“O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
Growing up, I don’t know exactly when or where it actually took place or how it all began, but I always seemed to knew about St. Francis. He seemed to be just a part of my young life’s knowledge bank. Not so much about his story or history. Not the sinner to saint route of passage. Rather it was most likely because he was always associated with animals. Every time I ever found a small wounded bird, baby chipmunk or the typical little garden shrew out in the yard (growing up in the city our “wildlife” was a bit limited), I would run in the house to find a shoebox all the while silently praying that St. Francis would help the little animal I was about to “nurse” back to health. Unfortunately not many, if any, of my patients survived.
Later in my life, when I was a senior in high school and active in Young Life (a nondenominational Christian Youth Group that reached across all local schools), I was introduced to the music of John Michael Talbot. My knowledge of Mr. Talbot, or Bother John ,was a sort of quasi understanding. I knew he was a Franciscan, but that he was married. He was involved with a “community” of like minded Franciscans…secular and religious alike, out in Arkansas. Seemed an odd place for a group of Franciscans as I thought that group was Italian in origin. So much for my limited Anglican understanding.
But it was the music, the hauntingly prayerful music that deeply spoke to my soul. Suddenly I was hearing a voice, along with the right inflection of tone, that reached down to my core and invoked my actual feelings of need—just how I felt and wished to express myself in that meditative type of prayer–but it was all put to music–a simple yet beautiful arrangement of music.
The album, yes the big vinyl wonderful scratched albums of my youth, the album that I most clearly remember was/ is “Come To The Quiet”–an album based entirely on the Psalms. John Michael Talbot was singing the Psalms—as the Psalms, in ancient Jewish tradition were intended to be sung. This 70’s something little city girl Episcopalian had no idea. To me they had just been a recited part of the liturgical service at Church. A seemingly boring mantra that we used throughout our service. But here, this was different. Here in this album, with this unseen voice, spoke emotion—the same emotion that was buried deep within my being just waiting for the right pry-bar to come along and lift the heavy seal, awakening my own soul.
Thus began my love for John Michael Talbot, his music, as well as for his story, plus my life long love of the Psalms—those prayers of anguish or joy that always seem to best capture my heart and my cries and my pleas to my unseen Creator. Brother John and his wife helped lead a singing ministry and helped to create the Little Portion Hermitage out in Arkansas–a Franciscan based community for laity and religious alike wishing to live in a cloistered catholic Franciscan tradition. This is where I learned that the secular individual, the regular person who is not a nun, monk or priest, can actually follow in the Franciscan tradition by becoming a part of the Third Order—taking vows similar to those seeking to live a life in a religious order but still maintaining life in the “outside” world such as at work or those who are married.
There was such a peacefulness in those albums. I remember buying the cassette tapes, playing them over and over in my car. I used them as a type of prayer–especially when I was in college. College being such a difficult place for a young growing Christian. Those tapes were a type of lifeline to me and God. My own soul would cry out as the voice on the tapes cried out to God. I can still vividly recall sitting out in my car waiting for class to begin, in the early hours of morning, watching the sun climb into the sky, listening to and praying with the songs on that particular tape. Over and over…clinging to the words as if when I got out of the car, I suddenly entered “the World” and it was not always a place where I could easily hang on to God.
All these many years later, I still have a CD of ‘Come to the Quiet’ in my car with my favorite Psalm being tract 10, Psalm 62 (I also love the last tract as well, Psalm 131–the namesake of the album–come to the quiet)—tears still well in my eyes as I sing/ pray the words of that powerful claim. He is my stronghold, my rock and my deliverer………