Though I left Sister Helen behind almost 30 years ago, the inner nun has taken a long time to retire from her need to keep me in line. She who had been so secure in the inner sanctum of Catholicism and religious life, believing she was living an indisputable truth, found out that God was not owned by anyone or any religion. Her spiritual life had been functioning according to the same dogma since childhood.

Even in those days, her understanding of God was maturing, thanks to classes in theology, psychology and spiritual readings from modern spiritual thinkers like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and others, but her daily living was firmly rooted in a structure that was 200 years old: namely the religious congregation in which she had made her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

No one talked about the inner child then, or about the need for healing from childhood trauma if one was to mature, not just spiritually, but as a human being. The body and the emotions were totally ignored.

After graduating with a degree in theological studies, my mind eventually opened to new thoughts and spiritual paths, yet the inner nun was still waiting to be heard and healed. It was all so confusing and scary to leave what had once been so safe, and open to a world of many spiritual paths, truths and traditions. Was it possible to find an understanding of God that was not defined by humans but that one could open one’s heart to and find one’s own way?

When I began therapy to face the traumas of my life, the inner child needed a lot of nurturing to feel safe in a world she didn’t understand. At first, I didn’t notice that the inner nun was taking this new information in, sometimes judging the process or my intentions. Sometimes, leading me back to doubt and fear.

The inner nun, though a vestige of a former life that I had long left behind, was like a ghost that can’t leave the home they suffered in. The inner nun had stayed around because, she too, was seeking healing, though she didn’t realize it. She needed healing from half-truths, self-judgment, self-doubt and the nagging feeling, which had been with her since childhood, that she will never be perfect and thus not worthy.

As the inner child thrived in therapy, slowly healing from one pain or trauma after another, the inner nun took notice and wondered if she needed healing too. Was she really saving my soul as she had once thought, by adherence to rigid rules? She had run out of tricks, and realized she was defending an unhealthy system that she served but which never served her. She realized that if she truly loved me, as she claims she did, it was time to let go of all the religious entrapments that had been so harmful.

So, she decided to stay around, quietly, with an open heart that will hopefully lead her to truths, built on the solid ground of experience, emotional strength and a deep conviction that the mystery we call God cannot be defined, boxed or lassooed into a structure.

So, from the calculated path of dogma and ritual, she now chooses the way that is no way (Lao Tzu); with steps that are not tangible; where the music is silence and the food that nurtures her is trust and surrender.

Helen Rousseau, a former Catholic nun, is an ordained interfaith minister. Her poems and writings are about her journey from dogma to interior spiritual freedom and from an abusive relationship to exterior freedom and joy. She lives in Kennebunk. She can be reached at helenrousseau.com.