Give me a pure heart – that I may see thee,
A humble heart – that I may hear thee,
A heart of love – that I may serve thee,
A heart of faith – that I may abide in thee.
When deacon William Bailey made a living history recording with Ruth in 2007, (she was 98 then) she did not remember anything about the origin or authorship of this prayer. She probably liked its somehow archaic language, and kept it as an expression of a deep piety. But it is much more than just that.
These four lines are an excerpt from a spiritual diary of Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the United Nations. The book with this prayer was published only after his tragic and untimely death. He was killed during a peace mission in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in September 1961. The only Secretary General who died while fulfilling his office. His death was officially declared a tragic accident, but this explanation was always questioned and more and more people think that he was eliminated because he took the UN peacemaking mission way too seriously and strove for strong and proud self-governance of African nations. Secretary Hammarskjöld worked for peace, while Belgian, British, American and South African governments knew about mineral and especially uranium deposits underground. (The stage was set for a western client and egomaniac Mobutu Sese Seko)
Ruth did not remember the origin of the prayer. She probably did not know details of this sinister history, hardly knew about Belgium Congo, Patrice Lubumba, Katanga rebellion or the interests of western mining corporations and secret services. But the presence of the Hammarskjöld prayer in her Bible is not just a coincidence. Someone in her circle had to be reading his spiritual diary, most likely someone from her church. It was clearly part of her environment, part of her cultural identity which she shared with her church. She did not know details, but they still reflected their shared or similar values and sentiments.
I am not at all surprised she kept a part of the Dag Hammarskjöld prayer in her Bible. In the same interview with Bill Bailey, she talked about how she left her Brooklyn church and did not attend church for many years, because, as she once expressed it to me, church was tolerating and even justifying and thus perpetuating injustice. She returned to church only much later, on the wave of the civil right’s movement, and she returned to a church which took seriously the integrity of faith and its connection with peace and justice. She was called for jury duty and could not imagine sitting in a judgement, without reaching to the source of divine justice for orientation and support. Ruth did not remember and might had never known the origin of the prayer, but she shared the same positive, peace and justice-seeking idealism.
|Ruth at the age of 95.