After many years in a congregation, she’d had enough. Knowing the people as well as she did, she knew that what they said on Sunday and what they did on Monday did not always equate. More often than not, Sunday was the one day of the week on which you could tell that people believed what they said they did. The rest of the week, she could see little difference between the other members of the congregation and the hypocrites they denounced.

And the words of the hymns no longer spoke to her—they talked of things she had long ago given up believing, or were words that had no real meaning in her life. And the sermons weren’t much better—entertaining perhaps, sometimes giving her something to think about, but a good book or independent film could do the same. And besides, she’d had to go when she was a kid and when her kids were young, but now?

No, she’d had enough. And so she began walking in the woods on Sunday mornings. Alone with her thoughts and the rustling leaves, she felt a freedom she had not known in a long time. She got more from the sunshine than from a year of sermons, and the birds surpassed any anthem she’d heard. This was good. This was right. The woods were her sanctuary. The wind was all the preaching she needed.

This continued for some time, until one day she realized that the birds sang together, and the trees swayed as one, but she was by herself. No squirrel cared that she had a new grandchild; no rhododendron could help her wrestle with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. The flora and fauna did not face what she faced as a human, and so could not offer their understanding. Nor could she really offer herself to any of them.

So she returned to her congregation. And she saw herself in the people who were trying to live what they believed. And she heard her life in the hymns and the readings and the sermons. (Or, at least, some of the time.) And she never gave up her walks in the woods, but she realized she needed both.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.