I Am A Pantheist

My name is Sharon, and I’m a pantheist. My God is as vast as the Cosmos. It isn’t just about love, but runs the gamut of emotions and behaviors, “bad” and “good.” It’s about ticks as well as bluebirds, and hurricanes as well as gentle spring rains. But don’t get me wrong, love and forgiveness and compassion are vital. How could I think otherwise when I believe everything is connected and every creature has as much right to be here as I do? How can I be less than a warrior for justice for humans, other animals, the planet? Humans aren’t the only creatures to need love and touch to live and thrive and grow. Scientists tell us we’re made of star stuff…..think about that, stars! What more motivation do I need to try to act magnificently and morally and ethically? A supernatural being made up by the ancients doesn’t and simply can’t serve me nearly as well any more, and in truth, not at all.

It hasn’t always been easy to come right out and say that I don’t believe in the supernatural god that most of my family and neighbors believe in. Some people have fallen by the wayside because of my choice. I live in the rural south. God and church are important down here to community and family life and all the seasons of people’s lives. But is being a pantheist really a choice? To me, it doesn’t feel like it is. Technically, yes, I chose to join a pantheist group fifteen years ago, but being drawn to it, being immediately touched by it, being captivated by all that it is, I feel those things chose me rather than the other way around. I was Christian a long time ago, but I’m no longer that same person. I just know I can’t go back to those old ways and beliefs even if someone tried to make me. I can no more believe in needing to be “saved” by a sacrificial lamb on a cross than I can fly, regardless of the number of times a preacher shouts it from the pulpit. Saved from what? A hell I don’t believe in?

The American Humanist Association (which many Pantheists belong to) has a slogan “Good Without God.” I like that.  I don’t need a supernatural god in the sky keeping a record of my good and bad behavior or the threat of eternal damnation to live a life of integrity, honesty, and authenticity. I don’t need a supernatural god to remind me to be nice, courteous, or helpful. I do believe it’s up to us humans to discern our purpose in life, to give it meaning, to behave ethically. I do consider myself religious or spiritual, though, in the way of connecting to that something bigger than me, that something that inspires awe and reverence, in the way of seeing everything as sacred because life itself is such, in the way of celebrating and marking days like solstices and equinoxes, births and deaths, and participating in traditions.

My god speaks to me in the sweet smell of honeysuckle wafting through my window as I write this, coming in on the gentlest of breezes, but also last week when the lightning and heavy rains caused power outages and fallen trees. I can hear birds and the whir of a lawn mower in the distance. I never actually have to leave my house to hear and smell and see and feel delights that my god offers, though, of course, there’s so much more as I venture down the road and on to other places and people and experiences…..like an emergency room where things were whirling around for me as I nervously waited for test results, and people in green and blue uniforms were scurrying to make people feel better or at least give them answers, and equally in the sweet smile of my granddaughter as she says, “I lub you, Mimi.”

My god is vast. I stand in awe of the universe. I don’t want to compete with others on the size and power of our gods, though I feel some religions have boxed theirs in. Mine can never be. We are in different places, however that came to be, whatever mechanism within our brains and hearts is at work. I want to practice compassion and fight for justice so that all creatures live in safety with full bellies and warmth on cold days, able to love their families, that all people can find their purpose and live a life of dignity and self-love instead of loathing, and I want to share the God I see and experience through words and pictures of everyday life, how truly extraordinary it is, and how often we pass it by looking for that big super thing we think is going to be better and give us goosebumps. Looking at the mountains in the direction of South Carolina right now, getting a hint of wood smoke from down the road someplace, seeing the japonica bush almost up to the bottom of the window, these simple things give me goosebumps, and I’m just glad to be here to experience them.

My name is Sharon, and I’m proud to shout from the rooftops that I’m a pantheist. My God is as vast as the Cosmos. My God, indeed, is the Cosmos.

