The time has come and gone, and we’ve moved on. Most, that is. Not those who knew her as a beloved family member, and not even all of those who knew her only as a monarch. I speak, of course, of Queen Elizabeth II.
I certainly didn’t think I would feel so dark and sad over her death. I never met her. I come from a working-class, east London home, and was raised as far from monarchy as it’s possible to be. Yet the death of The Queen moved me to the heart and the soul.
It’s difficult for those outside of the circle to grasp the enormity of The Queen’s passing. By the circle I mean those, whatever they thought of the monarchy, who saw her as a symbol of something much greater and deeper than mere pomp. She was the young woman in the uniform of the good during World War II, when authentic evil sometimes seemed invincible. She was the daughter of a king, thrown into public life long before she wanted.
She was moderation and decency, even when neither quality seemed especially apparent in her own country. As a 63-year-old Brit I can tell you that when Margaret Thatcher seemed intent on Americanizing and privatizing the UK, even those on the left looked to The Queen as a rock of the best of tradition. She was known, for example, to detest apartheid and had especially firm bonds of friendship with African leaders, some of whom were committed socialists.
While some members of her family acted badly, even shamefully, and there were criticisms of the royalty and of privilege, she was almost always spared attack. Not because she was The Queen but because she was Elizabeth.
British Prime Ministers came and went, but she remained. Other than Winston Churchill, it was Labour leaders with whom she seemed closest. Harold Wilson, who led the country for eight years, was from a working-class Yorkshire background, and was once even thought to be sympathetic to Communism. She much preferred him to his Conservative opponents.
Her Christian faith was central to her life, and it’s important to get this one right. The British monarch as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is the titular head of the English church, and has, of course, special status in the Anglican Church of Canada too. But this isn’t papal, and she played no role in the theological formation of the denomination. Respect yes, subservience no.
Yet in an age when the public, political face of Christianity is often so loud, angry, and reactionary, her approach was implicit and gentle, based on a commitment to public service. She took Christianity extremely seriously, which is different from taking it aggressively.
It was revealing when commentators suggested that the homily given by US Episcopal primate Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle might have surprised her, because it was influenced by African-American Christianity and lyricism. Nonsense! She’d heard that sort of preaching numerous times, and delighted in it. It was the secular, doubting commentators who were shocked.
We live in a cynical era, when too often lack of forgiveness is seen as strength, insult as wit, and flippancy as worldliness. Partly due to her age, partly her being above the grime of daily political division, and mostly because of an innate elegance and tolerance, Queen Elizabeth II always seemed a timeless exception.
I have a feeling that the loss of her husband, Prince Philip, was something that The Queen never came to terms with, and the disputes between her grandsons Harry and William apparently hurt her deeply. That’s very upsetting.
But, again, her faith was always at the epicentre of her being. This, from Christmas, 2011: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves—from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person—neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive… It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”
As I say, she took Christianity extremely seriously, which is different from taking it aggressively.
May light perpetual shine upon her, and may she rise in glory. God bless The Queen. God save The King.