As the years went by, her faith became more pronounced
On the day before her 96th birthday, the Royal Family released a new photograph of our late Queen, Elizabeth II. She stands between two horses — their coats as white as her hair. It was a powerful, almost mythic image — like something from the works of Tolkien. When I retweeted it, I likened its subject to the Maiar: the angelic guardians of Middle Earth.
I was being whimsical, of course. I didn’t mean to suggest that the Queen was a supernatural being. But thinking about it now, I realise that is what I believe. I share the Queen’s Christian faith — and therefore believe that human beings have souls: every last one of us is both natural and supernatural.
Not every Christian would agree. There’s a modernised version of Christianity in which the soul — like God — is a metaphor for something contained entirely within the material universe. But I very much doubt that’s what the Queen thought. She was a devout theist who truly believed the stuff that rational folks are supposed to reject.
She wasn’t afraid to say so either. In recent decades, her Christmas broadcasts became more, not less, religious. According to Damian Thompson’s insightful Holy Smoke podcast on the matter, the key moment was the Millennium. While the official celebrations downplayed the meaning of Anno Domini, the Queen did not. She acknowledged her Lord and continued to do so in all the years left to her. To many Christians — and perhaps to people of other faiths — it was an annual and much-needed source of encouragement. In an increasingly secular world she was unembarrassed by what she believed.
The truly miraculous thing, though, was just how little embarrassment this caused to others. Let’s be honest — discussions of personal faith, especially from public figures, can leave behind a cringe radius of several kilometres. But whereas various politicians, celebrities and even bishops have stumbled through awkward questions about their religious convictions, the Queen never did.
In part, that was due to her sensitivity towards her non-Christian subjects. But there was more to it than her well-chosen words. The other reason why she didn’t put many backs up was her evident sincerity. There was no unctuousness about her declarations of faith, no hypocrisy. She seemed to project what she professed. And that was especially true towards the end.
As people get older, who they really are tends to become clearer. Of course, the ravages of dementia can hide the true self — as can rigid formality or the practice of stubborn self-control. But otherwise, as our bodies wither, it become harder to conceal the person within. Whatever role Elizabeth was made to play in her younger days, the evident goodness of the woman we came to know was no act.
The first Elizabeth once said that she would not make windows into men’s souls — which was wise, because none of us can. Nevertheless, of the second Elizabeth, we caught a glimpse.