When I was a very little girl,the magic and mystery of kings and queens, princes and paupers, fairies and princesses enthralled me. Curiosity drove me through fairytales with an unrelenting sense of perseverance, and it was there I saw fragility tied to resilience and choices tied to destinies. There was right and wrong and the awful ambiguity of in-between. I came to admire the sturdy ones who dared brilliance and bereavement and somehow were rewarded by ultimate outcomes. Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid: each one danced with hope and optimism and I liked living there in the midst of it. Somehow, real life challenges encsconced in history overthrew that preoccupation, and I began to look at the mysteries of governments and the ways societies chose government and made decisions. But it was a laconic high school teacher whose suggestion about benevolent monarchy upended my thinking about fairytales, government and lifestyles and choices.
He had the deliberate pace of an old New Englander and the sharp wit of a lawyer which he never became. In the classroom, he put both to use in gently luring hesistant students into articulating and defending views. That day, he demanded identification of the strengths and weaknesses of various forms of government. We gravitated to democracy, rallied about representation and he listened. We denigrated dictatorships, oligarchies, and anarchy, and he listened. As the hour wound to a close, he quietly asked about monarchy, and constitutional monarchy. (Neither had won our attention or concern.) He suggested the latter captured the best of both worlds: a vibrant, evolving and involved population gathered together with the shared identity of a leader who represented continuity, embodied culltural history and shared heritage. The key was benevolence, a benevolent monarch whose pride and courage demanded the best for the nation and its people from a family and individuals willing to serve. He spelled out examples, mentioned societal advancements, and we shelled out the failures, the inequities and the flaws. He had succeeded in making us think differently about terms and knowledge we had accepted without question.
Benevolence, goodness, is alive in acts of kindness and choices of conscience. It extends from self to others and inherently builds connections between and among people. Benevolence allows freedom to all yet demands the best of each individual, inspires a standard of behavior and commitment that creates better relationships, communities and countries. Benevolence means believing in the basic goodness of all peoples, and having the wisdom to discern sincerity, dispute the inauthentic and continually move forward. It is not a task charged to the benevolent monarch alone but one given to each person. Benevolence resides with trust and honesty within each and among all. It invites respect, and determines kindnesses beyond measure.
It was not until many years after I walked out of that classroom that I realized another area of relevance for such thinking. The liturgical year closes with the Feast of Christ the King. Once, to me, it was a nod to the government and social hierarchies of a world long past. Now, to me, it represents a way to look carefully at the gentleness of a God who is neither dictator nor oligarch, anarchist or tyrant. Instead, it is about the God who accompanies us the journey. It is a God who compassionately weeps with the broken, gathers the lost, feeds the hungry and welcomes the poor. It is a God who lingers in presence and passion and loves and serves without measure: Christ the King.