(Unherd) Giles Fraser–Our Queen’s finest moment

In theological terms, the crucial word is kenosis, which means self-emptying. Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” is how Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi puts it. What is being described here is a process by which the ego is set aside for the fullness of God’s love to enter into a human life. The less of me, the more of You. In this way vulnerability is regarded as the defining feature of precisely the sort of holiness that was there in that moment of the Queen’s anointing. A ‘tired” Queen is an exemplification of just this sort of kenotic servant monarchy. In other words, a “tired” Queen is the perfect sacrificial embodiment of what a monarch should be. And demonstrates why the well-being centred virtue-signalling showiness of some of her relatives is such a grotesque parody of the role.

But to put this in more secular terms, vulnerability is the means of connection between people. Our vulnerability is how we are open to the other and the other is open to us. Which is why — and I don’t think I am just imagining this — the present vulnerability of the Queen is establishing a renewed kind of intimacy between the Queen and her subjects. Given the formality within which she is encased, it is entirely inappropriate to say this — but I want to give her a hug. We don’t need the handshakes or the curious peering into a familiar woman’s face to try and work out what is going on behind all that well-rehearsed small talk. The more vulnerable she becomes, the more human, and so also the more fully a Queen in the theological sense.

Such public defencelessness is rare, at least in leaders. The last one I can remember achieving anything like this was Pope John Paul II. His last few years — and these may well be the last few years of the Queen’s life — were marked by a reduced physical capacity, while at the same time he became a more intense version of what he was called to be. To be a Pope is partly to perform a certain function. But when ill health robbed him of the ability to perform that function, all the job description utilitarian bits of being Pope dropped away and his, as it were, symbolic role was more fully exposed….

Thankfully, the Queen is not yet this ill. But she is 95 and easily the longest serving monarch in history. Her Christian faith has long been a comfort to her. And this is especially evident now, in the twilight of her years. Indeed, the version of the Queen that we are now seeing is the greatest of her roles as our monarch. It is not important if she misses COP26 or other political talking shops. She is doing something much more important now.

She is showing us what human life is all about when we loosen our grip on power and status and function. Her last act may well be her finest.

Read it all.


Posted in Anthropology, England / UK, Politics in General