Thought for the Day - Canon David Winter
The basic rules are longevity and an avoidance of assassinations. Our present Queen is the daughter of a woman who passed her century, and, thank God, assassins are not what they used to be. So she has achieved this week a notable landmark - the second longest reign of any British monarch. Four more years, and she will pass Queen Victoria’s record. ‘Long live our gracious Queen’.
The hallmark of her reign has been her sense of duty: ‘stern daughter of the voice of God’, as Wordsworth called it. It’s not a particularly popular virtue in the modern world. The present generation, which distrusts absolutes and dislikes the word ‘ought’, struggles with the certainties it demands. At times the Queen’s devotion to it has seemed at odds with the popular mood. This was particularly so at the death of Diana Princess of Wales, of course. But duty, doing what we sincerely believe is right, knows no mitigation or exceptions.
The last twenty years have not been easy ones for the monarchy in Britain. The Queen herself referred to 1991 as her annus horribilis, with multiple marriage separations and divorces in her family and the devastating fire at Windsor castle. About 30% of the British public, according to opinion polls, are not convinced of the value of the monarchy.
It’s all the more remarkable, then, that through all of this the Queen herself has emerged as a generally respected figure. Even those who aren’t sure about monarchy in principle tend to add that they’ve got a lot of respect for the Queen herself. Short of stature, behatted, she stands tall. Not particularly eloquent, not notably charismatic, less adept at social contact than princess Diana, for instance, she nevertheless represents something reassuring and secure. A lot of that feeling of security surely stems from her highly principled sense of duty.
For most of us, however, duty requires other virtues to supplement it. An appeal simply to ‘do our duty’ is not sufficient motivation on its own to right action. For the old preacher Ecclesiastes in the Bible, fearing God and obeying his commandments was ‘the whole duty of mankind’. Yet when the apostle Paul was trying to persuade his friend Philemon to be generous to his run-away slave, he used a different approach. ‘Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,’ he wrote to him, ’yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.’
Duty, love, insight, wisdom - all are ingredients in the great process of making moral choices. That is true for all of us, including monarchs. Those are the gifts which we should wish for ourselves, and perhaps pray that our rulers may enjoy.
Available since: Tue 17 May 2011
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