God, Trust, and Motorcycle Journeys: Part One
Some time back I wrote about the Patron Saint of Motorcycles. It’s in this blog and I won’t spoil your suspense by telling you who was chosen for this honor. Bikers pray, like most people do, for things they want and don’t want. “Oh God, don’t let a part of me or Big Red end up on the Tree of Shame at the Dragon’s Tail!” is an example of one form of the most earnest prayer recited by thousands of bikers in North Carolina each year. I recited it just recently. Some of us pray, like beauty contestants, for world peace. Some bikers see a handsome man or a beautiful woman ride up on an incredible motorcycle and “Oh God” is often mumbled under the breath. Don’t know about you but I always thought there was a fine line between some prayers we utter and coveting. By the way, just to make sure we are on the same page, we are talking about desiring the motorcycle, aren’t we?
Prayers of gratitude are often uttered by bikers as they realize their blessing at being able to ride through the astonishingly beautiful world we have. Prayers of thankfulness are soulfully felt, including the slow sideways shaking of the helmet at the hard to believe realization of one’s good fortune. All the religions I know about declare that you have done nothing to earn this privilege so feel humbled and fortunate, incredibly and eternally thankful. That old Danish philosopher Kierkegaard used to say that people relate to things of only relative importance (cars, money, homes etc.) as if they were of absolute importance and relate to absolute things (like God, loving others) as if they were only of relative importance. I know it’s a mistake that I often make. Being out on a bike in the silence and nature helps cure me of that, if only temporarily.
But not all bike rides are purely joyful. Sometimes in our lives we are going through what St John of the Cross called: The Dark Night of the Soul and if it only lasted one night we probably could knuckle down, put our kickstand up and ride through it. But if you’re like me these nights (and days) can go on seemingly forever, with no end in sight. That happened to me two years ago when my marriage of twenty five years fell apart and my life in Ireland started to crumble. I was completely disoriented, had emotional and spiritual vertigo and eventually moved back home to Georgia.The disorientation didn’t stop there. Sartre said: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” I was both dizzy and anxious.
The bike provided me with a way of spending time alone, wandering physically and spiritually that helped get me through this dark night. Family and friends, letting go, being in the moment, reflection and prayer saved me. And not the good old Irish prayer: “May the road rise up to meet you….!” No biker wants the road to rise up and meet them! That’s surely a way to get yourself on the Tree of Shame! Instead, new prayers came, new ways of looking at the world.
But sometimes the dark night, like the road can go on seemingly forever. You feel lost, adrift, and can’t see beyond the flotsam and jetsam of your past which is constantly floating around you, reminding you of what your life once was. Though it can be terrifying at the time there’s great value in being and feeling “lost” and I, and plenty others have written about it. It’s important to not give up hope for you will come out of it; you will find a new and better destination.
Barbara Brown Taylor says it perfectly:
“God puts out our lights to keep us safe, John says” (St John of the Cross), “because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.
Taylor, Barbara Brown (2014-04-08). Learning to Walk in the Dark (pp. 146-147). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.
Stay tuned for part two. Join me if you want to go for that ride. Kickstands up.