Poets and pastors, scholars and writers will gather at Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC) for the 2nd annual Intersect Conversational Conference of Science and Spirituality Sunday through Wednesday to ponder the theme of consciousness. This esoteric topic will be examined and reimagined by those whose work and study takes them into realms, that for many, would not seem to have much in common.
The conference is a collaboration between CPC’s pastor Pat Bailey and Teresa Westman, spiritual resourcing coordinator at Christ Church.
“Teresa is working on a PhD in transformative studies, and I have completed master and doctoral degrees in comparative religion and nature spirituality,” Bailey said. “So we both are used to thinking outside of the regular religious box.
“We also serve a congregation full of such thinkers, many of whom have backgrounds in science. What propelled our conversations into action was an additional collaboration with an organization called the Isthmus Institute.” Bailey explained that the Isthmus Institute was founded in the 1970s and “conducted national and international conferences on science and spirituality for 35 years” before dissolving when key leaders passed away.
“Seasonal Telluride resident, Don Montgomery, was one of the founding members of Isthmus and caretaker of their conference resources and funds,” Bailey said. “Christ Church partnered with Don and Isthmus to carry on the dialogue.”
The conversation about the intersection between science and spirituality is nothing new in theological circles, Bailey said.
“This is a common and growing conversation for persons who have transcended both religious literalism and scientific reductionism,” he said. “Since both spirituality and science are exploring primary reality and our human story of understanding it and living it most fully, both paths lead to a natural convergence.
“Carl Sagan, while disclaiming superstition and pseudoscience, said, ‘The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.’”
A quick internet search, he said, will reveal just how common a conversation it is.
And, he said, this year’s conference theme — consciousness — promises to be lively and engaging.
“Teresa has put together a very diverse and interactive program this year,” Bailey said. “We have book discussions, poetry, philosophy, scientific research, yoga, music, and lots of opportunities for both casual and in-depth conversation.”
Two of the Western Slope’s most prominent and celebrated poets — Art Goodtimes and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer — are each bringing their own insights to conference attendees.
Goodtimes is leading a workshop Monday called “Consciousness, Entheogens & Dolores LaChapelle’s Way of the Mountain Practice.” The former seminary student turned deep ecologist is no stranger to the intersect.
“Science is an intellectual practice,” he said. “It organizes knowledge by making observations, positing hypotheses and testing for verifiability. It’s a system of looking at the world and making sense of it.
“Spirituality is a practice of looking for meaning in human existence with the mind and the heart, whether via inherited traditional forms or with one’s direct relationship to creation.”
Rather than put the two in opposition, Goodtimes said, it’s more a matter one’s life choice. “They can be complementary or completely disassociated.”
Always the wordsmith, he further noted that though the two words possess “different noun forms in English … it’s a hint that these two concepts differ in some fundamental ways. But they also intersect.”
Goodtimes invites workshop attendees to participate in a talking gourds circle to share personal stories of science and spirituality.
Trommer, too, has lived a life of both science and religion. Her “playshop,” also on Monday, is a union of sorts. “Romancing the Known,” promises to marry poetry with science and mystery.
“I am the daughter of a biologist and a religious enthusiast,” Trommer said. “I carry both their sensibilities, and I happen to be a poet. I think that’s why it’s no leap for me to see how connected the realms are. I live it. Though they seem disparate, all three ways of exploring the world are guided by and informed by the unknown. It motivates us, it engages us, it pushes us.”
Like Goodtimes, she agrees that at first blush, the concepts of science and spirituality might seem at odds.
“One dances in the realm of the known, the other in the unknowable,” she said. “One deals with what can be measured and tested, the other with what is unquantifiable. Now we add poetry to these odd bedfellows. I think it’s the perfect language for allowing them to meet each other because there are certain common grounds.”
Each, she said, ask the big questions. “What are we doing here? What does it mean to be alive?”
Bailey is eagerly looking forward to delving into the topic of consciousness this year.
“Last year’s conference widened my own thought around the questions of cosmology and ecology,” he said. “This year, I know that my thought regarding consciousness will be informed and expanded.”
Other guest speakers and workshop leaders include Matthew Segall, a professor of philosophy and religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Tuesday morning, he’ll speak to “The nature of consciousness and what to do about it.” According to the conference program, “While it is in one sense the most obvious fact about our existence, the nature of consciousness remains profoundly mysterious. Spiritual seekers have long celebrated the impenetrability of this eternal mystery, while scientific researchers continue their struggle to explain its evolutionary origins and supposedly brain-based mechanisms …”
Also scheduled to present are Becca Tarnas, Olga Sohmer, and Specie Mesa resident and writer Juanita Ramsey.
The conference includes yoga, libations and meals; it begins Sunday at 5 p.m. and concludes Wednesday at 2 p.m. Tickets purchased in advance are $89, which includes two lunches and two evenings of libations and snacks. Visit intersect2019.eventbrite.com. Tickets purchased at the door are $125, cash or check only.
Conference organizers are also asking that for those of more means to consider donating a sponsor ticket in addition to one’s own ticket. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.