When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the the future of the human race.
When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others….
-ElizabethWest, Hovel in the Hills
Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.
– SusanB. Anthony 1896
A good friend took me to task after my March post, “Lauren!” he emailed instantly, “You forgot Bicycles! ‘Bike,’ begins with ‘B’!”
Gadzooks, it does! How could I blog about Boys, Births and Bees and fail to mention my true love, the B-i-k-e??? Worry not. I was simply waiting for May, National Bike Month. I figured a month devoted to the two-wheeled machine would help couch my enthusiasm. The honest truth is: I feel self-conscious about my love for the bike. It’s just so….extreme.
I say “the” bike, because, while I love my bike(s), it is the act of biking itself combined with all that a bike might represent (freedom, whimsy, courage, speed, economic brilliance, strength, efficiency, community, fun) that renders me breathless and tongue-tied. It’s not unusual, when trying to explain what goes on for me with a bike, to begin weeping and just shrug in surrender. Once upon a time, I felt this way about singing. And I think it IS this way with our yogas — the practices that unite us with Spirit, God, the Great Mystery.
Direct experiences, those so sacred they don’t readily lend themselves to description, are a blessing in today’s communication-laden world; and our “divine charge,” if you will, is to embrace them. So, to celebrate National Bike Month, I partnered with other cities across the U.S. and called upon my friends at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and the City of Berkeley to create Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles.
I began my thoughts with the quotes above and the words of Martin Buber who wrote, “God made so many different kinds of people: why would God allow only one way to worship?” Those gathered, instantly got it. Looking around the circle of cyclists – racers bedecked in their sponsor-graffitied spandex, and fathers pedaling their Extracycles with toddlers in tow – heads were nodding in consensus.
Renee Rivera, ED of the East Bay Bike Coalition, reminded us that while we were gathering to bless our bikes that, in truth it is our bikes that bless us. Are we, on our rides, awake to the blessings they offer?
I was transported, in that moment, to a workshop I’d facilitated two weekends before where I’d invited participants to use magazine pictures to collage an image of God. The workshop was nearly over, with ten minutes remaining, when in walks Jack. Jack, I’m guessing, was in was, his mid 60s and looked about 49. He was vibrant, with twinkling eyes and an enormous smile. “Is this the ‘Million Faces of God’ session?” he beamed.
“Yes, it is,” I welcomed him, “Perhaps you’d like to see if there are a few pictures on the table here that describe your image of God? I don’t want to rush you, but the rest of us are about to share.”
Resting his bike helmet on the floor, Jack set about to find an image in the first magazine he saw. And then, while others shared ornate collages with intricate, twisting descriptions of God imagery and theology, Jack asked if he could speak next. With a soft, pleased delight he offered the back cover of Bicycling magazine; it was an ad from New Belgium Brewery, where a young woman is standing near her cruiser bike and a frothy stein of beer. Technicolor trees and birds swirl about.
“This picture,” he said somewhat shyly, “is an image of God.” And then gaining confidence, “I bike everyday and from my bike, I see people and things I wouldn’t see in a car traveling at speed. I go more slowly on my bike – slow enough to smell, appreciate. I can make eye contact and smile at the world going by. And this beer…(he sighs)… Well, I don’t drink except at communion on Sunday, but this glass just reminds me of the Eucharist and ties it altogether.”
Thank you, Jack. I really couldn’t say it any better. The words I would use are different, and they might be reflected in some of the interfaith blessings you’ll capture if you watch the video link below. The late Carl Sagan, in his own way, offered a bike blessing with these words, “If constellations had been names in the 20th century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”
Happy May! If you haven’t done it for awhile, dust off your handlebars and go for a pedal – ride to the park, the market, visit a friend. And if cycling doesn’t do it for you, then lean into the practice that rapts your attention – is it gardening or hiking? Meditation, cooking, music-making or prayer? Fall in love. Do it now.
You can watch highlights of Berkeley’s First-ever Blessing of Bicycles here:
Please NOTE: the video is 13 minutes long and I would recommend advancing to the following highlights: 1) minutes 1&2 – curious individuals gathering, 2) minute 3 – Mayor Bates offering his whimsical blessing, 3) minutes 5:30-11:30 – clips of interfaith clergy extending blessings.