I was recently watching “The Crown”, a miniseries primarily based on the life of Queen Elizabeth. The episode that gripped me highlighted Great Britain’s reaction to the launch of Apollo 11 which, as you know, led to Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. For many of us who can remember that moment, it was larger than life, imprinting a place in our life journey of a paradigm shifting memory.
So when I watched Prince Philip’s (Queen Elizabeth’s husband’s) reaction to the moment by moment TV coverage, at first it was not surprising. He was mesmerized, not wanting to miss a moment, waiting with bated breath for each unfolding event and description of what was transpiring. What became unusual, however, was how impactful this mission was on him above and beyond the usual reactions which were already so elevated. The moon landing happened to have occurred at a time when Prince Phillip’s seemingly midlife crisis aligned with his underlying crisis of faith.
In actuality, his personal pinnacle of struggle was one that ran much deeper for multiple reasons. As husband to the Queen, his life was predetermined and scripted with little, actually no, room for personal individualization and growth. Or so it seemed to Prince Philip who felt trapped, his life a meaningless cacophony of unimportant duties and activities.
This feeling of meaninglessness was exacerbated, perhaps rooted in, a complete lack of faith. There is a scene that is actually difficult to watch in which he lambasts a group of clerics who have formed a retreat center on the palace grounds to work on strengthening and revitalizing their faith. His tirade at them centered on the conclusion that all that matters is action, not the bowed head, wasted efforts of conversation spent on meaningless thoughts.
With that as background, Prince Phillip’s view of the Apollo 11 trip was like a child’s first visit to Disneyland, as he insists on and anticipates a private half hour meeting with the three Apollo 11 astronauts. The scene is exquisite as it brings together reality and our often flawed thinking. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were coming down with colds. So as Prince Phillip would be breathlessly waiting to hear their grandiose summaries of what it must have felt like on their mission, he was interrupted by sneezing, sniffling, and their needs for hankies. When asked what it felt like to be in space, their answers were ironically down to earth, as they explained the highly technical, and sometimes mundane nature of what is needed in order to manage and land the spacecraft, not unlike Prince Phillip’s daily tasks, or his piloting his small plane where one must focus unwaveringly on the task at hand.
As Prince Phillip then listened to the astronauts’ questions to him asking what it must be like to live in a palace, and as he watched them playfully race up the enormous Windsor Castle winding staircase, his false reality of assumptions was shattered. Recognizing one’s actions are not the ultimate answer to life’s meaning actually crushed him. In his journey out of unrealistic perceptions he was led back to the group of clergy, sitting in a small circle, confessing his lack of faith, his inability to grasp meaning in his life, ending with a plea, “Help me.”
The cleric leading the group, the Dean of Windsor, Robin Woods, became a lifelong friend of Prince Philip. Together they founded St. George’s House to further explore the subjects of faith and science.
Crises of faith. Midlife crises. These are well known hurdles many of us experience. They are fueled by false realities, skewed perceptions, unrealistic understandings, flawed conclusions. Prince Phillip could have walked on the moon, himself, and yet, upon return still have found little meaning in life. The Apollo 11 astronauts had to make the effort to see the bigger picture once on the moon in order to experience the deeper impact of the meaningfulness of the mission.
Actions are important, but not without connection to a greater reality. In Neil Armstrong’s words, “That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind,” we feel he was in a place to receive the deeper messages. Perhaps this perspective was not at the very moment at the forefront of his thoughts when in dialogue with Prince Philip whose unrealistic expectations may have rendered him incapable of hearing normal wonder.
When we feel HaShem’s presence and the intimacy of Yeshua in our walk, the smallest bird chirp, a gentle breeze, another’s smile, a sleeping child, or dog, or cat, our own breath, can fuel our faith that there is a presence so much greater than ourselves. We feel shalom, centeredness, relief from worry, certainty all will be okay in the end, even if not known at the moment. We know we may be performing an action but can feel the power of it is not from us, not by the doing of our hands or intellect, but rather, the fulfillment is from a force greater than ourselves that lifts us often to accomplishments beyond our abilities, through our Abba’s mighty strength and through His softest whispers.
We are uplifted not by what our actions accomplish, but rather, by the co-creative energy causing the actions. Recognizing that all that we accomplish is through Him brings meaning to the experience. Retaining that faith brings us through the times when what we are actually doing may seem petty. And yet, it is in those small actions and events that His presence is brought to the mundane, these times often being the most awe inspiring. If Prince Phillip’s speeches to so many groups were filled with passion and true thankfulness, using words outpouring with love, how uplifting and encouraging to the listeners at that time in English history when many were so downtrodden. How amazing he was put in a position to do so much good and given a long life and mentor to facilitate the opportunity to grow in his faith.
Crises of faith attack even royalty. Conversely, deep faith in God is held by many who have so little when measured by society’s standards. We are given the choice to connect to the larger reality, to trust in God as we pursue our daily activities and long term dreams. I encourage you to always remember it’s not what we do, it’s who we do it with. Choose Him.