Elizabeth R, Royals in General, Doing the Job, Showing Up and Letting Go: A Meditation on Lives that Matter

Elizabeth R, Royals in General, Doing the Job, Showing Up and Letting Go: A Meditation on Lives that Matter September 9, 2022




I am not especially fond of the institution of monarchy. The reasons for this are many. I’m never not aware the whole institutions of monarchs, each and every one of them, are founded upon someone who killed and maimed their way to the top of a violent heap sometime in the past. There is simply nothing inherently worthy about these family businesses and their frequently unworthy successors.

With that I’ve not particularly followed the doings of the English Royals, a pass time I’ve considered akin to following the doings of the  Kardashians and other people famous for being famous. A harmless enough activity, I guess. But not my, if you will, cup of tea.

And nothing seems to be one thing. And with the death of Elizabeth R, I find myself contemplating our relationships with the nations to which we belong. And here I think about monarchs in our time. For many countries, and chief among these to my mind the United Kingdom, the Royals serve as a flag, living symbols of a nation. The pomp and circumstance of the English Royalty is that mysterious place where patriotism (including its terrible shadow nationalism) and all sorts of things coming together to create and sustain the identity of a people. This is sometimes called Civic Religion.

I’ve always had a loose sense of identity with groups. I claim no particular virtue in this stance. I think it coming together through the luck of the draw, although most of all through my curiosity about religions other than my natal one, and a generally liberal in the sense of broad and sympathetic approach to cultures beyond the one in which I was born. Although it has been deepened and broadened by the spiritual disciplines which form the foundation of my life. Basically a regular commitment to presence, to intimacy with what is as it arises. Decisions flow from this, but they require a rhythm of non-judgment, just being present.

It leads to a certain sympathy with the world that presents, toward a kind of universalism. And, I’m a universalist both theologically and socially. This certainly informs my common feeling with the whole of the human family. So, with that I’m wary of the seductions of smaller groups of people. I notice the problems with certain sports and how we divide ourselves up around them. European and others who violently fall upon each other at soccer (pardon me, football) games is illustrative. And, actually our American football, a nasty little pastime and the violence of our commitments to one gang, or rather, team, over another, is also illustrative.

And it gets a lot worse with nationalism. I’m particularly concerned with the blandishments of blood and soil that co-arise as and are always present in any sense of national identity.

Today the American republic is being torn at the seams by the contending forces of a broader cosmopolitan national identity that is porous and dynamic, and a sense of identity that is largely framed explicitly or implicitly defining our identity through European national origins and some sort of relationship with fundamentalist versions of Christianity. I am wholeheartedly in the former camp.

I sometimes despair of our ever finding our way through. I recall a clerical colleague who said she thought our task really was hospice ministry, caring for people in a dying world. Might be true. Really might.

But, over the years I’ve learned that there is no generalized universalism. It’s part of the conundrum of our human existence that the universal is only ever known within the particular. The specific. This. And, with that, not this.

And with that a germ of hope. A way to thread the needle of our human condition.

In part this turns on not being confused about the particular. The particular is important. The particular of our individual lives for instance. We are precious just for existing. And, as the Psalmist sang, “our days are as grass: as a flower in the field, we flourish for a moment.”

And with that not thinking the particular, any given particular, however precious within its passingness has some special essence. What creates every particular and this includes you and me as well as the nations within which we live and breathe, are momentary. Each thing is the result of causes and conditions that will inevitably shift, and inevitably cease to exist.

Now our nation states as we understand them birthed only a few hundred years ago. But this sense of identity that lies between family and the world has existed pretty much since at the very least the advent of agriculture and the rise of civilizations. So one way or another we’ve had these larger identities for a very long time.

Today the principal alternatives to the nation state are two fold. One, is the multinational corporation. These are entities untethered from any ethic beyond the pursuit of profit. They glorify short term profit over any other thing, including the well being of people and the needs of the environment. The other is religion. Or, rather the religions. The two big contenders are Christianity and Islam. Both have universalizing and mystical aspects that are powerful and compelling. And both have horrific sides with the ability to shed a great deal of blood in order to be in charge.

It would be easy to just dismiss these contending powers nation states, multinational corporations, and religions as evidence we’re all doomed.

But I feel deeply there are ways through.

And part of this, this whole reflection as well as a map of possibility seemed clear to me in the life of Elizabeth II. It’s easy to dismiss so much. Her ancestors were monsters. She lived with astonishing unearned wealth and privilege. Itself rooted in the plunder of the world.

Today the country she was queen of is a different animal. It still will and must live with the consequences of empire. And. It has become a place of refuge, a cultural center, at its best it upholds the ideals of a world that is lightly and genuinely tied together. And that together is found in a sense of shared history and mutual responsibility. And in this country, Elizabeth had a job. And everything I understand tells me she understood this totally, she had a job. That living flag thing. She provided grace and humor and consistency. Most of all she brought consistency, seventy years of showing up.

I think about that showing up.

I think about duty.

Our world can go in several different ways. Most of them not good. All of them dangerous.

But we have some guidance and we have some examples.

What we need to learn in our lives both as individuals and citizens follows the same course. And that course was so wonderfully sung to us by the poet Mary Oliver.

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Here we are, mortal beings. We are herd animals. We need each other. For so much from care in our infancy, to the gift of language, to the skills it takes to survive, to others to love and be loved by, to having caring hands to deliver us back to the soil. All of that mortal mortal stuff.

For me I experience this and I experience many many things. But most of all, an electric current running through it all is that most human thing: love.

And then there is the current of our actual lives. The bones that give us our shape. Family, of course. For good and for ill. Our nation states, for sure. For good and for ill. And, our shared humanity and our shared obligations as the conscious creatures for the care of this whole beautiful fragile world. All of it. For good and for ill.

Here I find our duty. To care and to be engaged.

We need the larger perspective. We need to avoid the blandishments of turning away from the perceived other.

But if we love and keep loving. If we show up. And we show up again.

If we learn the art of letting go even as we hold to our bones, then things happen.

Here is our duty. This is our job.

Then the secret that runs through the nations, that runs through the religions, well, it presents.

Love becomes hope.

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