When I was in high school I was in a music store in Sumter, SC, when I noticed an album with a monk on the cover. I was intrigued so I bought it. I was immediately struck by and drawn to the beautiful, meditative music of John Michael Talbot. A great deal of it was simply scripture set to music. Over the years since that time I have listened consistently to the music of JMT, a Franciscan who leads the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage, an interesting monastic community outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Now that I live in Arkansas, I’ve made a few treks up to Little Portion Hermitage. I have always been interested in intentional Christian communal experiments, be they monastic or Protestant. Most of these experiments are founded by charismatic personalities like Clarence Jordan and Koinonia, Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof, or the Little Portion Hermitage and John Michael Talbot. There were a good number of these efforts in the Jesus Movement of the 60’s and 70’s as well. I do not view such experiments either monolithically or uncritically. There are, in my opinion, strengths and weakness to such things in general as well as strengths and weaknesses connected to the individual expressions of such efforts. All in all, though, I find that most of these efforts originate in a desire to take Jesus and the New Testament picture of life in Christ very seriously.
I was pleased to learn a few months back that JMT would be releasing a new album of original material, his fifty-fifth album. I have personally found his music a bit hit-or-miss as of late, though I never fail to appreciate the artistry and sincerity of what he does. When I began listening to “The Inner Room” I was quickly struck by the fact that here was the music that first drew me to JMT. Having now listened to the album a number of times, I can honestly say it is one of my favorites of his.
There are some strong offerings here. “The Beatitudes” and “Light of the World” are a wonderful start and draw deeply from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a text that is so essential to Christian communities like Little Portion Hermitage and others. “Revive us Now” has some beautiful electric guitar work by (I assume) Phil Keaggy. “Change My Life (Act of Contrition)” to me really captures the tone of repentance, for lack of a better word. Like all good worship music should, that song really led me to consider my own life as I began to learn the words: “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to repent and to change my life.” I loved the (to me) surprising appearance of the harmonica on the delightful song, “One Thing (Ps. 27).” “Go Now in Peace (Simeon’s Canticle)” is vintage JMT: clean, pure acoustic guitar, strong harmony, a biblical foundation, and the perfect capturing of the sweetness of that scene in the gospels.
This is a really good album. Again, to me, it represents the music that first drew me to JMT. If you are unfamiliar with him, this would be a great introduction to him and to what he does.