Queen Elizabeth: Semper Fi
And as much cognitive dissonance as it may bring to bounce back from the Marine Corps to the palace, semper fidelis is the guiding principle behind the reign of Elizabeth, as well.
If you've seen The King's Speech, in which the young Princess Elizabeth is actually depicted, you may have asked yourself as I did, why would anyone want to be king or queen? To live each day not for yourself but for those you serve?
What would it be like to be born into an institution and know you were going to forever live by the ethics and values of that life—or, as exemplified by the short-lived reign of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), get out and leave it all behind for the woman you love and a lack of such responsibility?
Queen Elizabeth models for us a life that each of us can emulate. Unlike Mother Teresa, also devoted to a life of service, the queen certainly has known her share of creature comforts.
But the queen too has lived for the good of others, putting aside her own ego to do the work of connecting with people, of letting them remember—or hope—that they are part of something larger than themselves.
Semper fidelis. Although her 90-year-old husband Prince Phillip was hospitalized, the queen showed up Tuesday to complete the celebrations in her honor, with dignity, on behalf of all those who had come to see her and pay their respects.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preached at the thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral about the queen's legacy—and explicitly tied it into Christian life:
And so to be dedicated to the good of a community—in this case both a national and an international community—is to say, 'I have no goals that are not the goals of this community; I have no well-being, no happiness, that is not the well-being of the community. What will make me content or happy is what makes for the good of this particular part of the human family.'
It is an ambitious, even an audacious thing to aim at. It is, of course, no more so than the ideals set before all Christians who try to model their lives on what St Paul says about life in the Body of Christ. That doesn't make it any easier to grasp or to live out; but the way St Paul approaches it should help us see that we're not being encouraged to develop a self-punishing attitude, relentlessly denying our own goals or our own flourishing for the sake of others. What's put before us is a genuine embrace of those others, a willingness to be made happy by the well-being of our neighbours.
'Outdo one another in showing honour', says St Paul. Compete with each other only in the generous respect you show to one and all; because in learning that respect you will find delight in one another. You will begin to discover that the other person is a source of nourishment, excitement, pleasure, growth and challenge. And if we broaden this out to an entire community, a nation, a commonwealth, it means discovering that it is always in an ever-widening set of relations that we become properly ourselves. Dedication to the service of a community certainly involves that biblical sense of an absolute purge of selfish goals, but it is also the opening of a door into shared riches.
I don't think it's at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our Queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others; she has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race. She has made her 'public' happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home in these encounters . . . To declare a lifelong dedication is to take a huge risk, to embark on a costly venture. But it is also to respond to the promise of a vision that brings joy.
That lifelong dedication to a cause is what we can learn—and the promise of joy that comes from serving others.
Let the Empire rot.
The subjects still—and always will—matter.
And whatever the institution looks like, we who are born into this family will always need to serve them—and each other.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.