~Sharon

copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Stars

As a pantheist, I experience “God” all the time everywhere, but I don’t think anything makes me feel that connection (to everything really) quite as deeply or intensely as looking at a night sky full of stars. It kind of makes me feel big and small, special and insignificant all at the same time.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Easter Revisited

Easter was a couple of weeks ago.  It was a lovely family day, where on a beautiful spring afternoon, my daughters, son-in-law, and granddaughters met in Charlotte for lunch and some sweet outdoor visiting time.  A couple of days later, I saw something on Facebook asking what was your most memorable Easter? so I thought about a few of mine.

For many years, my family went to the Dillard House in Dillard, Georgia, enjoying the big family-style Easter dinner, seeing the Easter Bunny and little girls and boys in their Easter finest gathering brightly colored, barely hidden eggs, visiting the farm animals, especially those comically adorable baby goats!  When my first granddaughter was 1 or 2 years old, she participated in her first Easter egg hunt and fed the animals, giggling at their tongues licking her hand to get every last bite of corn.

One Easter I spent in Cleveland, Ohio.  Dinner was homemade and delicious, including bread made by Eastern Orthodox Church women. We didn’t have lamb as I expected we would, but I was glad.  Then we took a long afternoon drive out in Amish country, which was picturesque and quite charming. Lots of people must have been visiting friends and family because many buggies were on the road that day.  Just as we arrived back to the house, there was a thunderstorm, and we stayed in for a cozy evening with leftovers. It was also Eastern Orthodox Easter. Though the two don’t always coincide the same week, that year they did, so at midnight, very early Easter morning, after dying eggs, we watched the darkened church across the street as its members held their candlelight procession around the church singing and chanting, before coming back to enter a lighted sanctuary and proclaim Christ is risen indeed. Religions have fascinated me most of my life.

Going back further, I spent a couple of Easters playing the baritone horn for the the Moravian church at the Easter sunrise service in Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  We went to bed early, got up in the wee hours to play on the streets of neighborhoods, different bands doing this all over the city, before meeting up at Home Moravian Church for a big early breakfast and going out to the graveyard (God’s Acre) to play for the sunrise service.  Even though I don’t take the Easter story literally, I still have affection for Jesus and what his story represents.  Hearing the music of all the instruments playing those ancient tunes and the birds singing as the sun came up, with that proclamation heard round the world that “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed,” gave me goose bumps and was a moving experience.  We then went on to play again in a small church cemetery.  Easter afternoon consisted of dinner, followed by a long nap, as we were all exhausted, but happy.

This brings me to my most memorable Easter ever, and the one that makes me teary.  Seven years ago, after a six-week stay in ICU, my dad passed away peacefully in a regular room (three days after taking him off the ventilator), on Easter Sunday, surrounded by his closest family.  He had been in a coma almost the whole six weeks, suffering from an infection that went from his lung to his brain.  There had been hope he would recover, but when the last shunt change didn’t help, we knew it was time to let him go.  I read him the Easter story from his Bible.  I don’t know if on some level he heard me or not.  Easter morning, we took some pretty flowers from my parents’ yard to his hospital room.  The doctor came in and listened to his lungs that morning and said something had changed.  “I think today will be the day,” he told my mom and me.  My daughters and son-in-law got there, and as if he had waited for us all to be together, which maybe he did, soon afterwards he took his last breath.  It startled us, although we had been listening intently to his breathing and would hold our own breaths when it seemed it might be his last, then he would breathe again, and so would we.  But this time there was no mistaking that for my dad there was no other breath to come….he turned blue almost instantly.  I had never seen a person die before.  We were sad, of course, and yet relieved, too, in a way.  He wasn’t going to get better and none of us wanted to see him that way.  It wasn’t the life he wanted, and we had each been preparing for it in our own ways already.  We sat in his room for awhile, quiet, crying, then after making a few phone calls and going through some red tape, we left the hospital and went to Cracker Barrel and had Easter dinner.  It is exactly what he would have wanted us to do, and I think we all felt his presence and energy there with us in some way or other.  We were able to talk and laugh and share memories.  The more intense sadness and reality hit later, as it usually does, when we were alone or when in doing normal everyday things, we remembered he wasn’t there.  After that, we took a little walk down by the river.  It was a beautiful day and a heartbreaking one.  I wouldn’t trade that time with my dad as he breathed his last breath for anything.  It was a precious moment and by far my most memorable Easter.

