Another Lugubrious Lutheran

Poor Dag Hammarskjöld. If his occasional diary entries, collected into the book, Markings, really do present the only true picture of the UN’s second Secretary General, as its author alleged, then the guy walked through his life in terribly morose fashion. It didn’t take me long after opening the book to start picturing the good servant as a character in an Ingmar Bergman universe, confessing everything one day to a helpless backwoods pastor who’s also lost his hope in pretty much everything, but who, like this important man who’s suddenly pouring out his heart, just keeps chugging along, prodded by a lifetime of being steeped in earnest Reformation self-effacement, striving, and a core disbelief in his own worth.

Not that Hammarskjöld’s reflections are without merit; in addition to being known as a solid guy and worker for peace, unsurprisingly, the man really was a keen observer of human behavior and motivation, and his frequently aphorism-esque entries have just as much claim to insight as do a whole slew of maxim-writers. But, having been raised in much the same tradition as the author, I’m probably overly sensitive to just how, well, damaging the belief in total human depravity, especially when applied to oneself, can be. Sure, Martin Luther’s assertion that he was “mere mouse-dirt”* makes for for good metaphor, and even for patched-together beatnik-type poetry (I’ve tried it)– but without a healthy sense of humor and big-picture perspective to go along with such self-deprecation in the face of the almighty, you’re looking at a whole lot of baggage for a shrink to sort through, and that’s even before getting to all the damage your parents unwittingly wreaked upon your young life.

Admittedly: being responsible for the world’s problems, as Hammarskjöld was for a time, can’t be easy on a person. But for once in my reading life, I really hope this author was exaggerating a bit, or at least didn’t give us the full picture, if only it was to hide some very healthy levity and lapses of carefree feeling from the public eye.

 

* Martin Luther, “Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther’s German Writings,” From Luther’s Works vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1960).

 

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