Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Soul Cycling & The Blessing of the Bicycles (#2)

This post is about soul-cycling, but not the studio kind. No, it’s about the kind of ride that stirs the soul to raise up hope in a crazy world. I am talking about the rides of our lives – be they literally from the seat of a bike – or literally by the seat of our pants — in whatever our vocation might be.

As an Episcopal priest, I celebrate the sacraments. As Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity at Emmanuel, in an Excel spreadsheet, I construct our weekly worship.   Cycling (yes, pun intended) through the church’s seasons, I play liturgical Legos. With about a dozen moving parts, I piece together the service pulling from a variety of sanctioned sources.  The Book of Common Prayer, of course, but also the Book of Occasional Services, Enriching Our Worship, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the ELCA Sundays & Seasons prayers and petitions. Prayers and petitions, which I edit each week to reflect the needs of this god forsaken world.

A labor of love. At Emmanuel we use far more of the Book of Common Prayer than parishes who simply pick up the book. Episcopal worship is expansive, elastic and flexible. And here at Emmanuel, we flex as far as the rubrics will allow:

Rite III Youth Eucharist the first Sunday of the month.

The Blessing of the Animals in October.

A Contemplative Christmas in December.

A Celtic Eucharist in February.

Down to Earth Maundy Thursday in Holy Week.

Pentecost & Pride in June.

And the 2ndannual Blessing of the Bicycles to celebrate the summer solstice.

Last year we had 120 folks of all ages with their trikes and bikes. I brought and baptized my own new shiny red pseudo-Schwinn with the fat white tires. Though I confess, I have not ridden my bike much in the last year. Given my personal recent rocky road, I imagine I might be much better off if I had.

I am really an avid pedestrian. To keep myself walking, I started this thing called Soul Strolling – an hour’s sojourn and conversation, one on one, a parishioner and me, walking local highways and byways and trails. Muscles in motion is good for the soul.

So, maybe I should start Pedaling with the Pastor  to get me back on my bike. An hour’s ride with parishioner and priest, cycling together to some favorite watering hole or coffee shop. This great idea is not my idea. I stole from Pastor Ken Dixon.  He beat me to it.

Pastor Dixon, a Seventh Day Adventist minister, loved cycling but had not been on his bike in umpteen years. Moving from church to church and climate to climate, his bike gathered dust in his garage. He became a potato on his couch and gained weight to the point of being pre-diabetic. His VA doctor cut to the chase, “If you don’t do something about this, you’re going to die!” A come-to-Jesus moment, Pastor Dixon realized – for the sake of himself, his family and his parish – he had to get back on his bike.

“I didn’t want to stand in front of my congregation and tell them to care of their bodies when I am on the verge of dying!”

Dixon started cycling with half a dozen fellow Texas pastors. A few months in, he raised the stakes – sort of as a joke. “Let’s ride to the Adventist World Conference from Dallas to San Antonio!” What! No! Maybe! Incredibly quite a few said YES! “Seventeen riders from all different ages, races and places covered 350 miles in just five days.”

This pedal-powered mission strengthened more than just hearts and lungs. It broke down cultural barriers and bore fruit of a spiritual kind. Dixon’s idea took flight.

“Flight” by Yusuf Grillo

The Flight (pictured aboveis an “oil on board” painting by artist Yusuf Grillo. “It depicts a young family in native Yoruba dress, seated on a bicycle. While the man pedals…the woman sits on the bicycle bar cradling a baby.”

“Grillo started the painting during the Nigerian Civil War, a very painful time in his country’s history. Many lives were lost and many more were maimed. The memory of his people fleeing the violence was seared into his psyche.”

“He likened the forced migration to the flight of the Holy Family – fleeing Israel for Egypt.” Not on the back of a camel or donkey but on a bicycle. An icon for refugees everywhere, it symbolizes the very human search for safety, security and peace.

On May 12, 2018 Alana Murphy set out an 88-day, 4,380-mile bike ride across the country. Along the way, she conducted 65 interviews with refugees in 15 cities including Philadelphia, Detroit and Kansas City.

Alana’s idea took flight from the seat of her bike. “My hope was to make these stories and experiences accessible…’Refugee’ has become an increasingly divisive word. I realize most people in the U.S. have not had the opportunity to hear the stories of these incredible people….I spent the majority of my time riding through rural areas where many are not supportive of immigrants…By spending time in their communities, I was able to listen to their fears and concerns and learn about a part of our country that is often overlooked and misunderstood.”

As anyone who reads the news knows, as any who saw the photo of the Salvadoran father, Oscar Ramirez and toddler daughter Valeria, floating on the bank of the Rio Grande knows — immigrants’ desperate plight and flight is a harrowing, dangerous and heartbreaking road. As Christians – our faith compels us to respond with compassion. To welcome, embrace and shelter all such families as holy. As holy as Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the flight to Egypt. As holy as the Nigerian family fleeing danger on the back of a bike. 

And as citizens of our native land, I hope and pray this speaks to our American souls, as well. To address with all seriousness the humanitarian crisis on our southern border.

I looked into the Bible to find some wisdom about loving our neighbor on the open road. There are no scriptures that cite bicycles, of course. The closest I could get was the prophet Ezekiel:

As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground…They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope… When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was within the wheels.

Not about bikes, Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision is about flight, the Israelites escaping from bondage in Babylon. It is about a freedom ride, a ride of a lifetime, and the return to the Promised Land. To life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and hope. A wild ride that the whole world is on, really.

“More than anything,”Alana wrote, “I find myself dreaming about the next time I get back on a bicycle…cycling all day under blue skies, climbing mountain passes despite hail and rain and sleeping on the side of the road snug in my tent. Feeling just you and your bicycle facing the open road is something incomparable.” Something miraculous.Something to inspire whatever comes next. 

So, let’s all get back on our bikes – both metaphorical and real – and take flight. Soul cycling can do the world a whole lot of good.