The media didn't make much of it. As concerts go, it lacked enough spectacle and splash to draw a large crowd. But you could make a case that the John Michael Talbot concert at Juan Diego High School was the most meaningful event in Salt Lake City last weekend.
Talbot is a Franciscan monk who works like the devil, sings like an angel and takes seriously his vows of poverty. He's not sexy unless your notion of sexy is Glen Yarbrough as the friar in "Romeo and Juliet." What he is, however, is sincere. And that sincerity opens up a room and allows wonderful things to enter.
In a world of Christian tensions between Mormons and Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox I've often felt the best way to find common ground would be to learn and love each other's music. That does happen, to a degree. Humorist Garrison Keillor remembers his Lutheran father getting out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir album on Sundays. And LDS people have adopted several popular Protestant hymns.
But we still hold back. It's as if we're afraid the "water" of other religions is contaminated with unseen doctrines and ulterior motives.
But I've been drinking the water John Michael Talbot offers for a decade now without any ill effects.
The songs he shared at his concert were mostly his own. He sat alone on stage on a bench singing and talking about a change of heart, feelings of inadequacy, fears, longings and the joy that comes from making a true connection.
At one point he asked the audience to sing along, which they did in a sweet, timid way.
"You sing," he said, "like a room full of Catholics."
He didn't mean it as a rebuke. In fact, he probably knew the people there as well as they knew themselves.
If you're feeling bold enough to sample what John Michael Talbot has to offer, I suggest getting or downloading songs from his album, "Table of Plenty." It is a collection of soft and tender ballads from several modern Catholic songwriters. "Be Not Afraid" and "We Are One Body" are standout songs. I especially like "Here I Am, Lord." To my mind, it could have been penned by Julie de Azevedo or Michael McLean.That song has two speakers. The Lord begins:
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, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright,
Who will bear my light to them?
Then, after a pause, the singer of the song replies:
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
At the end of the concert, Talbot acknowledged the applause, then quietly stepped off stage. The emcee stepped forward. "We need a few strong young men to help John Michael put his equipment away," he said.
It reminded me of ward dinners I'd attended.The concert had been a "table of plenty."