THE STILL POINT: Queen, Mother and Baby
Two experiences have a profound effect on us – the birth of a new baby and the death of someone significant in our lives.
We are living through these days of mourning for Queen Elizabeth whose death has impacted us all greatly. Even those who are not monarchists have been surprised by the depth of feeling that has stirred in them.
Reflecting on my own feelings, on the tears that have come to my eyes, it has struck me that this death has somehow tapped into all my other griefs, particularly in relation to my mother – the fact that she was born the same year as the Queen and looked very like her. This likeness was attested to by my niece Katie (then aged three) who has no physical memory of my Mother – she was only two months old when my mother died – but she has always had an emotional attachment to Nana Monson and grew up looking at and speaking to her photograph. One evening Queen Elizabeth appeared in a feature in the news on the television and Katie pointed with delight saying, “look! Nana Monson in on the television!” The other likeness is between the young Queen and my late sister Maura and my aunt Eileen. So, these sacred relationships, these memories have become entwined for me in the death of the Queen who I see in terms of motherhood. Mother of her own family; Mother of the nation.
Among the tributes paid to Her Majesty, words spoken by Sir Kier Starmer have struck a chord in me: “When everything is spinning, a nation requires a still point, when times are difficult, it requires comfort, and when direction is hard to find, it requires leadership. The loss of our Queen robs this country of its stillest point, its greatest comfort, at precisely the time we need those things most.”
The ‘still point’! There was a stillness and a steadiness in both the Queen and my Mother, and I have pondered what is the source of this quality. My guess is that it come from their faith, their life-long belief in and relationship with God. Not many people have spoken about this aspect of the Queen’s life and the absence of any mention of God or prayer in messages of condolence from political leaders has been quite striking. King Charles has brought God into the conversation but not too many others have done likewise.
She was a woman of faith. God was central to her whole life, to her commitment to duty that so marked her years on the throne.
Watching the thousands bringing flowers to the various palaces you can sense a yearning for what she had, to somehow be who she was in this world. It is a yearning that often doesn’t know where to go, where to land in the reality of life. It floats above the ordinary seeking a home.
As a woman of faith, the Queen would want us to find our stillness, our steady ground, in God rather than in her. It’s what the Gospel calls us back to, the Gospel of the Prodigal son – to come to our senses and come home. Home to the Father, home to one’s true self, to the stillness of that truth. The Prodigal son’s life went spinning round as he ran and ran from himself. He needed to come home.
Just over a week ago I left my home in Galway to begin my journey back to England, three funerals later, lessons in detachment learned. Letting go, going on to visit friends in Cork, with the intention of going on to Thurles and Dublin. But birth stepped in to alter my plans. Way down in West Cork I got word that my nephew’s wife had given birth to their second son. I was sitting on a rock by the sea praying for them when the call came that the child was born.
I knew in myself that I had to go home which I did, arriving just a few minutes after mother and her day-old son. His name is Noah Matthew, and he is of course beautiful as is his brother before him. New life.
What took me by surprise was that the young Mum wanted me to hold him even before his grandparents held him. I gladly took this tiny life into my arms, being totally unprepared for the emotion, the tears that welled up inside. I could hardly speak for the strength of it as I said a prayer with him, blessed him, a blessing greatly appreciated by the young parents. I was simply overwhelmed by a love that does not have words.
I felt like Simeon in the Gospel of Luke who took the baby Jesus into his arms and prayed the wonderful ‘Nunc Dimittis’ – at last all-powerful Master you give leave to your servant to go in peace. Simeon’s life reached its fulfilment in that moment and in a strange way it seemed like my own life reached its fulfilment with this new baby. In him God came into my arms, and I came home to Him and to myself.
Here I am, trying to put words on what it means. I just know I was blessed and the unspeakable stirring going on deep within me is nothing other than the language of the Holy Spirit, a language that cannot be translated. It can only be experienced and allowed to be what it is.
This is how it is with the stirrings of grief and new birth, and it somehow seems that death and birth are the same thing, that God is saying something similar in both experiences.