Humour and humility: our Queen
“Incredible! headlines this morning’s Daily Express. In fact, every newspaper this morning – the Guardian, the Financial Times and even the Star – gives pride of place to our Queen, unrestrained in appreciation of her remarkable 70 years of service.
Even the New York Times (to which I subscribe) gives wall-to-wall coverage of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations: “In the ensuing decades, the queen has become an irreplaceable figure in Britain, central to its self-identity. To many, her stoicism embodies the British instinct to get on with it, and her sensible manner reflects the sang-froid that many Britons admire.”
I’m sure we all realise how very difficult it must be to be a reigning monarch. Our Queen has found herself in some very testing situations and yet she has never, not even once, lost her cool in public. Quite an achievement.
However, her most remarkable quality is that she seems genuinely untouched by this adulation. She must realise that when she encounters anyone they are invariably overawed by her presence. Her image can be found on untold billions of banknotes and stamps.
In fact, even just reading this morning’s headlines must be a hugely significant challenge, not least spiritually. For the biggest danger for all of us is pride, for such praise to go to our heads. To think that we are Number One.
So the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s word to the ruler of the world, even the King of Babylon, as representative of any Emperor who would contest God’s rightful place:
“How you have fallen from heaven,
morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God.”
It’s so easy to slip into pride, especially through our so-called spiritual achievements. We are praised for some fruitful ministry, a truly wonderful sermon, an act of remarkable compassion. It’s so easy for us to take the credit, even 10% of what rightly belongs to God, whose Holy Spirit has made it all possible.
And worse, our own spiritual development. I recall a friend telling me that he was thanking God for all that he had done in his life, how he had matured as a Christian - before realising he was praying the same prayer as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” (Luke 18:11)
Put simply, to be like the donkey who carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, thinking everyone is cheering us!
So what’s the answer? Humility and humour (they’re linked).
Humour, the ability to laugh at yourself, to refuse to take yourself seriously. My favourite story from the Queen is when an embarrassed Labour minister Clare Short had to stop her mobile phone from ringing during a Privy Council meeting. "Oh dear," she enquired. “I hope it wasn't anyone important?"
I’m sure such a sense of humour is an essential gift of grace to keep us grounded. Archbishop Justin commented on Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu: "He just had this extraordinary, bubbly, overwhelming sense of humour - you laughed the whole time when you met him."
Royal commentator and consultant to Netflix’s Crown Robert Lacey considers that the key to the Queen’s success is her humility, never getting “too big for her boots.” She understands, he says, that she is part of an institution bigger than her.
For essentially the Queen sees her role as a calling no less from God, to whom she is accountable. At the very outset during her first Christmas broadcast in 1952 she asked: “Pray for me . .that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.”
Since that time, the Queen has often spoken of and reflected upon her faith and the role that it plays in her life. The title of the Bible society booklet says it all: “The Servant Queen and the King she serves."
Of course, it’s not easy for any of us to stay grounded. However, it is something – with the help of the Holy Spirit – we may learn. As the apostle Paul – who experienced both adulation and antagonism reflects: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12)
The word Paul uses for content is a key word in Greek Stoic philosophy, of being emotionally untouched by what is happening around us. However, he gives it a new meaning, of God-sufficiency – something we may learn over time, by deciding to refuse to allow praise or protest to touch us in how we see ourselves.
Above all, to know our status as a disciple of Jesus, in the words of Hattie Buell’s hymn:
I’m a child of the King,
A child of the King,
With Jesus my Saviour,
I’m a child of the King.