Thursday, May 01, 2008
LITTLE PORTION HERMITAGE
Yesterday I found a story linked at Spirit Daily about a fire at Little Portion Hermitage which destroyed the chapel and dining hall. I read it and moved on, but one line in the coverage kept nagging at the back of my mind..."Viola and I were the first on the scene."
Viola, I presumed was a woman. John Michael Talbot, who presumably represented the "I" in the passage and who signs himself "Founder and Spiritual Father" of this facility, appeared to be a monk. A monk and a woman were the first at the scene of the fire? Aren't monks celebate? What was a woman doing there in those hectic moments when the fire had first been discovered? It didn't jibe.
Last night when I couldn't sleep, I turned to the computer for something quiet to do, and this story came back to mind. A little digging brought forth a lot of information.
First of all the fire was also reported by American Papist who accounted it "horrible". He was advertising for donations for recovery and rebuilding. Presumably the story is accurate.
I found the layout of the monastery at the Hermitage Tour website, and discovered that there are facilities for sisters, for families, for brothers. This is not your ordinary monastery.
The fire story was also covered at Talbot's website where I learned that John Michael Talbot is a Catholic recording artist, apparently a rather successful one given that he is advertising his 50th album, though reviewer Cliff Doust at Cross Rythms thought his "Chant from the Hermitage" was "competent" but "devoid of harmony" and "tedious." He also indicates the album contains "John Michael Talbot-penned psalms". Is he saying Talbot is in the business of rewriting Scripture?
On a website promoting Talbot's recordings I learned that Little Portion is a "Catholic-based ecumenical community". Here he is referred to as the "General Minister of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage in Arkansas". He is the Catholic "minister"--how's that again???
Google brought up a Letter about Talbot to the Editor of New Oxford Review by Richard & Joann Marshall. Commenting on an NOR article, they were not particularly impressed with him after attending one of the retreats given at the Hermitage in 2001:
We were shocked as Talbot talked about Eastern religions and mysticism, and how great Buddhism and other Eastern religions are, and how much we can learn from them....
...they had two Buddhist ladies meditating with crossed legs and making a humming sound...
...there is a retreat called "Come to the Quiet"..."Searching in Eastern religions for mystical experience and answers..."
I found the beginning of the article at the NOR website. It's not complimentary.
I found the description of the retreat on the monastery website:
Searching in the Christian Hesychast tradition for mystical experience and answers? This retreat will help you with meditation as both theory and experience found in the depths of our own Christian tradition and with integrations with other faith traditions.
Director: John Michael Talbot
Apparently singing is not Talbot's only forte. He believes he is a qualified retreat director as well.
But Talbot isn't the only one directing retreats at Little Portion. The Arkansas Catholic website carries an article about Father Thomas Keating leading retreats at the Hermitage. There is a picture with the article showing
John Michael Talbot (seated center) and his wife Viola looks on as Father Thomas Keating addresses members of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage Aug. 15
Wife?! Talbot is pictured wearing a cassock, cross, and beard. Is he trying to imitate an Eastern Orthodox priest? They, after all, are allowed to be married. But they are ordained, while Talbot's claim to fame is his music, not his priestly ordination, which he doesn't have.
I found the listing of retreat directors at Little Portion. Michael Card is among them.
Michael Card is a renowned Christian composer, author and performer who has received numerous Dove awards, most notably for the hit song, "El Shaddai," and acclaim as a Gold Medallion Book award finalist for his theological works. He holds a master's degree in biblical studies, and is currently working on his doctorate in classical literature. Michael reads both Greek and Hebrew, and wrote his own translation from the Greek text for his commentary on John.
Though awards and recognition are always a welcome affirmation of any artist's work, Michael states, "The purpose of my music, books and concerts is to focus in on and worship Christ. The songs and writings are just vehicles to accomplish this purpose."
When did singing popular Christian music qualify someone as a retreat director?
There is Steve Rabey:
Steve Rabey is an award-winning author who has written over twenty books and more than 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and popular culture for magazines, websites, and newspapers. His articles have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The American Spectator, and many others. He also serves as a member of the adjunct faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary.
If I'm not mistaken, Fuller Theological Seminary is Protestant.
And there is Annie Karto, a singer-songwriter, and Ida Hayworth, a nurse. Finally down at the bottom in last position is Fr. Robert Dombrowski, a parish priest. At least one member of this retreat team is actually qualified, though he must be an ultra-liberal to be able to show his face in this crowd.
But singing and songwriting is not Talbot's only talent. He writes books as well, again on spiritual themes, and the monastery provides a forum through which he can sell them. They sell jelly too. And God knows what else. This business and religion mix appears to be a lucrative combination. When something goes wrong, such as your building burning down, you can always remind everyone that you are a charity and accepting donations.
Talbot has another website called PrayTwice.com where this man of many words expounds further, once again pictured in what appears to be a "priestly" cassock.
There is a lot more on the web about Talbot, but by this time I was finally getting sleepy and decided to quit.
My conclusion after all of this research was that Talbot has got a good thing going posing as a quasai priest while basking in stardom and leading a money-making operation to push his goods. It looks like gullible Catholics are getting sucked in.
The more I thought about it, the more this outfit looked to me like a cult such as Jonestown or that community in Waco, Texas that the Feds set on fire several years ago, only this time it wears the label "Catholic". And now they too have had a fire.
The Holy Spirit is often pictured as a fiery tongue, and I can see that Little Portion Hermitage has a Retreat labeled "Fire of God". Perhaps the old adage could be applied: Be careful what you pray for!