
 not mine,
Thy will be done,
 not mine,
Give us peace with Thee
 Peace with men 
 Peace with ourselves,
And free us from all fear.

* * *

Your own efforts did not bring it to pass, only God — but rejoice if God found a use for your efforts in His work.

Rejoice if you feel that what you did was necessary” but remember, even so, that you were simply the instrument by means of which He added one tiny grain to the Universe He has created for His own purposes.

* * *

Be grateful as your deeds become less and less associated with your name, as your feet ever more lightly tread the earth.

BIBLE SELECTION: Ecclesiastes 12:9 – 14

Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.


The following questions can be used for discussion with a small group, or used for journal reflections by individuals.

1. How do you understand the author’s statement, I am the vessel. The draught is God’s. And God is the thirsty one”?

2. Read over section 2. Which markings” stand out to you? Why?

3. In section 3, in the final marking, the author writes about the importance of forgiving others. Why is this so crucial?

4. The author sees very clearly that God interacts with our actions and uses them for his purposes. Describe a time when you felt that God was really using your efforts for some good.

5. The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes used Proverbs in order to teach. The markings” we have been reading could also be called proverbs. Why is this such an effective way of teaching?


The following exercises can be done by individuals, shared between spiritual friends, or used in the context of a small group. Choose one or more of the following.

1. Try writing some of your own markings” this week. Reflect on your life and your struggles, and what God is teaching you, and put them in short, almost poetic sentences.

2. Take one of the markings and commit it to memory. Make note of how often you see its wisdom come into play during the next week.

3. Hammarskjöld saw his life as an expression of working with and for God. Before you begin each day this week, consider the tasks that are at hand. Take them lightly, one at a time, and with a sense that God is with you.

4. Read Ecclesiastes this week. It is a book filled with solid wisdom. Read a chapter or two a night before falling to sleep, and read it once again before your day begins. Reflect on how the experience shapes your day.


Hammarskjöld moves me endlessly. For thirty-six years this public servant kept a private record of the intimate, intricate, and sometimes tortured path of God’s marriage to the soul.” Throughout those years no other person had seen a page of this writing indeed, no one had even been aware of its existence until after his death.

On the title page he wrote the single Swedish word, Vägmärken,” a mountain term referring to the small piles of stones a hiker would erect to mark the way when the trail is faint or nonexistent. I am quite familiar with these vägmärken,” or cairns, to use the English term. At times I have desperately searched a mountainous landscape for such markers, knowing that finding them is life indeed, and that missing them can be dangerous, even fatal. What a relief to find the next vägmärken” for it signals two things: one, I am heading in the right direction, and, two, I am getting closer to my goal. Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings give us exactly this kind of guidance for life.

—Richard J. Foster

Excerpts taken from Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, Editors. HarperCollins, 1993.)

Originally from Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld. New York: Ballentine, 1983. Throughout this fascinating self-portrait Hammarskjöld does not make a single direct reference to his distinguished career as an international civil servant; neither does he mention the many presidents, kings, and prime ministers with whom he had dealings, or the dramatic historical events in which he played a central role. Instead he marks his negotiations with myself — and with God.” 

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Text First Published October 1964 · Last Featured on August 2022