From the quiet, intimate melodies of Keith Jarrett’s “I love you Porgy” to the uptempo blast of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A train”, nothing illustrates individual expression better than Jazz music. Think of Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck. How different they are from each other and yet they all fall within the Jazz category. Or think of artists: Picasso, Monet, Corot, Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci. Even artists of the same century or country, like Monet and Corot, seem highly individual. For several years a friend and I visited galleries in San Francisco once a month where we would see six or seven artists. After a year or so I began to integrate what I had seen into a concept of the artist’s voice, his or her own personal essence expressed in his or her art.
By extension I think that each of us has a ”voice,” an essence, that needs to be expressed in our lives. Artist or musician or no, each of us has something to say to the world in some way—through speaking, writing, playing, organizing, managing, building, inspiring, being, etc. The way for each person is different, unique, and satisfies the whole person: each of us was created to “speak” our voice to the world in some way. There’s more urgency about this than you might expect: the world needs exactly what your “voice” brings to it. That’s why God created you as you are. With your “voice” spoken great things might happen, without it the world is bereft: another great opportunity lost.
The journey to the expression of our “voice” is an inward one in which we listen more and more to the inner self and less and less to the outer world. As we go deeper into the self, then we get clearer and clearer on who we are, what our essence is and what our “voice” needs to say. For musicians I think this is easier, because they practice for hours a day for years and thereby develop an “ear” for the combination of sounds they like to hear. The same is true for an artist: hours and hours over the days and years painting or sculpting teaches them not just the skills they need but also their own preferences as to style, use of color, etc.
Without the long apprenticeship to become a musician or an artist, where the artist learns so much about his or her “voice,” many of the rest of us have to work harder to find what we want to say with our lives and the vehicle for saying it. Parker Palmer, noted writer, educator, and spiritual teacher, writes in his book, Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation writes
“Today I understand vocation[voice]quite differently–not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
In the next paragraph Palmer tells a Hasidic story in which a Rabbi Zusya who was an old man said that at the end of his life they will not ask him why he was not Moses. Instead they will ask him why he was not Zusya?
Ask yourself these questions: Am I leading my own life or living some else’s? What do I have to say and what means need I use to say it? Where does my passion lie? The truer we are to ourselves and our whole essence, the closer we are to finding our “voice” and speaking our essence. When we are using our own “voice,” there is no need to bolster it up with great references or talk loudly so as to be heard or challenge the listener to believe you. Your “voice” carries its own authority, its “words” speak loudly even if they are silent. You are speaking with an inner authority that doesn’t have to convince anyone. This is your truth; however it is that you use that “voice,” it stands on its own. Michaelangelo’s “David” or Oscar Peterson’s “Wave” stand on their own, each an expression of their creator’s style and essence. What masterwork will speak for you?