Some have derided Dion for saccharine melodies and an overdramatic stage presence, but Quebec’s pop icon has undergone a public image makeover in the last few years — changes that speak more to our shifting appreciation for sentimentality rather than any cosmetic change from Dion herself.
Her lyrical repertoire continues to praise higher powers and defy the crushing despair of heartbreak, but contextualized by the adversity she’s overcome, they ring more authentic than platitude.
Through much of this, the church has been in the background. Dion celebrated and mourned in Montreal’s historic Notre-Dame Basilica. That’s where she wed late husband René Angélil in 1994 and had their oldest son baptized in 2001. In 2016, she said goodbye to her beloved Angélil at his funeral service after he died of cancer.
At Angélil’s public visitation in the cathedral, a teary-eyed Dion stood and greeted visitors. She was meant to stay for 30 minutes, but instead received condolences from hundreds of people for several hours.
That the singer rarely talks about her faith in public is surprising, considering she grew up in an overtly Catholic province. God also looms heavily in her work, heavily referenced on her Christmas albums and gospel covers like “Amazing Grace” and “Call the Man.” Then there’s “The Prayer,” which was once banned from a Virginia high school’s graduation ceremony for being too religious.
But how does Dion consider her own beliefs? In a Toronto Star interview, Dion reveals an unexpected perspective: she places spirituality over the church as a formal institution.
“It’s important for people to have something they can touch and believe in,” she said. “I say that to believe in yourself is to believe in God. For me, God is life itself, the birds, the air, the sunrise and the sunset, the children. Yes, that is where I find God. Not in a church.”
This seems to run counter to her family’s devout Roman-Catholic upbringing, but in fact, can be traced to it. Dion, the youngest of 14, recounted to the Star how her mother once told off a priest who was pressuring her to have more children.
“The priest said, ‘Then I banish you from the house of God.’ She replied, ‘As far as I’m concerned, I’m the God in here with my children. This is the house that I believe in.’ That is the way we were raised,” Dion said. “That is the strength and belief we had. I didn’t have to go to church and get on my knees to find something to hold onto.”
Dion’s spiritual leanings fall in line with 30 per cent of Canadians who are “privately faithful,” as defined by an Angus Reid poll. For these believers, formal rites and traditions are sidelined until major life events and devotion to God is expressed in everyday faith.
The singer’s family factors into this, a major source of strength throughout life’s highs and lows. “Life is not always perfect. You have to deal with it. Whatever life imposes — sickness, or whatever, you don’t have a choice. This is life, this is nature. But you do have the choice on how you’re going to go through this. And if you don’t have spirituality you’re going to fall apart before things happen,” Dion told Taste of Life. “I am very spiritual. I believe in myself, I believe in my family, and I’m positive. Through this, you show your children how to deal with things, and how to be strong.”