Monday, January 15, 2007

ENCOUNTER WITH JOHN MICHAEL TALBOT: Troubadour for the Lord at Home in the Ozarks

We walked through this lush entrance and under the Bell Tower to the Commons Center. There we got in line for a meal that promised to be special since it was prepared with homegrown organic vegetables and chicken. We filled our plates and fellowshipped with those around us. I was a stranger but my sister knew many gathered here for the annual gathering of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, which occurs each year in the Arkansas Ozarks on the Feast Day of St. Francis.


After eating, we walked through the lovely garden and took each other's pictures in the swing we found there. (That's my sister in the photo to the right.) As we left the garden and walked toward a brook on the spacious grounds, I saw John Michael Talbot, Christian recording artist and founder of this community, a short distance away. I had never met him but recognized him from photos of album covers I had. He was turning to go another direction, but my sister, who had known him for a long time but had not seen him in years, called out to him, "John." Recognizing her voice, he turned and warmly welcomed us.

They had a common history and a lot of catching up to do. He was very gratified to see her because she was "fruit" from his early ministry. But he was very gracious to me, too. We talked about the beauty and challenge of living in community. He used the phrase "the crucible of community" and I understood. I had spent almost 18 years in a covenant community, so I felt we had a common experience. He invited me to attend the various events coming up as a part of this gathering. I thanked him and accepted the invitation.


I can number on the fingers of one hand how many times I have been in Catholic services, (mostly weddings and funerals), so these meetings were new experiences to me. But I found that the worship was familiar and uplifting and I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I attended four different events while I was there and I enjoyed them all. The last I attended was an outdoor worship celebration, dedication, and tour of the newly completed Portiuncula Chapel. At every event, John Michael was gracious to me. I was struck with the thought that he was not only personable, but he was personal. He noticed people and cared about each one, including me.

At the end of the gathering, I thanked John Michael for the opportunity to participate in this slice of community life. I spoke from my heart as I told him that I hoped he would count me a friend.

What I just described happened in the Autumn of 2002. Since that time, he and I have personally communicated only once or twice but my sister tells me he asks about me from time to time. When I heard he was recording his 50th album for release later this year (a rare achievement for any recording artist!), I knew I wanted to feature him on my blog.

I'M catholic WITH A small "c"

I am not Roman Catholic but I am catholic (with a small "c" in the sense that I feel a kinship to all who confess Jesus as Lord and are born of God's Spirit. Since I often write about people in various streams in the Body of Christ, I thought the occasion of his 50th album would be a good time to remember my visit with John Michael and the gracious people who live at the Little Portion Hermitage.

In the photo to the right, I am eating lunch on the deck overlooking the unbelievably beautiful and serene prayer garden.


Release date for this album has not been announced, but if you enjoy his music, or if this article has stirred your interest, please go to your local Christian bookstore toward the end of the summer and ask if they have it - or can get it for you. I read on his website that it marks a return to his usual reflective, meditative style of worship. And, of course, features his crystal-clear tenor vocals with his magnificent classical guitar. For more news about this album, click here. For more on the Brothers and Sisters of Charity and Little Portion Hermitage, click here.


Layman said...

I assume it will also be available on i-tunes? His last album, City of God, is online. As are many of his other albums.

Nick Alexander said...

Hi Jay...

Thanks for the myspace/blog invite to read your experiences with John Michael Talbot. I've actually been to the retreat center and hermitage multiple times, as John Michael and I know each other from the organization he started--CAM (Catholic Association of Music).

And I totally concur that the retreat center and Hermitage is filled with such a strong presence of the Holy Spirit.

The great thing about recording 50 albums is that there is a lot of variety in what one covers. JMT seems to have experimented with so many styles: from the tender, worshipful style he is known for, but also for Country rock, folk, Celtic, Chant, Orchestral, Choral, Praise & worship, hootenany and rockabilly-Chant-fusion.

And his last album (not "City of God", but "The Beautiful City") ranks among the best of his trilogy of upbeat electric fusion albums.

Jay KTX said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for stopping by and setting us right about the last album.

Yes, JMT has experimented with a lot of styles. Some (Many?) didn't like the idea of "Monk Rock." I approached it with some concern because his quiet meditative works have always been my favorites but I found that I really liked it.

I would characterize it as bright, soft rock worship music. I was also surprised to find that I had several favorites in the album. (It is a rare album that has more than one or two offerings that I like.) The opening two songs were definite favorites: One Body in Christ and Spread the Good News.

Credo is a peppy faith-building confession of biblical truth. Walk with Jesus and Jesus Prayer Swing are fun songs that I will listen to many times. The Swing song is a lot like music popular here in the Texas Hill Country where I live. Come Home Little Children reminds me of the soft invitational entreaties often sung at the end of rural evangelistic services I attended as a child.

Jay KTX said...

Here is the link, along with song clips, for the official list (and date recorded) of John Michael's 49 albums:

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds like it was a really great trip. I saw JMT once in Oklahoma City and I loved every minute of it.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great blog. I'm the "sister" Jay KTX wrote about. I live in one of the hermitages at Litle Portion and have been a member of the Brothers & Sisters of Charity there for years. I was in the studio with JMT in Nashville yesterday, listening to the "mix down" of his 50th CD, and it is beautiful-- spiritually evocative, with anointed lyrics and beautiful orchestrations. It will be released mid-August 2007.

Jay KTX, we look forward to your return visit to Little Portion... soon!