By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
One of the most popular artists in Christian music will perform at Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University campus at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25. The concert is sponsored by the St. Thomas More Foundation and the Alibrandi Catholic Center at S.U.
John Michael Talbot has recorded more than 40 albums that have sold more than four million copies. He is the author of 14 books and producer of several videos. He is known for his extraordinary compositions that enhance contemplative spirituality. Talbot is working his way across New York State performing and his stop in Syracuse will be his first in several years.
Talbot’s music and his life are intertwined. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he was a member of the country rock group, Mason Profitt. By the age of 16, Talbot was already a pro on the touring circuit. It was there that he had an epiphany of sorts.
“I got to see a lot of people that I emulated up close. I have some great memories of some great performers. Most of them reached a decision. They came to a point of despair. Some found spirituality at some point or they dropped off into the depths. I saw this up close. I would look out over the arena floors after concerts and see all the drug paraphernalia, whiskey and tequila bottles and sometimes there were people who were passed out. We were trying to say something positive, wholesome and good and I had to ask, ‘Is this what I want to leave behind?’” Talbot explained during a recent telephone interview.
He began his spiritual search in the early 1970s and recorded his first Christian album in 1976. Raised a Methodist, Talbot found himself caught up in the more fundamentalist movements that highlighted what he calls the “Jesus Movement.” He was married at the age of 17 and said the demise of the relationship was partly due to his “Bible thumping.”
“If you had a problem, I had a verse,” Talbot said.
His mind expanded somewhat, Talbot explained, after he read a book about St. Francis of Assisi. He wept when he read the book. “It was faith without fanaticism,” Talbot said. He found himself reading more and more spiritual books whose themes were subtly Catholic. Talbot said he really began the reading because he was looking to find something that would disprove the Roman Catholic faith. “I was shocked to find the seed of Roman Catholicism in the first church,” Talbot said. “There was the mystical side, the traditional side, the scriptural side. I thought to myself, ‘Oh Lord, what are you saying to me?’ and He said, ‘She is my first church.’”
That was the beginning of his journey into Catholicism. Taking his faith seriously, Talbot sold everything he owned and joined a secular Franciscan order in 1978 building a hermitage in the woods near Alverna Center in Indianapolis. He fashioned himself a monk’s habit and lived the life of a hermit. Visitors to the monastery recognized Talbot’s spiritual gifts and he eventually started his own community and began a music ministry. In 1982 he moved to Eureka Springs, Ark. where he founded The Little Portion Hermitage. Today the community is called The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage and its members number about 30 or so.
It is a monastic community that is Franciscan in origin, Talbot said. It is made up of both married and single persons all living chaste lives. They grow their own food, are charitable to the poor and support a mission in Nicaragua. “What makes us unique is the integration of community life with hermit life,” Talbot said.
Father Timothy Mulligan, OFM Conv., is a co-director of the Albrandi Catholic Center and he is very pleased to have Talbot as a guest at the university.
“It’s interesting because our vocation directors are looking at all kinds of new ways of living a dedicated life to God. His hermitage is one of a whole host of things going on,” Father Tim said. “Like our FrancisCorps. It is a way of living in community without all the constructs of the church. Maybe someone could live this way for two years, or five years or however long.”
Talbot spoke about how everyone’s life has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. He said that St. Francis was a peaceful person who told his followers, “Before you proclaim peace with your lips, make sure you have peace in your heart.” Talbot warned that even those who proclaim peace must be careful that their egos do not get in the way. Even if one lives a religious life proclaiming God and peace and justice, Talbot said, “The ego can hide underneath all that.”
“The peace that surpasses all understanding has to happen in your heart then I can go out and God can show me what to do because my agenda is dropped and I can do whatever He wants,” Talbot explained.
Talbot’s music is his ministry. “We can minister through song in a way that we can’t with words,” Talbot said. “The space between the notes is just as important as the notes.” Father Tim also sees this concert as an important fundraiser for the center. The Catholic chaplaincy program at S.U. does not receive financial support from either the diocese or the university. It exists completely independently. Father Tim explained that it was founded on that premise and it still exists by the ideal.
Tickets for Talbot’s performance are $20 and can be reserved by sending a check payable to the Alibrandi Catholic Center, 110 Walnut Place, Syracuse, N.Y. 13210, or by calling Molly Mahoney at (315) 478-5959. Prepaid tickets can be picked up the night of the concert at Hendricks Chapel. Parking will be available at the Irving Garage’s west lot and the Dome West parking lots located off Henry Street, East Raynor Avenue and Stadium Place.