The Servant Queen and the King she serves has been published by The Bible Society and The London Institute of the Contemporary Christianity. It is a nice booklet, with a foreword written by the Queen addressed to spiritual people. She makes the point that the only light in our sometimes terrifying world is God's faithfulness, which she has seen in her own life. It shares something hitherto unknown, or rather previously wrongly ascribed to The Queen Mother.
In the film The King's Speech, we learn that George VI had such a serious speech impediment that he required treatment from Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The film conveys what a nightmare it was for the King to have such a challenge in 1939 - when Britain had just entered the war - and before Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister.
George VI, the Queen's father had been in the Battle of Jutland in the First World War, the tragedy of which had delayed Britain preparing for World War Two. Now, a war-weary country was facing another such war - with a King who struggled to utter a sentence.
Our current Queen was thirteen in December 1939, living at Buckingham Palace with her parents. She was probably in the room while her much-loved father was discussing what he could say in his Christmas broadcast to a country overwhelmed with loss, fear and dread. Anyone would wrestle with the question of what to say, honestly, to give a glimmer of hope to a country in such a dark hour.
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Princess Elizabeth, who wanted to help her father and King, liked a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins. In a moment of inspiration, she handed the initial words to him and he read them out at the end of his Christmas broadcast (linked here at 3 mins). The words not only stirred and strengthened the nation at a critical hour, but they became the words by which George VI will always be remembered:
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year
"Give me a light that I may tread safely unto the unknown" and He replied
"Go out into the darkness, and put you hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way".
He then ended the broadcast with the words: "May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all".
They are very sustaining, even today, for believers in times of danger, illness and uncertainty. I recall they got me through several bleak New Years in the depth of a marginalised illness. They express the hope that God will turn a fearful present into a providential future (Romans 8.28 God makes all things work together for good for those who believe). Today, a week before the EU referendum, these words still have impact and meaning, assuring us that one still walks with God, in faith.
Background note: Minnie Louise Haskins (died 1957) was an overseas Christian missionary who became an academic at the London School of Economics. She is a fine example of a stalwart, single, Victorian woman of courage and spiritual strength who had a lasting and beneficial impact on the world. She took a keen interest in people and wanted cooperation in the way that employers relate to their employees. She and others founded the precursor to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the first such body in the world. The words are taken from the start of a poem 'The Gate of the Year' in a small book of poetry privately published in 1912 with very limited circulation. They first appeared in a poem called 'The Desert' written in 1908. When they were broadcast in 1939, being intensely modest, Minnie did not admit her authorship even to her own family. It was only on New Year's Eve 1939 that the BBC identified the author. The question still remains about how Princess Elizabeth knew this poem. In terms of genre, these lines use metaphor, rather like the 'The Hound of Heaven' whose author, Francis Thompson had a less comforting outcome than Haskins. Throughout, the Holy Spirit is imagined as a kind of bloodhound, chasing the fleeing soul. Personified metaphor has often been used to effect to convey the teaching of the Bible. The most notable example is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.