Unlike most contemporary forms of education, the Saint Constantine School is not concerned primarily with test scores and “achievement.” We believe that education is for the whole soul and that the goal of the educator is to equip and prepare students for a life of flourishing. To that end, our teachers not only tell students what we think they should do, but also model those healthy patterns of behavior in our own lives. As such, I flipped roles with my students one weekend and attended a retreat—being the Dean of Co-Curriculars, I am responsible for planning and executing the retreats our students attend throughout the year—and rediscovered a few of the many reasons we take students on retreats.
To begin, that weekend’s retreat involved a good deal of new experiences and pushed me well outside my comfort zone. The cabin at which we stayed—thanks to a gracious invitation from a generous TSCS family—was a good few miles off the beaten path. We had simultaneously overestimated how far down the road we could drive before our cars got stuck in the mud—apparently a Toyota Yaris doesn’t do well off-roading—and underestimated how many miles of mud and hills stood between said road and the cabin we were seeking—the thought of us attempting to wheel a cooler full of food up a couple miles of muddy roads still fills me with a small degree of panic. It wasn’t until the generous, stone-faced neighbor pulled up in his Polaris and muttered, “Git in,” that we had any hope of arrival at our destination.
When our host arrived, he asked whether my friends and I were okay with “hauling some lumber,” and we spent much of the afternoon and evening learning the finer points of chainsaw use and the proper construction of a nine-foot-tall fire. I was forced to admit the many ways that my background and life path left me ignorant of some basic survival skills, and I put myself once again in the position of student, learning from our hosts and risking my ego for the sake of acquiring new knowledge. That half-day of leisurely work served to stretch me beyond myself and help humble me into broadening my education into new areas.
This broadening occurred not just in the sphere of physical tasks, but in the realm of ideas, as well. As could be expected, the coming together of a handful of urban academics, tech professionals, and self-proclaimed “rednecks” produced a vast diversity of thought as we worked and relaxed side by side, discussing topics ranging from economics to just war theory. Given that all parties were concerned primarily with Christian unity and the common pursuit of truth, the differences that emerged served to deepen our understanding of the topics at hand, not to set us against one another. We questioned and pushed each other, digging deeper into the logical structures that underpin our respective world views and opinions. When a conversation is aimed at truth and is characterized by humility, there is no topic too explosive to discuss. Instead, I was pushed to think about new ideas and consider all the ways in which my thinking might be flawed—my humility in labor and practical skill helped lead me to an intellectual humility in conversation.
Moreover, our constant interaction with nature called me further up and further in, reinvigorating my love of what is good, true, and beautiful. I sat gazing at the river as it plodded past the cabin and found myself drawn into contemplation. I looked lovingly at the night sky, unhindered by the city’s light pollution, and was filled with wonder and called to worship. I prayed and sought the Divine alongside my friends, listening for the voice of God as the chirps and hums of nature swelled around me.
Thus, my weekend vacation quickly revealed itself to be my very own TSCS retreat. I was put out of my comfort zone through new experiences and physical activity, I engaged with new ideas and allowed them to impact my view of the world, and I was drawn continuously into worship as I experienced beauty of nature. We never stop learning and growing. May I model this truth continuously for my students as I continue pursuing my education.