Beauty for ashes

Biking as a Lenten practice.

The  40 day (more or less) religious observance of Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday.  I’ve never been a part of a religious tradition that observes Lent, but from what I know (and I can read from Wikipedia), Lent prepares the believer for the commemoration of Holy Week — the week that precedes Easter Sunday. Some key aspects of Lent are self-denial, reflection, and sorrow for Christ’s suffering during the days preceding his crucifixion.


Morning commute

I’ve confessed before how bicycling is my daily meditation and time to reflect. I can’t imagine zoning out while driving a car enough to meditate or reflect on much of anything. Too many distractions draw my attention and, frankly, I hope I never get so accustomed to driving that I feel I can dedicate a portion of my mind to spiritual exercises. I’ve spent countless hours, however, meditating while the prayer wheels of my bicycle spin round and round, especially when I cycle on an empty, lightly traveled lane.

I can’t claim that my bicycling is any type of self-denial — I’m genuinely happy when I ride my bicycle, and get grumpy and stressed when I drive a car . There is a sort of atonement, I suppose, in riding a bicycle. I cannot pretend that my bicycling  somehow makes up for my past sins, or my neighbors’ profligate consumption, or even of my own family’s waste, but my bicycling is partly a conscious choice to stretch this planet’s limited resources just a little further for the benefit of others. Christ put loving my neighbor right there as the most important commandment alongside loving God.

Melissa Bixler of Portland, OR describes her path to finding bicycling as a Lenten practice. She attended a talk by Mennonite Peter Dula. Not long after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Peter visited Iraq to teach theology at  a Christian college. Like many good teachers, he became the student as he saw first hand the destruction, calamity, death, and suffering of the Iraqi people.

Dula was ashen when he addressed us with his typed speech. His voice and his words conveyed the bitterness of the present-day situation in the Middle East, the Iraqi hatred for Americans, and his powerlessness to distinguish himself from the occupying military forces and contractors. He told us how he had recently been evacuated to Jordan after a rash of expatriate kidnappings, leaving behind new friends whose futures were unknown. Everything about Dula spoke to us of the horrors of seeing one’s neighbors’ children kidnapped, of walking with fear along a deserted street, of seeing churches exploding in the night.

By the end, our ethics class sat in stunned silence. The least we could hope for was some way to respond. Should we go to Iraq and do the same? Is it time to picket the White House? Write letters? What do we do? Dula’s answer was clear and emphatic.

“Ride your bike.”

Read more at SojoNet: Bicycling as Lenten Practice by Melissa Bixler.  A big thank you to Sioux in Illinois (and condolences as well — she’s currently in Maryland for her brother’s funeral) for the annual reminder about Bixler’s essay.

3 Comments

  • SueJ
    February 21, 2010 - 11:02 am | Permalink

    I think that many forms of “self-denial” are only “denial” if we make them that way, and perhaps that's a difference in how different psyches/cultures spin the psychological part of it.
    Why is passivity so seductive? Why does the illusion of “safety” persist? I so wish more folks would get out from the “I could never do that!” fog…
    There truly was a cataclysmic amount of snow here, and enough carbon monoxide casualties (that being what killed my brother) to make several newspaper articles. We'll be playing some of his favorite tunes at the memorial… if you google utah phillips riding the peace train you'll find another discussion of abandoning cars…

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