So, I just got back from a five day long retreat/class centering around an introduction to philosophy. It was indescribably awesome.
Including my sister and myself, there were 14 students attending, and three teachers came: a Professor Krom and a Professor and Dr. Franks. Of course, Fr. Paul was there as well: he is the one who originated the entire concept, and who pioneered it last year with a few students from our parish.
The seminars were awesome: they involved reading an excerpt or two from literature or from a philosopher's or theologian's writings and then discussing the excerpts with the guidance of the professors. Insofar as that however, the seminars resembled any other particularly interesting college class (except for the fact that every student was much more talkative and enthusiastic than students have been in the college classes I've sat in on).
There was an even more tangible difference however, which resulted from the setting and the context of the class. The setting was ideal in about every sense. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast/retreat center which is simultaneously a working, several hundred acre farm, set between mountains and lots of woods. (There's a creek there to swim in too.) The beauty of all this certainly gave a different flair to the retreat - I mean, it wasn't at all like the many church hall/school gymnasium retreats I've attended. It was particularly appropriate as well for the theme of the retreat and classes. Before we went, every student had to read Josef Pieper's "Leisure: the Basis of Culture." If you've read that, my point should be fairly obvious; if you haven't, I'll just say that the beauty of the setting added naturally to our ability to be at leisure and step away from our work-a-holic culture.
I haven't even mantioned the most lovely thing about the farm though: there was a tiny (very, very tiny) chapel on the grounds, built out of entirely donated materials, which contributed an incredible aura of peace to the entire week. It is one of the few chapels I've seen which is similtaneously simple and beautiful - probably because its simplicity isn't artificial as it is in so many of those hideous modern churches. And we prayed there almost as much as we ever studied. One of the things I like so much about Fr. Paul is his refusal to dumb down the spiritual side of events simply because spirituality is stereotyped as being boring. So we said morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer each day. We attended Mass at that chapel. Most evening prayers also involved Benediction and Adoration. Again, in prayer we rested from the work of investigation we had been doing in favour of time for contemplation.
If I tried to outline what we discussed in any greater depth than I've already hinted at here, I would have to go on for pages and pages. So I'll stop in a second with a long string of adjectives which one could quite accurately apply to this retreat/class/sweet, incredible, awesome experience. If you can imagine all of them together, you might have a good idea of what the past week was really like. (It'll probably sound like a generic personality profile, actually, but that won't stop me from making your imagination work harder.)
Beautiful, fun, incredible, amazing, spiritual, intellectual, challenging, euphoria-inducing, jolly, etc, etc, etc.... (now go!)