I am in the chapel of this retreat house, waiting for the noon Eucharist to begin.
One of the sisters (SSC - Society of the Sacred Cross) here in the chapel walks up to another, older nun and says, 'Do you have the chalice card?' Once discovered in amongst the general debris of the pew shelf a piece of pale blue, laminated card is handed over. The first sister, a woman perhaps in her forties although the habit and head-covering may age her, walks across the chapel and places it in front of a third nun, this one the oldest of the four (another actor will appear on stage in a moment) by a distance.
She tuts, then whispers, not quietly enough and to no-one in particular, 'I did it yesterday.' She stands, with some difficulty and shuffles ten feet to take the card to sister 4 who accepts it with resignation.
This act of supreme ordinariness, tetchiness and routine tells more of the truth about community life than the Eucharist which follows. A great and noble attempt at poverty, chastity and obedience in this partly silent order has arrived at a state where notes are written on everything from, 'Not to be removed from the library' to 'Can any guest help fruit picking this afternoon?'
This place where the order has denounced materialism, is the most note-ridden, clutter-filled place I have ever been to. They may not be writing their names on the eggs in the fridge just yet but pickiness is rife.
Human frailty see. Can't live without it. The greatest attribute required of those who take on community life? Almost certainly forgiveness. I'd put money on it.
If you want to get away to finish your book you may meet an archbishop doing the same. The late Frank Muir, 'I went to a Mediterranean Island to finish a book - I'm a terribly slow reader.'
It's a place with no mobile signal and no web-site. It might be for you, as long as you don't want minimalism. It's just off the B4293 Chepstow to Monmouth Road, four miles south of Monmouth.
Society of the Sacred Cross
Tel. 01600 860244 7pm - 8pm but not Fridays or Sundays (dont'cha just love it)