But the time went by quick. I think it also has something to do with the rhythm of the daily life here. The timetable of services varies here and there but broadly follows the pattern: 5.45am Office of Readings, 7.30am Morning Prayer; 8.30am Holy Mass; 11.50 Midday Prayer; 5.50pm Vespers; 8.15pm Compline (except on Fridays). It’s fairly rigorous , but then guests can go to as much or as little as they like.
Needless to say I didn’t make all the services, but it’s easy enough for your day to be quite full if you want it to be. And it’s not lonely either – there were a couple of other guests staying there while I was there, and the sisters are happy to talk if you happen to bump into one of them in the corridors.
I didn’t do a great deal this weekend, besides going to a few services here and there, meeting up with a friend that joined me on the Saturday, and reading. In the summer there is a little patio and woodland area near the guesthouse that guests can use.
The countryside is stunning around here and Arundel, just a 15 minute walk away, is really pretty. I was enticed in the direction of the town on the Sunday afternoon before remembering that I was meant to be on a retreat and getting away from it all.
At various times during the weekend I could hear singing coming from the chapel. There are few places I think where you can truly find sanctuary, and space to just think and be; places where you don’t feel like the pressures of life are pushing on you all the time.
But as one of the guests said to me over lunch, “They have nowhere to retreat to when life gets difficult.” This must be really true. They just have each other, and if they fall out, or a difficult situation arises, they have to deal with it. It must be a hard life too, up at 5am every morning, and having your life revolve around the ringing of a bell calling you to the daily services.
This morning (Sunday) I found myself browsing the convent gift shop, which sells religious books (many focusing on St Clare and St Francis), homemade jams and gift cards made by members of the community and various other gifts. I picked up a booklet that outlined the history of the community. Life in the early days seemed really tough. The sisters had to beg in order to survive after their benefactress died in 1887, a year after the community was founded. Things were so bad that four of the original sisters left and two died of consumption.
I found it interesting delving into the history a little as it helped put the place in context. On the whole what I found here at Poor Clares Arundel was a really gentle, humble Christian community. Everything was simple and unpretentious. No one intruded on my space or asked or expected anything of me. It was a restful place to be for a weekend.