A sweet blend of orchestral instruments rise and fall with the opening of the track. Then, the tender plucking of guitar fills the space and the soft resonance of a monk's voice rises in the blend of harmony.
My childhood was filled with the rich melodies and lyrics of John Michael Talbot's work. Talbot is a Catholic singer-songwriter with quite a record of albums dating back to the 1970s! He has an enormous discography and, yet, remains a humble, soft-spoken man devoted to the life of hermitage and founded his own monastic community, which can be found here.
While I am not Catholic, I do appreciate and admire the hermitage life and what it offers for single and celibate lifestyle, although it appears extremists to us who are deeply integrated into our modern society. Nevertheless, Talbot's work reflects his devotion to God, the Gospel, and reverence for the Holy Scriptures.
Of his many albums, there are three that stand out to me because they were the ones I grew up listening to.
His album, Table of Plenty (1997), is not an original work, but rather a collection of worship songs written by other composers that he chose to record in his style.The text for all these songs are all from Scripture and deeply convey the life of a disciple of Christ. Trials, affliction, surrender, humility, fellowship. The songs on this album are so rich and one can tell immediately the care and focus placed on integrating delicate instrumental lines and layers throughout each piece. The hymn, Holy Darkness, is a sorrowful but freeing song of surrender and trust during times of affliction. The piece, No Longer I, reflects the blessed truths found in Galatians and the Apostle Paul's letters. All the songs are incredibly worshipful.
The second album that I love to listen to is his instrumental work, The Quiet (1985). Unfortunately, I was not able to find clips of it through Youtube so I am unable to share it with this post. It was a collection of small meditative works with only his guitar and a classical ensemble. It is certainly a very meditative album. I would describe it as a work of rest. Slow, drifting, and layered with subtle and melancholy tones. When listening to his songs, one is immediately inspired to imagine a humble chapel in the countryside with a small group of people surrendered to a life of intercession, prayer, and the reading of Scripture.
Lastly, the third album that I found incredibly moving to me was Meditations From Solitude (1994). It opens with a distant church bell, the slow rolling of the sea's waves, and his soft guitar. It so fully captures, in the first 30 seconds, what his album is so aptly named for: Meditations From Solitude. Perhaps, the most lovely and haunting song on this one is I Found My Beloved. I have posted it below. Oddly enough, it is the only song from this album that I can find on Youtube at the moment. One of the reasons this particular song means so much to me is because it very much gave me the words to appropriately describe where I was during a broken season that I entered into during 2009-2010. I sought a time of set-apart reflection during an 11-week retreat in Windsor, CO and found my Lord wooing me at every turn, as well as stripping down fleshly patterns in my life. It was one of those "mountaintop" moments, which is something I encourage to many. It was a time of seeking the Lord very purposefully, giving myself to Him in complete abandon, and having His love manifested to me in profound ways. It was very much as the Talbot sings in the song, "I heard the whispering of love's breezes-To heal my broken heart" and also, "And there You gave to me/There You taught me, O so well/And I drank of Your sweet spiced wine/The wine of God/And there I gave to You/Keeping nothing for myself/And I promised You forever/To be Your bride." Ah, that time was a marker in my life that can never be forgotten; life was never the same when I returned home.
In conclusion, if you are searching for music that draws you to the spiritual life we have in Christ with a style that is strikingly different (through it's light and subtle approach) from much of popular Christian music, I would say that Talbot is a good artist to explore. While the dynamic of his music is simple, the arrangements and lyrics are anything but simplified. His music mirrors his lifestyle: one who has purposed to live a life of abandonment and a strong focus on the things which are eternal.
I the lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I have made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am lord
Is it I lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go lord
If you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart
I the lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
No longer I, but Christ who lives within me
This poverty, a treasure rich beyond compare
The life we live is not our own
Christ is within us, a seed that must be sown
Formed in the pattern of God's love
We die to rise with the Lord
We have been clothed now in Christ
Children of freedom of justice and new life
To Him whose dying set us free
We give our lives, our liberty
(For this song, I Found My Beloved, Youtube gives a warning that it contains innapropriate materal so you must select whether or not you agree and want to watch it. It contains images from the film Passion of the Christ so that is why there is some bold imagery that some may or may not want to watch)
So I found my beloved in the mountains
On the lonely and far distant isles
O'er resounding waters
I heard the whispering of love's breezes
To heal my broken heart
Oh tranquil evening, silent music
And the sounding solitude of the rising dawn
It is there that I hear You
There that I taste of You
In love's banquet to fill my heart
And I found Your footprints
In the sands by the sea
And like Your maiden
I ran along the way to a secret chamber
And there you gave to me
There you taught me, O so well
And I drank of your sweet spiced wine
The wine of God
And there I gave to You
Keeping nothing for myself
And I promised You forever
To be your bride
So I have abandoned
All I ever sought to be
And in dying
My spirit has been released