...about living in the Ozarks is... bumping into John Michael Talbot when you're running errands!
It was such a great blessing to see him. I met him once before at a Christian Musician's conference in Eureka Springs, maybe ten or twelve years ago. I wasn't there as a musician, y'unnerstand... we just went to the performance the final evening.
This time my son, now 18, was with me, looking, shall we say, much different than he did when we had last seen brother Talbot. As a boy, he used to fall asleep listening to JMT's Table of Plenty album.
One of my favorite John Michael Talbot recordings is his Meditations in the Spirit, because it is largely comprised of scripture set to music. It has been a great aid to prayer, at times.
I interrupted brother Talbot, introduced myself, and he was very gracious, introducing me in turn to a Sister who's name I have forgotten, though I have not forgotten her kind face.
If she ever finds out how quickly I forgot her name, I hope she won't take it personally, as names have always flown straight out of my head. I have a terrible time with names, unless I can tie them to something solid. If I met you and you hit me in the head with a shoe, I would likely remember your name, but barring something along those lines, it will take meeting you a few times for me to get it right.
I was able to talk with John Michael for a few minutes about an art project I have in mind, and he was again very gracious and encouraging. I have for years wanted to do a series of paintings depicting the monastic life of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at their Little Portion Hermitage in Berryville, Arkansas, and this serendipitous meeting may shake me out of my inertia enough to finally do it. Prayers please.
I think the meeting might have been more significant for my son, though, who has been in a period of, well... let's say searching. In the modern world, it can be hard to believe in things like plain goodness and holiness. Meeting John Michael and this gentle Sister was, I think, a little like an opening door for him.
The fact that both were in their monastic dress also may have made a big impression on him. It is one thing to tell someone that we hold an ancient and timeless creed... it's another thing to see such a concrete reminder of it. He, like many Americans, has never seen anything like Chartres Cathedral or Old Jerusalem (we in the West stopped building beautiful, awe-inspiring churches a while back). Their simple monastic habits were the quiet visual equal of the distant ringing of some ancient bell.
There is much in the Church that my son questions, but this was something like spying a hearthfire through a frosted window after you've been wandering in the snow. The flaws of the Church are easy to see, and easy to criticize. The holy Fire at the center of the faith can be harder to spot. Once you get a look at it, though, nothing else will quite measure up. It becomes worth putting up with the flaws.
I hope he saw an unexpected glimpse of that fire.