Reflections on the 2017 CiRCE Conference (from a Speaker)

Jul 31, 2017

Having just returned from Austin, TX and the 2017 CiRCE conference on Memory, I am continuing to reflect on the joy of that gathering. Several of the speakers mentioned that being there was a “taste of heaven.” I agree for several reasons. (This applies to not only the CiRCE Conference but other retreats, gatherings, and conferences.)

We were created to be in relationship with one another and with God. The loss of this communion in the Garden of Eden makes us long more deeply for the eschaton and the communion of the saints in Glory. Someday sin, brokenness, and discord will not impede true relationships. Instead, true peace, true shalom, will bring harmony—that which is ideally reflected in the created cosmos.

We experienced this harmony at the conference in a number of ways:

  • We were united in the Spirit.
  • By singing together, we literally became harmony to one another.
  • We were surrounded by brothers and sisters with a like-minded purpose and longing.
  • We shared experiences which bound us together.
  • Through the teaching at the conference, we were challenged and our course was corrected. We were reminded of rightly ordered loves which “re-tuned” us.

C.S. Lewis speaks of friendship in helpful ways in his work The Four Loves. This is one of the most quoted passages, but it bears repeating in this context:

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

A CiRCE Conference is filled with many “What? You too?” moments—and many friendships spring from that experience. Lewis also speaks to another aspect of the beauty of friendship that leads to harmony:

“The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.”

One of the wondrous aspects of being a part of the Body of Christ is the unity in diversity which is the “beauties of a thousand” others. The conference brought together people of differing theology, sex, race, and roles, from both schools and homeschools. This diversity brings a fullness, richness, and perspective to conversation and relationships. Even as like-minded folks, we will not grow if we only reaffirm our own thoughts, prejudices, and practices. We need to be provoked and prodded and have our eyes opened to a clearer picture of the breadth of spiritual reality incarnated in the Body.

We face the danger of idolizing what is indeed a taste of heaven. Ecclesiastes says that He has set eternity in our hearts; we recognize and desire to dwell in those moments when heaven touches earth. We live situated between the way the world is (broken by sin) and our longing for the way it is supposed to be (Eden and the new heavens and new earth), but we cannot artificially live in a heavenly home for which we are not yet prepared. Our attempts to capture, hang on to, or recreate those moments will only lead to frustration and cause us to veer off the right path. How many of us cannot seem to adequately express our conference experience to those back home (and how much frustration have we caused trying to do so)?

We cannot live by only striving for the moments which are a taste of heaven. Rather, those moments are the blessed and happy byproducts of living faithfully in the dust of the earth. We rejoice when participating in a glimpse of glory because it makes us yearn for the endless reality of glory. We are encouraged and energized to continue to pursue faithfulness and holiness. And, in God’s mercy, maybe we left Austin just a little more in-tune and a bit more sanctified and with a mite more of eternity in our hearts.

Greg Wilbur

Greg Wilbur

Gregory Wilbur is Chief Musician at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN, as well as Dean and Senior Fellow of New College Franklin. He is the author of Glory and Honor: The Music and Artistic Legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach and has released two CDs of his compositions of congregational psalms, hymns and service music.