I was only fourteen years old when I left home to become a Catholic nun. I thought the “religious life” is what I needed to satisfy a holy longing within me – a longing to be connected with what is sacred. I remained in the convent for eleven years, and found that certain aspects of the religious life did, indeed, feed my soul. I loved the times of silence and meditation; and I was deeply moved by the singing of the psalms and the reading of the parables. Yet, some of the teachings of the church contradicted what I felt and believed about the natural world and our relationship with it.
At the time, the teachings of the church included the idea that reality consisted of a natural world and a supernatural world -- with the supernatural being separate from and superior to the natural world. As a nun, I was expected to renounce “the ways of the world,” including the sheer joy of walking barefoot in the grass or in the wet sand along a beach. I wore a religious robe, which covered my entire body except for my hands and face. I sorely missed the feeling of wind blowing through my hair and water splashing around my feet.
As a religious nun, I found myself living a divided life. I felt obliged to follow the teachings of the church in both spirit and practice. Yet, the longing for more physical and spiritual connections with nature remained a powerful force in my life. After much reflection, I knew what I had to do. I had to leave the convent and pursue a different path – a path where I would not have to live divided and could do justice to the natural longing within me.This longing, I came to realize, was also a holy longing.
It’s now been almost 50 years since I left the convent, and I have no regrets about my decision. I find spiritual nourishment through my daily walks in nature and many other moments throughout the day when it’s in nature that I live and move and have my being. I consider how buds seem motivated by a natural force calling them to leave their closed and protected life behind and open themselves to a larger and more complex way of living. I see a similar force at work in the opening of a chrysalis to release a butterfly and in the egg setting a bird free.
As I ponder my decision to leave the convent, I see it as a freeing of myself from a way of life that kept me separated from the world of nature. I realize that my decision was based, in part, on needing the wind to blow through my hair and knowing that this was good.