By the Rev. Katy Shedlock
In July I took a new appointment and my husband and I moved from a small farm town in the Palouse to the big city of Spokane. For the last two years I’d felt like I spent my whole life in the car, listening to NPR correspondents calmly analyze The End of the World As We Know It. I decided this was a profoundly alienated way to live, and so, looking to simplify life and cut expenses, we sold one of our cars and I bought a commuting bike. (I also may have had fantasies of being like the bicycling nuns in Call the Midwife).
I had other reasons for making the change too – I’m now a church planter and I wanted to see Spokane, where I was born and raised, and which is intimately familiar the way very few other places are to me, with new eyes. On the bike, I take side streets I’ve never traveled before. I notice more – that house has been repainted, that one’s lawn is growing again, that one is up for sale. I feel the divisions in the city more acutely: if I can’t get there from here easily on my bike, there are some real obstacles in place, both natural and manmade geographical barriers. I connect parts of the map, through back parking lots and loading docks, that I never knew were so close; I feel keenly the distance between other areas that I never knew were so far (just try getting up the South Hill from anywhere on a bike).
I keep thinking about the commissioning of the seventy, in which Jesus sends out his disciples without money, without even shoes, to receive hospitality and proclaim peace. While I’m not literally traversing Spokane barefoot and broke, on the bike I am more vulnerable than I’d like to be, to dogs, the weather, potholes, and distracted drivers. I’m not separated from folks who are homeless by a car door, or from folks who deliberately spew black smoke from their tailpipes by a windshield. My husband, an experienced cyclist and bike commuter, has his stories of road rash, near misses, and stolen equipment. I suppose in time, if I ride enough, I’ll have those stories too.
I survived riding through our two-week heat wave in the upper 90’s, although I’m not sure what I’ll do when the snow starts to fly. Maybe I’ll ride the bus, something that only the working poor, refugees, and Mormon missionaries seem to do in Spokane. For now, I enjoy riding as much as I can, exploring my city, not worrying about parking when I go downtown. I’ve lost five pounds without trying, and I feel healthier and stronger.
Most importantly though, at the same time that the bike makes me more vulnerable, it also makes me more confident. I get myself around, using the legs and lungs that God gave me. When I struggle with fear or anxiety or stress, getting on the bike helps me work through it. Sitting in a car, I would only perseverate more on the things over which I have no control. The physical activity and being part of the environment, rather than passing through it, keeps me grounded and in the present.
In all these ways, I have found bike commuting to be a surprising means of grace, rooting me among the neighbors God asks me to serve, an ordinary way for God to work on perfecting me in love. I encourage you to see what God might have waiting for you atop a two-wheeled transit device – just remember to always wear a helmet.
Katy Shedlock was appointed in July to start a new faith community out of Audubon Park United Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington.