As a lifelong fan of Aretha Franklin, I’ve spent some time the past couple of months reflecting on her large body of work. One of my favorite moments was when she graciously served as a last-minute substitute for her friend Luciano Pavarotti in a performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards. She sang one of his signature performance pieces: “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s opera “Turandot.” Part of what touched me about that performance was that Ms. Franklin unapologetically sang it her way – she made it her own.
Each day we are presented with opportunities to approach challenges and even the mundane in a way that expresses our individuality. As I strive to learn more about how to express myself, I’ve appreciated something I’ve learned in Christian Science: that we all have something specific and valuable to contribute, and that the basis for this is our relation to God.
Christian Science uses “Soul” as a synonym for God, the source of everyone’s identity. This identity is not based on a physical body or limited by genetic predisposition, but rather is spiritual: We are the expression of Soul itself, made to express qualities such as beauty, harmony, and joy.
I also like to think of identity in the way that Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, writes about it in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal” (p. 70). She also writes in her work “Retrospection and Introspection,” “Each individual must fill his own niche in time and eternity” (p. 70).
Understanding our unique identity as the spiritual expression of divine Soul can set us free from limitations we may face. Several years ago, I was in Italy preparing to sing in an evening concert of sacred music. Just before the start of the concert, the power went out all over town. Only half of the singers had arrived, and the other half were now unable to get there in time. Also, the organ, which was to accompany us, required electricity to work. Even though we had a full house, it looked as though we might not be able to proceed with the concert.
Since I didn’t have as much experience as some of the other singers, I had felt insecure and had experienced bouts of stage fright in previous performances. Sometimes during these episodes my voice would barely manage to eke out the melody! I’d been left feeling embarrassed and frustrated, and it would make it harder to sing the next time. So imagine my surprise when I found myself telling the concert organizer that I could sing my piece a cappella and lead the other singers present in an impromptu song in order to buy some time!
She gratefully accepted my offer. Now I had to make good on it!
I took a moment to cherish and mentally affirm the presence and goodness of infinite Soul, God. I thought about how I, and everyone else, could never be separated from divine Soul. I felt enveloped in a sense of God’s love for me and everyone, instead of feeling nervous or anxious.
When I opened my mouth to sing, I wasn’t thinking of the mechanics of singing, but simply pouring out my love and gratitude for God, Soul. Gone were the thoughts of fear that had seemed to overshadow and restrict my expression of my true identity as God’s beloved daughter. My voice was strong and pure, and the singing felt effortless. I was so grateful, and deeply moved.
I then invited the other singers present to join me in the famous gospel piece “This Little Light of Mine.” As we were singing the last verse, the power came back on! The other singers were able to get to the venue, and the concert continued uninterrupted.
I was tempted to feel stage fright again only one other time during that trip to Italy. Instead of feeling powerless, though, I mentally expressed gratitude to God for the opportunity to express Him with joy and freedom. That crippling sense of stage fright has never returned. The experience continues to be an important touchstone in my life for understanding more about God as Soul, and my identity as Soul’s spiritual reflection.
Everyone can be free to express their spiritual individuality as Soul’s beloved child in any endeavor, and live a Soul-filled life.