Each fall and spring a handful of students congregate at the Freedom Center in Leesburg, VA, meeting for political theory retreats held each semester. Senior James Hodson shared his experiences from past retreats and the purpose they serve in teaching students what it means to live in community.
“The retreat is a rather old tradition, but I am not sure who started it or when it started,” Hodson said. Students and faculty pick a book to read before the retreat and meet to discuss, share poetry, play music, read literature, break bread, and feast together. “The purpose of the retreat is for students to discuss an important idea and to participate in an intimate community,” Hodson remarked. The purpose of the retreat is to help shape the moral imagination.
“The book chosen for the retreat is usually a novel instead of the works of philosophy and political theory usually read for classes.” He added that the reason “novels are chosen for the retreat is because they contain beautiful scenes and lines. Students read these books not only for the ideas contained within them but also because of the beauty they possess. This is also the reason why students recite poetry and share songs.”
Students and faculty arrive at the retreat Friday after classes and prepare a meal before breaking into discussion for the evening. “Meals are important for the Political Theory major as opportunities for embodied community,” Hodson notes. “There are usually at least two official dinners during a semester and students often share meals at each other's homes and in the student kitchen.”
After discussing the book in the evening, “students share recitations and songs” and sometimes even start a campfire. “I remember one year when a student shared a song that he had written. It is amazing to see gifts that each person has received from God and to see them share their gifts with others.” The students spend Friday night at the cabin and wake up Saturday morning to prepare breakfast, hold another discussion session, prepare lunch, and finish the retreat.
This retreat occupies an important role because “The ideas that students encounter in books are meant to be lived out in embodied community with others,” Hodson said. It is a “deliberate reference back to the classical idea found in Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine of a community of friends seeking out the good together.”
Hodson reflected that his “favorite memories from the retreat have been the dinners on Friday evening. The students who prepare dinner put in a lot of effort. Moreover, all the students contribute some sort of dish, side, drink, or dessert. It is wonderful to see everyone come together to create something wonderful and then to enjoy it together.”
Hodson finished, “The retreat habituates students to read literature with intention, trains students to engage in thoughtful discussion, allows students to participate in an embodied community, builds rapport amongst the students and the professors, and provides a time of refreshment off campus before the period of final exams begins.”
"In this same contemporary world of ours there remains the indestructible (for otherwise human nature itself would have to be destroyed) gift innate in all men which impels them now and again to escape from the restricted sphere where they labor for their necessities and provide for their security—to escape not by mere forgetting, but by undeceived recollection of the greater, more real reality. Now, as always, the workaday world can be transcended in poetry and the other arts. In the shattering emotion of love, beyond the delusions of sensuality, men continue to find entrance to the still point of the turning world." Josef Pieper, In Tune With The World
Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.