Even though I’m a Pantheist now for many years, I still consider myself religious.  I love Easter and what it symbolizes, what the crucifixion and resurrection can mean even to a person who is no longer traditionally religious but carries those old rituals in their memory, part of their very being.  It’s rebirth and the spring season both in the natural world, of which we’re a part, but also within ourselves.  It’s about hope, and you don’t have to be Christian to appreciate those things about Easter along with all its pagan elements.  People have loved symbols and rituals pretty much as long as they’ve inhabited this planet, it would seem.  I have cherished memories of lots of Easters over many years, shared with special people, all held close to my heart.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Bio for the Universal Pantheist Society

Back in April, I was honored to be elected to serve as an at-large member on the Board of Directors of the Universal Pantheist Society.  I’m not sure any other members even know.  When asked if I was interested, of course I said I was, but I realized I had no official credentials like some do, other than being a long-time pantheist and Society member.  Yet at the same time, I think that may be one of my strengths, for Pantheism is a path that’s for everyone and anyone who chooses it.  It doesn’t depend on credentials or a certain degree or title or income or education.  Anyway, here’s the bio that appears on their website.  It was something I wanted my friends and followers to know about because Pantheism is an important part of who I am, and the UPS is in turn an important aspect of my journey.  If you have an interest in Pantheism as well, I hope you’ll check out the UPS and consider joining up and help spread the word about it.  I’m glad to be a representative for them.

Sharon was born and raised in the mountains of western North Carolina and still resides in a small town within a short distance of both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the past, she was an avid camper and day hiker, but now most of her free time, when not working full-time as a Health Documentation Specialist, is largely spent baby-sitting her two young granddaughters and spending time with family and her three cats (at one point she was a volunteer for the local no-kill cat shelter). Her interests include Pantheism/deep ecology, working in her yard, genealogy (especially her Irish roots), writing, animal rights, and vegetarianism. Sharon learned about Pantheism back in 2002 and joined the Universal Pantheist Society, as well as spending several years as an active participant in the World Pantheist Movement, and helping form a local Pantheist group that met in Asheville, NC. One of her chief influences was “Accepting the Universe” by John Burroughs. Realizing the importance of connecting with other Pantheists, she began actively and regularly participating on the UPS websites, feeling its approach to pantheism best matches her own, summed up in the quote, “I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E” (Frank Lloyd Wright). Sharon considers herself a voice for the everyday Pantheists who experience the simple pleasures of nature found in their own neighborhoods and backyards. Bird watching has become a new hobby, and she is a member of the National Audubon Society, as well as Friends of Animals. She has also written a blog for several years called The View From Raindrop Ridge, which is about living a simple pantheistic life in her beloved mountains.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Cornbread and Milk

Sometimes Facebook conversations turn into blog posts.  Recently, it was the anniversary of my dad’s death, and soon after that, I saw an article about Cornbread and Milk: It’s A Mountain Thing”, written by Kim Holloway Stalcup in “Appalachian Magazine.”

I shared the article and wrote the following:

This definitely reminds me of my dad. He loved his cornbread and milk on the occasions my mom made cornbread, and would even bring home leftover cornbread from dinner at a restaurant to have later as a snack in a glass of milk. Interestingly, the woman who wrote this article is from Cherokee County, NC, for a few generations, which is where my dad was born and raised. I think my dad grew up having cornbread every day and they certainly had milk every day, living on a farm. My grandmother never threw food away, so even the tiniest piece of cornbread got saved. I guess to a little boy growing up with nine siblings, and he was next to the youngest, that seemed like a wonderful snack. He might have been lucky to get it lol. Both my parents loved milk, though my mom didn’t do the cornbread thing. But they would each have a glass of frozen milk at night sometimes, chopping and chinking away at it, just plain milk, which is when I knew for sure I was in a weird family lol. I didn’t know any other people who did that, so it definitely seemed strange to me. A lot of work for little reward. For some reason, though, I always hated milk.

