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A Natural Longing, A Holy Longing

Practice

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.   


Photo of Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson, Ph.D., is a retired educator who now works with the Children and Nature Network as curator of the Research Library. 

She also devotes her time to writing and consulting, especially on issues relating to children and nature. Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on these and other topics relating to the way humans interact with the rest of the natural world.

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