The Comforting Constancy of Words - by Liz Carter


As I've watched some of the coverage of Queen Elizabeth II's passing and listened to people talk about her through the last few days, I've been particularly struck by the way people have found in her a great stability and constancy. She has been there for all of my life, and all of most of our lives. My mum remembers the excitement of gathering around a neighbour's tiny television screen to watch the coronation in 1953 and I remember the joy of street parties celebrating her silver Jubilee when I was small. She's always been there, like a strong mountain in the backdrop of our lives, and it's difficult to think that she is not there any more. It seems to me that there is a collective feeling of sadness not only in her passing but in the shutting down of something that made us feel safe, something that we could always rely on, this remarkable woman who served God and her nation all her life.

It got me thinking about constancy, and what that means. There's something in the human condition that craves stability and steadfastness, something that reaches out for a familiar backdrop that keeps us feeling part of something together. Many people study their family history because of this longing to feel like our lives are part of a bigger whole, something that goes backwards and forwards and lends meaning. One of my favourite programmes is This is Us, which picks up this theme of constancy by spanning four generations of one family, looking backward and forward to see the effects of actions within the family and to celebrate the love that runs between them. There's something extraordinary about this ordinary family, because they represent something of that longing we have to be part of more.

As writers, and Christian writers at that, we are so well placed to address this gaping need in humanity. I've read many poems over the last few days, all of them expressing in different ways the gratitude we hold for the Queen and the feeling of sadness and uncertainty we feel now, the feeling that somehow the world has been shaken a little bit and nothing will be the same again. I've read some amazing tributes and accounts of people's encounters with the Queen. It's all made me think about how writing can tap into the deepest parts of us and speak to needs we didn't even realise were there. It's a great privilege but also sometimes a bit scary that our words can hold so much power.

Of course, scripture is the place where we find all the words we need for comfort and constancy. God is our everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:4). Before the mountains were born or God brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting he is God (Psalm 90:2). That's quite a picture of constancy, isn't it? Before the mountains were born. We find ultimate comfort in knowing that God always has been, and always will be. And in our writing we try to reflect something of this, to speak out to those who feel adrift and those who feel like they have no anchor point. Jesus is our anchor, our hope and our eternal comfort, and to be able to write these words and pass them on is something I never cease to be amazed at. Sometimes we write them clearly; sometimes more obliquely, in fiction or in poetry, but they are always full of great power and majesty. So if today you are feeling despondent in your writing, take heart from the message of the people right now: we are a people who need depth. We need strength. We need constancy. We need eternity. And this is what you are called by God to write of, in your own way, your own style, your own genre, whether outwardly obvious or implicit in the words you choose.

I wrote a poem about the Queen myself, this time for my town's Jubilee celebrations back in June, but the words seemed pertinent to the last few days so I wanted to share it again here. I hope it speaks to you of comfort and constancy today.

A journey of seventy years
A million cheers and a million fears
A lifetime of living your life out loud
And your courage out proud.
All through our lives,
Our comforting constant,
Our always consistent
The distance of royalty
Wrapped up in valiant persistence.

You lived through our history and made it your own
Through the jaws of war that tore and poured
with mud and tears in waterfalls
You followed your weighty call
Holding scarred hands as you
Traversed weary lands.

As we crown our town with history’s lore
As bunting tumbles and banners soar
As we cheer you on with all of Wellington’s roar
As we clothe our streets with colours of day
And our midsummer fayre with rituals of May

We remember you, all alone in your stall
Courageous in a cold embrace of wood-carved walls
Your mask a memorial of grief’s wounded fall
Lost in an Abbey of remembrance.
Did you bite back the tears as you
pondered the years
Did you cling to the sides as you
fractured to pieces inside?

We remember you, in 1952
The day when you heard your life-changing news
Did you cry your grief out loud,
Or did you drown it in duty,
Frown it down under a cloud of doing?

You stood in that Abbey, in ‘53,
Solemnity’s crown-weight so heavy
A tidal wave flooding the streets
Showering you in flowers
Wishing you all the hours in the world

You took the reins and then you reigned
Your voice like a thousand sun-sparkled days
You took the royal throne of kings,
You walked this sceptred isle
You took the burden of royal ring
And hid your inner royal child.

Did you wish for a sabbath,
A rest from your service?
Did you yearn for the waves of the sea?
Did you long for nature’s soothing peace?
Did you sigh for the dream of a life
With no gaze of a billion eyes?
Did you groan at systems you longed to fight,
at murky histories of wrongs you wished you could right,
at politics and statecraft that squirmed against the light?

You’re a British institution,
A life-long resolution
Of giving and profusion
You’re a long-lived consolation
A multi-layered constellation
A declaration of restoration
to our steadfast, weary, beautiful nation.

We will light a beacon for you
Join the chain as we remember your reign
As we look to each other and share our stories
We remember the glory of kindness’s measure
So we dig for treasure in Wellington’s streets
And sing the song of a year of Jubilee.

Liz Carter is an author, poet and editor from Shropshire. She loves to write about the difficult and painful times in life, and how we can find gold in the mess. Her books Catching Contentment and Treasure in Dark Places are available in online bookstores.  Her new non-fiction book with The Good Book Company is coming in Spring 2023. She is poet-in-residence of her local town and works freelance to proofread, format and design books.



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