Interestingly, that share got more comments than anything I’ve posted on Facebook lately.  People love hearing about folksy, homegrown things like this.  People shared their own memories of cornbread and milk, white bread and milk, warm bread, brown sugar added, and as for the frozen milk, I agree with a friend who said it needed sugar, chocolate, something.  And in regard to buttermilk, which people seem to either love or hate, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground there, one friend shared her suggestion for using it to clean out your septic tank!  While I like cornbread, I never ate the cornbread and milk because I only drank milk if I absolutely had to, like at school or my grandma’s house (unless I could get to the fresh grape juice first).  I never did become an expert cornbread baker either, though I’ve made my share through the years, but not like my grandma would have made it.  I have eaten quite a variety, liking it best very hot, slathered with butter, and maybe a side of beans and chow chow (by the way, I now use Earth Balance for the buttery component).

Cherokee County, North Carolina, includes Murphy and Tomotla and my grandparents’ farm, divided among their many children after their deaths, part of it sold now and developed with new houses.  But the last time I rode over that way, the house was still there, barely, and overgrown in weeds and brush, with a family who were friends of one of my uncles still living there.  They lived with him during the last years of his life at the old home place.  Thinking of trips to Murphy when I was much younger, they had to include a stop for a chili bun (hot dog with all the fixings but without the dog even back then) at Nabers Drive-In in Bryson City, a ride through the Nantahala Gorge, sometimes accompanied by a little carsickness (did you ever see the Andy Griffith Show where his date, Lydia, had to hang her head out the window “like a dog”)?  That was me on more than one occasion.  I’m reminded of taking a walk on the property when we’d visit, swinging on the porch swing, drinking cold water out of a long-handled dipper, helping gather eggs when I was a little girl, chickens all over us when we got out of the  car (which my mom hated, but I thought was kind of cool), walking across the old swinging bridge with a cousin over the Valley River down the road apiece, the route my dad would walk to school as a little boy, an old out-of-tune piano I’d try to play, with half of the yellowed keys sticking, my uncle strumming the banjo or telling a story, and my grandma showing me how to make those delicious boiled chocolate oatmeal cookies, the ones everyone thinks is a special recipe that only their grandmothers make.  She was a quiet, sweet, but no-nonsense woman.  It’s also where my love affair with cats began when I brought home my first little black and white kitten, Bootsie.  My grandpa died when I was young, and while I do remember him, the memories are few.

We usually just visited for the day, rarely spent the night, but we did eat lunch and sometimes supper, and there was always cornbread and real butter (made in a round mold with the imprinted flower design) and, of course, always green beans and corn, too.  I remember seeing my grandma churning butter a long, long time ago.  After we ate, I’d help clean up, and every little dish with even just a spoonful of corn or three or four green beans got saved in the corner cabinet for the next meal.  My grandparents were hard workers, and with ten children and two adults to feed, they wasted nothing.  The milk came fresh from their cows, and I hated it.  I would drink it down with one gulp, holding my nose.  But I understand where my dad got his love of cornbread and milk.  Yes, it’s probably mostly a southern thing, but from what I’m hearing it’s also a mountain/country thing, not fancy, but something good to fill the bellies of a lot of hungry mouths.  I never gave it a lot of thought, but for my dad, that was probably comfort food that reminded him of long-ago times with his family, his Mama and Daddy, brothers and sisters, growing up on the farm.  It was a hard life in rural North Carolina, in the twenties, thirties, and forties, but my grandparents, like so many others similar to them, originally hard-working tobacco farmers, filled their home with faith, lots of love, good fresh and filling food, laughter, music and games, and some happy memories, and seven of those children went on to graduate from college and become teachers.  Food really is powerful beyond satisfying our physical hunger.  It’s about family and love and connections.  It’s nourishment for the soul and the body.  I was grateful for the reminder of my own sweet family memories from an article about cornbread and milk.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge

(I’m hoping to find a couple of photos to scan soon to add to this article)

