Appalachia a ‘Sacred Place Calling for a Spiritual Solution’ Says Forum Speaker

Susan Hedge plans ‘An Appalachian Cosmic Walk’ as a way of connecting people with ancient mountains at Sweet Springs Sustainable Living Forum

SWEET SPRINGS, W.Va. — Susan Hedge is an unapologetic mystic. When she gazes at the Blue Ridge Mountains from Roanoke, Va. or the Alleghany Highlands further west, she sees more than mountains. She sees the creative nature of God. So, she asserts, “Appalachia is a sacred place calling for a spiritual solution” to its many challenges. Hedge will be bringing her message to the Sweet Springs Sustainable Living Forum here. The Forum is scheduled for Aug. 16-18. 

Blackwater Canyon in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia

To acknowledge the sacred nature of Appalachia, Hedge, who is associated with the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center, will be guiding those attending the gathering through “An Appalachian Cosmic Walk.” 

Hedge shared, “Merging the spiritual with art in experiential learning has always been an intention held almost unknown even to me until recently. Therefore, after I retired as a home economist, a teacher, and later director of the local Cooperative Extension Service with the University of Florida, I trained as a spiritual director and then returned to school where I completed a second master’s degree in pastoral theology from Barry University. Following a second retirement I have devoted my time to weaving and fiber art where my work speaks for the natural world. In 2016 I trained with Susan Barrett Merrill, weaving a Life, and was certified as a Weaving Circle Leader.”

Appalachia, she explained, is sacred for several reasons. “I think that because it was left undamaged after the last ice age and saved the way it was. That it didn’t get changed makes is sacred.” She continued, “It’s also the spirit of the people. The mountains have the feel of God. I feel it. People can learn from the mountains. They provide peace and tranquility.”

She added, “That is especially true if you live in an urban area where you don’t have the opportunity to get into the natural world. In Appalachia, there are more opportunities to share relationships with trees, with animals, with water. Anytime somebody can learn something experientially, that in itself is a solution. It helps us understand that we are all connected. It is extremely important.”

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina as seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway

We can do better at learning from nature, she said. “The other thing is knowing how nature works. If we patterned our lives more like nature does, we’d be in a better place.” She pointed out that in Florida, where she now lives, she was recently taking an early morning walk and the Barn Owls were letting their voices be heard. “When you see that, you realize things are so much bigger. It’s a whole different experience to be out in nature.”

The concept of a Cosmic Walk was developed by a Catholic nun, and Hedge decided to apply it to Appalachia. “It’s an opportunity for people to walk the history of Appalachian in a spiral and consider the dates since creation. Every group has enjoyed it. It’s a great way to get in touch with Appalachia.”

Acknowledging the Cosmic Walk sounds quite mystical, Hedge added it’s also rooted in science. “One thing about the cosmic walk is that the dates are right. We know these things happened. It helps people get out of their heads. It’s quiet, it’s meditative.”

On the Appalachian Faith and Ecology Center website, the group points to pastoral letters and the ecological encyclical written by Pope Francis in 2015 as inspirational documents. The pastoral letters signed by the bishops were “This Land is Home to Me” (published in 1975) and “At Home in the Web of Life” (published in 1995). Both were published by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA). Hedge said they are inspirational because, “These are really significant. Typically a bishop will write a letter to his people. Never before had a group of people written a letter and handed them a letter for the bishops to sign.” She continued, “The way they did it was they formed listening groups across Appalachia. This is the context of the writing. Those two things make it different from other letters.”

However, by 2015, when the CCA decided it was time to write a letter since 20 years had passed since the second one, the gulf had grown so wide between church leaders and the laity over the sex scandals rocking the church that the the CCA wrote and published a people’s pastoral, “The Telling Takes us Home” without signatures from Appalachian bishops. Still, the CCA shared it with every bishop in the United States.

Hedge said, “ The work of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia is very significant. I see it as the authentic church. They’re doing what the church was meant to do.”

A trail in the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia

Learn More

The Sustainable Living Forum is open to the public and free of charge. Primitive camping at the venue is free.  Food vendors will be providing breakfast, lunch and dinner options at reasonable prices. Additional attractions include craft vendors, historical stations and hands-on demonstrations.

For additional information about the Sustainable Living Forum program or about the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation, call 304-536-1207, check the Sweet Springs Resort Park Foundation Facebook page or the Events page of the Appalachian Chronicle. To get there by GPS: 19540 Sweet Springs Valley Road, Gap Mills, WV 24941.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2019

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