Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will pay a final mark of respect to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey in London. We know a great deal about The Queen and her life, lived out in the view of the world. One aspect of her life, however, is commented on less often than other aspects – her life of faith.
It is said that at her Coronation in 1953, the Queen viewed the most solemn moment not as the one where the glittering Crown of St Edward was placed upon her head, but the private moment in which she was anointed with holy oil; for her, this was – above all else – a religious ceremony. Speaking many years later, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said this –
“It was a vocation for which she had been blessed and graced, and the anointing was at the heart of it. Sometimes at Windsor Castle she would show visitors her small book of daily devotions from the weeks leading up to the coronation itself—prayers and meditations that had been written for her by the then Archbishop of Canterbury. It was obvious that these meditations had sunk in deeply, and that she still shaped her life according to what was laid out there.”
For those living near any of the Royal palaces and castles when The Queen was in residence, they knew that if they wanted to see her, the place to go was the local Church, where she would almost always attend every Sunday – this was particularly the case at Crathie Kirk, very close to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She would attend the services there, pray with the whole congregation and sing the hymns.
In her annual Christmas Message, The Queen would invariably mention some aspect of her belief in Christ and her Christian faith, relating this to her own life and to world events. It was always clear that she spoke from deep experience – she lived out her faith in her daily life.
“Each day is a new beginning,
I know that the only way to live my life
is to try to do what is right,
to take the long view,
to give of my best in all that the day brings,
and to put my trust in God..
I know just how much I rely on my own faith
to guide me through the good times and the bad.”
It is known that she prayed every day. Cardinal Nichols commented recently that at one religious service, while everyone read a lengthy prayer from the book of service, The Queen had her eyes closed and was praying the same prayer, which she knew by heart – “this was a woman who prayed”, he said.
Speaking today on the BBC, Archbishop John Sentamu spoke about going to ask The Queen’s permission to retire from his role as Archbishop of York. He said he went to her “with great burdens” in his heart and asked her prayers; joining his hands to pray, she then closed her hands around his, closed her eyes, and they both prayed silently for several minutes, at the end of which she said “Amen”. He said that he felt his burdens had been lifted in those moments. Archbishop Sentamu also noted his impression that The Queen was intimately familiar with the Psalms – “She knows the Psalms by heart, and can recite them.. her anchor is in God” he said.
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace..
is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.
Despite the very public role she had throughout her life, The Queen lived her faith quietly and did not impose her beliefs on others, regardless of how strongly she held them. Her particular form of evangelisation was by the gentle power of her example rather than by the force of her comments. This quiet faith, lived out every single day, touched others around her.
In these past days of national mourning following the death of The Queen, a number of people who have paid their respects at her coffin in Westminster Hall have commented on the almost-religious sense they have experienced whilst doing so. Many others have commented on how touched they have been by the liturgies of remembrance and of thanksgiving which have been offered this past week at various cathedrals and churches. Perhaps something of The Queen’s own sense of the divine is being reflected in her people.
For us, watching these events and listening to so many opinions and comments, we can learn something from the life of faith of The Queen.
No matter who we are, no matter our state in life – whether great and public, or silent and hidden – we are all children of God, Who deserves our worship. He alone is our Rock, as the psalmist reminds us. And Christ, as The Queen noted several times, is our example and our anchor in life.
Our faith, to be authentic, has to be lived out quietly and consistently – and that is simply impossible without a life of prayer. For The Queen, she did indeed live this life of prayer and her faith was certainly authentic.
May all of us be inspired by her example.