As you perhaps know we recently completed the CiRCE Summer Institute at the beautiful Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, NC for, this year a conversation about Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Mr. Jonathan Councell, our friend from Veritas Classical School in Asheville, NC volunteered to journal his experience here at the retreat. The following thoughts came from his day 5 experience.
This last day is a sobering reminder that, though we can taste of rest and fellowship here, there remains yet “a rest for the people of God.” The wonderful and worshipful experience of the night before still resonated in our hearts and we ate a hurried breakfast as we packed up and checked out before our morning session began.
We sat down with a deep sense of having fellowshipped upon something truly central to our souls’ sense of the cosmos and its God – streams that are indeed “too deep for taint.” True to the profound superficiality that Andrew exhorted us to read with at the beginning of the week, we ended this week with simply chanting and hearing the final books of the Odyssey. It was amazing how it came alive in the rhythmic tonal qualities of the human voice, either alone or in harmony with others. The rolling over us of the beauty of Homer’s vision and poetic utterances reminded us, both of the soul-ishness of this great Epic, but also the role of such poetry in a community that would sit to listen to it each year at the Temple of Athene. We could feel a new myth being released upon us, and yet ourselves remembering it as perhaps the oldest of all myths; yearning for the victory and restoration of Odysseus as the “forerunner” of our own return. Like Alkinoos’ response to Odysseus’ retelling of his trials, we can say:
“[Homer]…we do not imagine that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have a grace upon your words, and the is sound sense within them, and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story…”
In other words, he has a beautiful form to his words, a noble meaning and content, and skill in mythically producing it, similar to a fable (producing poetic knowledge): Grace, Wisdom, Skill. Lacking any one of these, the Odyssey would not have lasted the ages; lacking any one of these, true art would not have been produced; lacking any one of these, we would not be touched to the heart by its truth.
This retreat–its communal breakfasts, natural setting, scintillating conversations, focused sessions, luxurious accommodations, and deep unity in Christ–has followed Homer’s example, being accomplished by Grace, Wisdom, and Skill. The Grace of God flowed through the servant hearts that arranged it all and pervaded the conversation; the Wisdom of experienced instruction; and the skill of mimetically guided discussions–both within and outside of the formal sessions–created an experience that was poetic, heartfelt, and lasting. It was Trinitarian, complete in a deeply touching way, yet only a glimpse of what will be. Such events like this not only provide restoration and inspiration, but also prepare our souls for Glory.