A Scientific, Evolutionary and Poetic Vison
Theology, The Sacred and Religion
People who enjoy hiking are very conscious of the landscapes they pass through. They take delight in the sensuality of passing through a variety of them. In terms of space and time, each landscape offers a particular geography, geology, flora, fauna, and other elements all of which exist in an interdependent relationship with each other.
Those who find pleasure in investigating the world around them, aided by guide books, interpretation by knowledgeable people, and a keen creative desire for new discoveries, find their sense of awareness, understanding, and connection to life's landscapes richly altered and expanded.
Our physical surrounding is but one of many landscapes in which all of us live out our lives: psychological, social, political, economic, geographical, and spiritual, to name a few. A great many of us wander around these landscapes so distracted that we pay little attention to where we are. Some of us spend most or all of our lives seeking to stay in familiar landscapes with little curiosity about what lies beyond the territory we know.
There are others of us, however, who are born with an insatiable curiosity for exploring every inch of all the landscapes of our lives out of a deep sense of mystery, wonder and a desire for discovering whatever new information they may contain. We do this because we are conscious of the drive to make sense of our existence—to make meaning of it.
Those whom experience life as a journey and see the horizon as a stirring call to adventure; for whom the jagged crumbling lip of a towering precipice is an opportunity to reconnoiter; where curiosity and imagination urge them to go even farther: these are what I call theotrekkers.
The names of some of the great theotrekkers who committed their lives to the exploration of one or more of the landscapes in which they lived are well known to us: Laozi, Thales of Miletus, Mahavira, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Yeshua ben Yosef, Paul of Tarsus, Leonardo Di Vinci, Siddhartha Gautama, Hypatia of Alexandria, Muhammad, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francesco di Bernardone, Rumi, Voltaire, Galileo Galilei, Mohandas Gandhi, Karl Marx, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth Anscombe, Johann Bach, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Vincent Van Gogh, Leo Tolstoy, Baruch Spinoza, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Einstein, Emma Goldman, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Dag Hammarskjold, Thomas J. J. Altizer, Gabriel Vahanian, Martin Luther King, Jr., Carl Sagan, Alan Watts, and the Dalai Lama to name but a few. Each of these theotrekkers, and countless others unknown to us, carrying all their gifts and foibles on their backs, stepped out into unknown territory, answering that call to seek more, learn more, love more, share more, and be more. We also know that these theotrekkers journeyed in community. They began where others ended their journey and with the knowledge and equipment they inherited. Even when physically alone, they were enabled by others. In its best form, theotrekking is an altruistic activity. It is done for the education and edification of everyone. The great Theotrekkers have always invited others to join them in order to enrich everyone's experience and to be more effective in their combined mission and commitment to the common good. Indeed, they were keenly aware that sense and meaning seeking is necessarily a social activity.
For more than fifty years, in community with other theologians and many, many people with a wide range of knowledge and experience, I have been theotrekking as a theologian exploring the landscape of the human need to make meaning of our existence. I am committed to the principle that this exploration must be systematic. That is, it must be informed by, and conciliated with all that we have learned and are learning about ourselves and our universe in every other landscape of human experience.
In my view, it is our work as professional theologians to deeply and critically examine the ways and means by which we humans make sense and meaning of our lives. It is our vocation to understand how we think, feel and act in relationship to whatever it is in which we invest our trust and that in return provides our lives with significance and purpose. For this work to have any validity, it must be done with a commitment to understand and live life with as much emotional and intellectual authenticity, integrity and collegiality as possible.
It is common wisdom that life is a process and whatever we learn and understanding we gain, whatever the meaning we make of it all, is always incomplete. While on this journey, we all have the opportunity to encounter and celebrate a wide array of new discoveries about ourselves and our world, some of which we find frightening because they challenge our established conceptions and understandings—our construction of reality. If we have the courage to honestly investigate them, even the most unwelcome discoveries will take us to new and habitable places beyond the edges of our social, cultural, political, and religious maps. We will find ourselves in new realities.
My theotrek has led me to develop a spirituality that I call Opthē (pronounced Op'-thee). Opthē provides an authentic basis for meaning in my life that, unlike other realities in which I have previously lived, I can embrace without any accommodations or reservations. I have spent my whole life in an effort to find a transcendent and comprehensive reason for being that is durable, and which makes sense with all that we know and experience to be true about ourselves and the cosmos in which we exist. Opthē is based upon building and maintaining a consilience of the widest and most critical understandings of human knowledge and experience possible.
Opthē is a neo-monastic spirituality. In other words, it is a "professional" spirituality in that it is centered on a life of professed commitment to agape' in service of the common good ordered by a formal discipline of liturgical praxis. The essence of the monastic model is one of the many treasures I have brought forward from my long journey through the landscape of Anglican Christianity and ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. While my theology and vocation have taken me far beyond Christianity, the discipline and commitment I learned in that experience continue to be essential to me. They are as necessary for spiritual praxis to transform heart, mind and being as are the axioms and symbols upon which the praxis is focused. They are also essential in heightening consciousness of our connection to the whole of life and the cosmos around us. If our species is to survive the consequences of our own behavior on this planet, we must come to recognize and accept the emergent truth of our place in the cosmic process of life and embrace our responsibility as self-conscious, creatively talented, evolutionary agents on this planet. This requires emotional and intellectual commitment and discipline. That is what Opthē is all about.
Finally, Opthē is my own spirituality. While I realize that doing theology and religion rationally and scientifically, without divine beings, supernatural forces, or magical thinking, may seem unthinkable or even threatening to many, I present it here in the hope that what I share might stimulate the interest of people who, like myself, are following a similar path, driven by questions and issues like those with which I am dealing. It is my conviction that we only truly understand ourselves and our experience by working collegially with others. More, if we put our heads and hearts together in community, we gain new and unexpected meanings. These provide us with creative ways of being and acting that we can’t come by on our own, and which advance our common good.
Please explore this site and the experiences, discoveries, and ongoing explorations presented here. If you find something that starts your mind effervescing, please let me know. Constructive conversation is more than welcome. It is essential.
Agape' and Peace,
(Friar William H. Papineau, Theologian and Sacerdote)