After arriving home recently from my usual commute between home and my church office, I snapped a picture of my bike in its accustomed place, snugly situated in our 1920s garage between the car and the wall. It is a homely picture of ordinariness in life.
I was thinking how different my relationship to cycling is from many who see their bike through the lens of an occasional leisure activity or weekend sports equipment. This is not to say those other approaches are wrong, of course; there are many who probably combine them in one life. For me, however, the bicycle is primarily a utility device, a bit along the lines of an appliance. It is an eminently and brilliantly practical tool for living…on both the physical and spiritual planes.
My bicycles (yes, I have two…more on that later) are really one of three modes of transport I employ each week, along with autos and walking. Much of my walking is for enjoyment and health, and some of by biking is for recreation…but almost all my driving is of necessity (we take a few “Sunday drives” to the country, but they are rare).
Cycling combines practical transport with a very real aesthetic of direct encounter with nature, neighborhoods, people, and the wider community. It also puts my physical self into the mix in a way driving cannot.
Over the last year I have been driving a good deal more than I would like. This is the result of my vocation. Being a priest, I visit many people, going to where they live. At this point in my life and ministry, many of the older people I serve live at some distance from the downtown core of Salem, and this means auto travel. In fact, I have been driving enough that I finally had to purchase a new car… my 1969 VW was shot. This was a difficult decision, but practicality and faithfulness eventually dictated it.
Yet, I miss cycling a very great deal when I am confined to the car. This is not how I feel about driving when I am doing a great deal of cycling to and from the office or visiting parishioners, visiting the hospital, or attending meetings/meals in the main part of town. Outside of very inclement weather, the bike remains a joyful form of transport helping me shed some of the stress or anxiety of modern life as I make my way through the city. The car does not have this capacity or effect for me.
The daily cycle of life is quite central to my work as a priest. From the beginning of the day, opened with prayer, amidst the various steps and encounters along the way, to the day’s end (with more time set aside for reflection, study, prayer, thanksgiving), the rhythm of physical and spiritual encounter (as opposed to escape) is at the heart of my life and being. Cycling aids this; walking certainly does, as well; driving does not.
I can pray as I drive, of course…but the physical participation in cycling, like the physical work of kneeling, bowing, standing, &c. in prayer, helps bring the eternal to the daily in a way no amount of time behind the steering wheel ever can. I thank heaven for our daily bread…and my daily cycle, when I can have it.