By Lisa Polega, SCN
Try to remember the last time you rode a bike, whether it was this week or sometime in the last century. What did you feel? Did you experience exhilaration, pain, or something even deeper? I would assert spiritual wisdom could occur when one plants her feet on the pedals, her backside on the saddle and her hands solidly yet loosely on the handlebars.
The Christian tradition is ripe with the ancient and spiritual practice of walking as a form of spiritual discipline or exercise. We do not hear much about the practice of bicycling as a spiritual discipline.
Perhaps this is because bicycles are a relative latecomer to our spiritual tradition, only evolving into existence in nineteenth century industrial Europe. Or maybe it is because we have trouble taking seriously the brightly colored, lycra-clad speedsters whose vocabulary seems to be limited to “on your left” or “bicycle behind you.” I admit, I have my fair share of bright lycra cycling clothes hanging in my closet!
Regardless of what I wear, bicycling becomes a prayer when my repetitive breathing, the circular nature of my pedaling and the mandala likeness of my tires continuously moving over the ground heightens my awareness of God. I become open to something greater than myself.
When I ride a bike, I must be keenly aware when it is time to “attack a hill” or when I need to loosen my grip and learn to coast. The spiritual exercise of bicycling can also provide valuable reminders when it is time to dig deep into my personal reserves to pursue my goal or when I need to get out of the saddle and trust in others to complete the journey. It can be exhilarating and humbling.
Bicycling is not only a solitary exercise that engages the mind and spirit in an inner communion with our God. When I bicycle, I am intrinsically and intimately involved in everything around me. I must do this for my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of all things around me. I have to engage with the pedestrian crossing the street, the car flying by me at 55 in a 35 mph zone, or the songbird occupying the branch above my head.
The encounters, prayers and visions of bicycling stay with me long after a day’s ride. I am quick to remember the pedestrians, speeding cars, and songbirds from my ride and throughout the day. Bicycling is a spiritual exercise that, in turn, helps creates a clarity of vision whether I am engaging in ministry or enjoying a good laugh with a friend. For me, bicycling is a poignant reminder of the intrinsic balance and interconnectedness of care for creation, love of neighbor, and self-care.
A simple bike ride, whether it be around the neighborhood or one leg in a triathlon, can augment my own spiritual practices and perspective on the life around me. At this point in my life, and maybe during this time in your life, bicycling strengthened by faith and grace is part of the journey. Enjoy the ride!