Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish economist and diplomat, served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations during the 1950’s and into the early 1960’s when his tenure was cut short due to an airplane crash, in which he died. He was on his way to the Congo to negotiate a cease-fire effort in that area. Speculation still exists as to the cause of the accident—a true mechanical or pilot error, or an assassination? Hammarskjöld, a Lutheran, was one of those rare public servants who lived by a high moral code, his spirituality an integral part of his work life.
A few months after he become Secretary General in January of 1953, he wrote this affirmation: “For all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!” He wrote it as the world was still in recovery from the horrors of WWII and as wars continued to break out in Korea, the Congo, the Middle East, and South America—witness of humanity’s inability to learn from itself.
I read this quotation some years ago, and I recall being struck by its total faithfulness. Today, as we enter the second week of our journey toward the Light, it has come back to me. I doubt that is a coincidence. Here we find ourselves, in a December like no other in our memories, in a year that has been wrought with pandemic, racial unrest, political division, natural disasters (anyone remember the Australian wildfires?) and distrust of all we formally held inviolable (along with whatever challenges our private lives have handed us this year) and Hammarskjöld’s phrase jumps out at me. We are invited to say thanks. Thanks for what in this dark season? And there lies the question for each one of us, if we are willing to take time and listen for its prompting. The question doesn’t concern only the last nine months, but “all” that has been–the heartbreaks and the joys, the losses and the gains, the illnesses and the health, the failures and the successes. All of life.
The second part of the quotation prompts us to say “yes” to all that will be. But we don’t know what will be, and we are a people who prefer to know before committing. We will have a new administration in the United States, new protocols for dealing with the pandemic, access to new vaccinations., new routines for travel. We will have challenges coming out of the pandemic just as we had challenges going into it. Life will not go back to what it was, because the Light never, ever, leads us backwards. The Light always moves us forward. Perhaps the opportunity that this bare-boned Advent, this winter season, gives us is time to sit with this question, too: “Can we say ‘yes for all that will be?'” Are we willing to take that leap of faith? Are we able to believe that God/Spirit/ Universe is intimately involved in all of what will be? In this season, this now, can we have that kind of trust, that kind of faithfulness, that kind of perseverance?
What if the greatest gift this pandemic gives us is the ability to proclaim, as Hammarskjöld did in the midst of his unknowns and challenges, a thank you for what we have endured and a yes to what will be? We would be a transformed people ready to shine a new, and yet ancient, light into a weary world. Blessings to you.