A Gathering Voices Post by Greg Garrett
A few weeks ago in Austin, Texas, Bishop Michael Curry, one of the great preachers in the Episcopal Church, was winding up an ordination sermon by recapping the plot of this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech. He reminded his listeners about the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth), elevated to a throne he never wanted. He recounted scenes of confrontation and challenge as George worked with an Australia actor and speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Bishop Curry was preaching an ordination sermon, so the spiritual lesson he wanted to highlight was about the calling of a priest. He challenged my friend Kathy and all priests and pastors present to be Australian speech therapists, teaching, encouraging, pushing all those in their charge to live up to their responsibilities and to speak with grace and beauty. It was a true and wonderful lesson to carry away from the film: without Lionel’s help, the king would never have found his voice, and his subjects could never have heard his encouragement to stand up to Hitler and to fight bravely.
But it’s certainly not the only spiritual lesson in this lovely little film.
I wrote last week about the theme of community as a central element in The King’s Speech and other Oscar nominees. The relationship between royal and commoner turns out to be transformative for both George and Lionel, as community always is when it works. At the outset, the two very different men can barely talk to each other. The king confesses he doesn’t really know any commoners—that is, he knows almost none of the people he has undertaken to rule.
But the distance between the king and Lionel gradually disappears as they work together, and one of the most beautiful emblems of this is when Lionel introduces the royal couple to his wife, and the four of them stand in Lionel’s dingy dining room not as royals and subjects, but as fellow humans. As the Times notes, the movie demonstrates the grace of connection across the rigid boundaries of a classed society.
A third spiritual lesson we might carry away from The King’s Speech is the necessity of compassion. Both of these men carry secret wounds and desires, as all of us do. Lionel carries his horrific experience of war, his longing for a calling that would live up to the work he did with traumatized soldiers, his frustrated desire to be an actor. And the king—although he is the king—possesses a lifelong sense of inferiority, a physical challenge, an inability to live fully with courage and joy.
Everyone—rich, poor, noble, common, handsome, ordinary—has a secret sorrow. Bruce Springsteen sang in “Darkness on the Edge of Town” that everybody has a secret (or more than one) they just can’t face, something that dogs their steps and threatens to drag them down. The King’s Speech reminds us that every individual deserves our compassion and that we must look past surfaces and love courageously, since even a king may be broken inside.
Additional Resources from www.TheThoughtfulChristian.com
- Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, By Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison
- The Search for Compassion: Spirituality and Ministry, By Andrew Purves
- "Compassion as a Spiritual Discipline," By Bruce Main (Adult Study)
- "Learning Compassion: Why Indifference Is the Enemy," By Bruce Main (Youth Study)