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

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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