Spring Morning

Easter eggs

I was just driving back from town, and I realized how beautiful this spring day is.  Nature is colorful like an Easter basket full of dyed eggs today.  The yards are getting so green.  There’s even green starting to pop out on the higher mountains.  Shrubs and bushes are yellow and dark pink and the trees white and a paler pink and, of course, the purple of the beautiful redbuds which are so plentiful.  Not to mention all the red, blue and blue-gray, brown, and bright yellow birds that greet me at the feeder.  This is what Easter is about for me anyway, Nature circling back into spring with new life in all its glory.  It makes me feel happy and hopeful and really alive. #Gratitude

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press

Looking Glass Rock

I live in a beautiful area.  This is Looking Glass Rock, near Brevard (in Transylvania County) in western North Carolina.  I can give you a few facts.  This picture was taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway on a visit to Pisgah Inn/Mount Pisgah area a few years ago (pisgah in Hebrew means peak).  Technically, this big rock is a pluton monolith with a granite face that reflects the sun, giving it its name.  It’s part of Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.  The national forest was established in 1916.  Hard to believe, but that’s when my grandmother was 6 years old.  She and her parents and siblings and cousins used to take Sunday rides and picnics around the Asheville area, according to what I’ve been told, and I can be pretty sure this was one of their destinations.

But for me, what’s wonderful about the mountains, including this magnificent rock, aren’t the facts, the scientific composition, though I’m glad those things are important to a lot of people, it’s the emotions that well up in me when I see a view like this or when I walk in the woods, along the rivers and creeks.  I was born and have lived in these mountains almost all my life.   In the big scheme of things, I haven’t spent a lot of days and nights away from them, and even when I have done so, or may in the future, they’re still always a part of me, my heritage, my ancestors, my very being.  The Appalachian mountains, the Balsams, the Parkway, the Smokies, and all the other mountain ranges and ridges around here are about relationships, trees and streams, waterfalls  and animals, and ancestors working hard on the land, many as farmers.  They’re about my own memories of hiking and canoeing in mountain lakes, watching the changing seasons, love and romance and heartbreak, having children here, always mindful of the mountains I live in and the distant ones I see every time I venture away from home or outside my front door.  They’re about births, but also deaths, and steep cemeteries, one separated by a flimsy fence from some friendly and curious cows, beloved parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents, laid to rest with their own memories and lives, much of which I’ll never know, but some related to me by my parents.  There are memories of being afraid, too, on a hike up a steep hillside running away from a mysterious-sounding creature, still unknown.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared.  Of Sunday drives and crossing through creeks that ran across the road, of watching for deer at dusk and being excited to spot a little family, climbing a fire tower and walking across a swinging bridge at the top of the world, watching falcons take off and hang gliders, too, camping and sometimes just sitting quietly shoulder to shoulder watching the sun set in glorious color.  Many of these people are gone from my life now, but in a sense they never really are gone, and the mountains tie so much of my life together.  They help define who we are, how we live, and how we feel, why we’re still here, why some of us never leave.  They’re our protectors, watching over us, full of mystery and light and darkness and teeming with life, often unseen, our comfort and our healing.  I’m walking in the steps of so many who came before me, which feels me with awe and respect, and those who will follow, and I hope they won’t simply settle for living in the mountains, for a job or even because it’s pretty, but instead let the mountains work their way into their hearts and live inside of them until they can’t ever really let them go, no matter where they may end up down the road, because I honestly believe they’ll be the better for it.

I look at these pictures of Looking Glass Rock and the surrounding mountains and remember the day I took them.   It was summer, but a storm blew up in the afternoon, and it was windy and chilly up there.  A friend of mine had ridden with me to Pisgah Inn to have lunch with a group of people we didn’t know but I had helped organize, Pantheists who wanted to get together and explore our area and share our pantheistic ideas and viewpoints.  The group carried on for several more months with fewer numbers and we had some nice times.   My friend and I eventually went our separate ways and he later died much too young from the debilitation of Parkinson’s disease.  So many bittersweet memories, and yet life goes on as these mountains, remaining ever big and strong and beautiful, remind us daily.

~Sharon

Copyright (c) 2017 by Raindrop Ridge Press