Well he wasn’t the king at the time. He was HRH the Prince of Wales.
I am not extremely well-connected. I’m not in any way an übermensch, but I was invited to meet him because I was part of a team that had done work that had impressed him – forecasting the UK’s greenhouse gas emission pathways to 2050 to achieve the 80% reduction target.
I read the memo on what words I should use to address him. Actually I should say – I remember being tacitly told to avoid speaking entirely because my accent would give away the fact that some of the skills of the Civil Service come from the Commonwealth (South Africans were allowed to work in the Civil Service but it was not something they liked to advertise).
I also read the instructions on how to curtsy. Now this was necessary. A lot of my adolescence was spent doing ballet, so my instinctive response when told to curtsy is to do something like this:
Or the next few seconds of this:
Not kidding – my natural instinct.
I remember practicing the simple “bob” and feeling more silly than ever.
I wasn’t British at the time or from a country that was subject to the British monarch. So I was more a visitor to his realm than a subject of his. Many people in my home country despised what the British monarchy represented to them: the painful trampling of their ancestors and their culture that caused devastation for generations. The whole thing felt strange, but I should bob. On top of that, to be told that my identity should be a secret, even though he liked my work, left me less than enthused about the whole thing.
Nevertheless here was, I granted, an important man, related to important people. He wanted to meet my team.
So I read up and prepared myself to bob.
But something happened when he walked in. Suddenly the man I’d seen on TV and in magazines was standing in front of displays of our work. I had made my judgments and formed opinions and I thought I knew him, and then he was standing right in front of me. He was (if he’ll forgive me, though I doubt he’ll stray so far into social media as to read my blog) shorter than I expected. More gentlemanly than I expected. His handshake was softer than I expected. I had read and listened to so many stories of his life but as he stood in front of me to shake my hand, be it ever so briefly, I saw something altogether different. I saw a human being as complicated and immeasurable as any other.
As I looked directly at the head that would one day wear the crown, eye to eye, I realised that if I bent my knees at all to curtsy I would risk them giving way and literally collapsing on the floor. So I quickly concluded that the collapse would be the more humiliating option and I just stood straight, looked him in the eye and shook his hand firmly like I was being interviewed for a job. I didn’t do the bob. He moved on graciously without a second glance. I didn’t want to pretend to be British but at least out of respect, I wanted to bob. I like to tell myself that maybe I did bob. Even a little. It’s so easy to do. Of course I did.
No. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t.
I was, like many, struck by the significance of it all: his position in the world, his heritage, and his humanity. But also, to be honest, I’ve never been one for putting on airs and graces. So the two attitudes collided in my brain which was also, frustratingly, still telling me to do a grand and flamboyant ballet curtsy – which thankfully, I didn’t do.
There wasn’t enough space anyway.
Most likely you’d be better at this than I was.
But people are often not what we expect – even if we prepare ourselves. We also don’t always react in the way we expect ourselves to.
Jesus was not exactly what people expected. There was a lot written about the Messiah in holy writ before he came. Then he came and he didn’t keep the law the way they thought he should. He didn’t perform miracles the way they thought he should. He didn’t hang out with the right people. He didn’t kowtow to the experts. They had read up on him. They thought they had it pinned down, but time after time, what he said and did was confusing to many. They could not find a single thing wrong with him, but he made them feel uncomfortable.
They had read about a God who was consistently reliable, who made the sun rise and set every day, who gave warmth and water and food. Who stood by His Word. Perhaps they concluded he was entirely predictable.
But sometimes he did do things that seemed wildly random.
This is, after all, a God who sent a fish to swallow a prophet and vomit him up again.
And Jesus comes: the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter, with brothers and sisters, eating, drinking – and then suddenly walking on water. I mean, of all the amazing things he did, who expected that?
Could they really have him all worked out? Can we?
If you were waiting for someone to make everything right, if you were to see the Messiah in front of you, eye to eye, would he be what you expect? And if you had been thinking about it and studying it for years, would you be confident that you had him all worked out, that you would respond appropriately, or would certain ideas, that right now are not up for discussion, simply fall apart under his gaze?
And if his pathway seemed to lead to humiliation and defeat, when all your life you’ve been told to reach for the stars, would you press on, holding on to the hope he offers, or would you run away like his disciples did – the ones who presumably knew him best?
The man I met 11 years ago has now become king and I too have technically become British. So I am now his subject. Although his appearance confused me at the time, although there is lots of vile murkiness to British history, the British monarch now has a lot of authority over me.
There is another man I met but not in the flesh. There is no vile murkiness in him at all but he certainly confuses me at times. He won me over, but since then I’ve tried to put him in a box and claim I had him all worked out. It does make a person feel good about themselves. Reading up and educating yourself certainly has it’s place, but now I’ve learnt an attitude of waiting and listening, paying more attention to what he said and how he treated people and also being open to things that seem wild.
Jesus claims authority as big as ruling over heaven and earth, so I can never really claim to have him all worked out.
Perhaps Jesus hasn’t arranged things the way you wanted him to, and you haven’t reacted the way you expected you would. There is nothing wrong with him, but sometimes things feel somewhat uncomfortable. Doctrine gives us discernment, but when Jesus confuses us, it is his authority that we fall back on. It is much better to let go and accept that Jesus is not merely a story or an idea – he is a living person.
Yes I met the King.
One day I’ll give him a proper curtsy as I’ve been trained to do.
And if I happen to meet King Charles II again, I’ll be better at the bob.