John Michael Talbot’s Lessons from a Troubadour: A Lifetime of Parables, Prose, and Stories brings to mind the first time I heard his music in the early 1980s. He’s known internationally as a composer and musician, but I find him so much more. When he composes, sings and plays music, he’s worshipping rather than entertaining. And his audience is worshipping with him. When he writes, he reveals wisdom gained from his deep relationship with God since his dramatic conversion experience when he was a Jesus movement rock singer in the country-folk-rock group called Mason Prophet.
His stories resemble parables. I’ve read most of his books, some of which are the themes of retreats I’ve enjoyed at Little Portion Hermitage in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, such as Simplicity (Servant, 1989, with Dan O’Neill) and Blessings: Reflections on the Beatitudes (Crossroad, 1991). My interviews with him for Christian publications were casual and joyful whether we sat in rocking chairs on the porch of the hermitage or the hard seats of a noisy tour bus on our way from Rome to Assisi.
Lessons in symbols
In Lessons from a Troubadour, he teaches spiritual truths using versatile symbols such as sand dunes, two wings of the dove, freeze-dried coffee, the aqueduct, pebble in the shoe, bowstring, three-legged stool, spiral staircase, the spider and the web, water drops and sunshine, the safety net and the Trampoline. You can almost hear him singing the words you are reading.
In one-to-two page chapters, his Scripture-based spirituality shines brightly. In “The Painter,” he makes the fruits of the Spirit come alive as colors the Holy Spirit brushes on the canvas of our lives.
He relates how he created the soul-searching song “Surrender to Jesus.” He was walking with his itinerate ministry on a 150-mile trip from Little Portion Monastery to Little Rock, Arkansas, and stopping at churches. He wrote the song “while sitting outside in the shade of a tree near the back door of the church in Clinton.” How many composers do that? Or write a song that becomes a classic like “Holy is His Name” while glancing at Mary’s Magnificat in his Roman Liturgy of the Hours and eating pancakes with a family with seven children? That picture shows his humility and peaceful spirit during chaos.
Work, prayer and self-image
John Michael is big on balancing work and prayer between the active and contemplative lifestyles. One of the fruits of this lifestyle is a healthy self-image, fulfilled by genuine self-sacrifice. He writes,
“True love of self is based on the love of God who created us in his image. That image has been obscured by sin, but God’s image remains in us and is restored once we are cleansed from sin in Christ . . . In order to love God, we must love ourselves. If we love ourselves, we will appreciate ourselves, honor the image of God within us, and develop a positive self-image.”
In explaining the paradox of Jesus is the Way and the Life, John Michael reminds us that Jesus shows us the way to live an even greater life most clearly by his death and resurrection. “Jesus empowers us to rediscover who we were really created to be. Jesus shows us how by sharing his divine gift. He shows us how to be fully human by being more than human. And he shows us how to be divine by being fully human.”
St. Teresa’s Prayer, “Christ Has No Body Now But Yours,” brings healing tears and reconciliation to those at his concerts as he encourages them to hold hands as though they were holding the hand of Jesus. John Michael writes of this moment, “I am always a bit stunned by such grace at work through my simple song! The prayer is a lesson for the whole Church,” he continued, “We must hold the hand of Jesus in every hand we hold. We must look at everyone with the eyes of Christ and hear the words of Christ in everyone. We must speak only the words of Christ to everyone. This radically changes the way we look at, hear, or speak to anyone. This is the foundation of the Church. We are the Body of Christ. We give and receive him in anyone who is part of the entire Church.”
He understands that being the Body of Christ, “also changes the way we relate to any human being anywhere. All humanity is created in the image of God. When we can see the image of God in even the worst of sinners, we can give Jesus with humility to anyone.”
John Michael Talbot’s ministry began over 35 years ago with a vision of itinerant ministry. He is one of the pioneering artists of what has become known as Contemporary Christian Music. He is recognized as Catholic music’s most popular artist with platinum sales and compositions published in hymnals throughout the world. He is the author of 29 books, hosts The Church Channel’s TV series “All Things are Possible” and is a frequent guest on faith networks around the world. John Michael leads his very active ministry from the Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas and St. Clare Monastery in Texas where he is the founder of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. His artistic and humanitarian efforts have been recognized with awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Gospel Music Association, Mercy Corps and the Mother Teresa award.
Nancy Ward has published feature articles about John Michael Talbot in New Covenant, St. Anthony’s Messenger, Charisma and Companion of Saint Francis and Saint Anthony, and made a pilgrimage with him to the Holy Land.