The Altar of Reconciliation

The following text  below, written by Dag Hammarskjöld, UN Secretary General 1953-61, was distributed to all visitors to the Meditation Room that opened at the UN in New York in the winter of 1957:

 The space is dedicated to silence, where people can withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed or religion. Hammarskjöld personally supervised the room's creation; he believed that the UN “should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.

In his efforts he was supported by a group, composed of Christians, Jews, and Moslems, the "Friends of the UN Meditation Room", who combined their efforts and provided the money for a room worthy of a world organization.  

 In the centre of the room was placed a six-and-half-ton rectangular block of iron ore, polished on the top and illuminated from above by a single spotlight. This block was a gift of the King of Sweden and a Swedish mining company.

Mr. Hammarskjöld described it as "...a meeting of the light, of the sky, and the earth... it is the altar to the God of all.... we want this massive altar to give the impression of something more than temporary..."

The Fresco/Wall Mural was painted by Bo Beskow of Sweden, an abstract mural, a composition of interlocking geometric patterns which is supposed to evoke a feeling of the essential oneness of God.

"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 silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. 
It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer. 
People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.
However, there are simple things which speak to us all with the same language. We have sought for such things and we believe that we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock.
So, in the middle of the room we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the skies 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. 
But the stone in the middle of the room has more to tell us. We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names 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. The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavour must be based. 
The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. 

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 is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it? 

UN Meditation room
UN Meditation room (Photo credit: marco sees things)

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. 
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 their center of stillness."

A few thoughts

As bombs spread out once again over the Holy Land , Gaza and elsewhere, it is ironic that the UN room, a totally empty and hollow space meant to be filled with God's love that transcends and unifies all, today is anything but silent. 

Instead it is filled with the clamour of the sound from air raid sirens, of rockets, air strikes, debris of falling rocks, buildings blown apart and the cries and shrieks of grief and anguish from innocent lives lost on both sides of conflict.

In the dull rhythmic thud of shelling I know that somewhere God too is being buried.

"You must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself, part of your body and your soul, you mustn't run away from it, but bear it like an adult.... Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.

But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge--from which new sorrows will be born for others--then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply. 

And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God."

 Ette Hillesum 

So another Advent season beckons; I am reminded that God does not  
remain trapped beneath the rubble and dead bodies. 

God cannot be bound or held captive by those who seek revenge.

 Advent is a time in which to prepare a heavy heart once again and wait to be filled with the blessings and grace that come from a child called Jesus, the Son of God. 

 I pray that there will be peace once again in the world and that the silence in the boat in the Sea of Galilee after Jesus calmed the raging storm will truly become ‘the silence of eternity interpreted by love.’

The everlasting gift that Christ gave us all in the Eucharist was a gift of communion at an altar of brokenness and reconciliation.

 As John O'Donohue said, "In all conflicts the world over, it is a proven fact beyond a doubt that, sooner or later, you come to the table. And it is wiser to come to the table sooner, rather than after years of murder, grief, and personal tragedy."

 Altar facing Jerusalem from The Church
called Dominus Flevit : The Lord Wept
sometimes called the Altar of Tears

This altar of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing is small and yet embraces a God's love so much bigger and wider than anything we humans have yet to appreciate enough ; a God truly of all, that wills us always to change our weapons of war into ploughshares to create a future for mankind that might just one day, be able to be worthy of God's creation. 


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