John Michael TALBOT, The World is my Cloister: Living From the Hermit Within. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. 125 pages. $16.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-858-4.
Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes College, Sylvania, OH 43560

John Michael Talbot, long world renown for his contributions to Christian music, should also be known for his contributions to the realm of spiritual writing. His prior works include The Lessons of Saint Francis, and Come to the Quiet: the Principles of Christian Meditation. The impetus for Talbot’s latest publication is a quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, “the world is my cloister, my body is my cell, and my soul is the hermit within.” Talbot advocates this view, while admitting that the number of celibate monastic nuns and monks is decreasing. However, he also points out that one need not join an order to live a monastic lifestyle. Talbot states that “each of us has an inner hermit that speaks louder than words, and calls for us to be still. The inner hermit is that part of our soul that longs for silence in a noisy world, hungers for peace, and bears witness, with or without words” (p. 9).

Talbot affirms that many of us suffer because we believe in that which we are not. This statement is profound, especially when one finally realizes that “we are not our senses, thoughts, or feelings, though these things are certainly part of us. We are not even our personality, for the very concept of person (persona) is based on the role we play, like the mask used in the Greek theater” (p. 18). The key to inner peace then, becomes one of finding silence and stillness, sacred space, and the taming of one’s “monkey mind.”

Although silence and stillness may be difficult to find in today’s fast-paced world, Talbot admits that at some point we begin to experience “the faint but deep whisperings of the Spirit of God, calling us to something less that is in fact something much more” (p. 21). This call to silence is a journey in and of its self, and allows one to discover one’s inner hermit. True hermits live in cells, which conjures up negative images of confinement or imprisonment. However, Talbot instructs us that the term “cell” is “based on the concept of heaven coming to earth. It points to something beautiful and uplifting” (p. 26). Although we approach prayer with the best of intentions, we often encounter distractions which the Hindus call the “monkey mind.” Our thoughts tend to leap from one tree to the next and from one part of our “cage" to another. Talbot recommends a mental tool from The Cloud of the Unknowing to tame one’s unruly thoughts: “picture your wandering thoughts as small rocks coming at you. Slow down their progress by visualizing the approaching stones coming in slow motion. As they get close, simply move your head gently to one side or the other and let them pass by harmlessly” (p. 41-42).

Talbot’s latest work is highly recommended for individuals who wish to begin exploring a deeper form of prayer. It may also be a source of inspiration for small ministry groups that wish to sustain a group focus.

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