The Sacrament of Cycling
for Nat, turning seven
The tacit knowledge of a stride begins in the thigh, the four muscles of the quadriceps gathering, calling to the bend of the knee, tendons tightening, outstretching the calf, the ankle stiffening to encounter the unknown, fine bones of the foot splaying as they receive the shock of the ground’s kiss; the final lingering toe. The whole leaps and lands. Never thinking that perhaps the foot will this time miss and tumble its passenger into the earth’s embrace. And every time it does not so, in every place, finding something indescribably new. Every footfall, the first time this step has been taken, this risk wagered and won. This, the stride, is what adventures are made of.
The length of my stride is 75 centimetres, give or take. Over broken ground it’s less. But when I take this same armature of movement and exert it upon the peddle of a bicycle, the stride mounts up upon the soul of the world and finds its own lover. On a bike, a step can take you metres. If you’re well positioned at the top of a favourable incline it might take you thousands of times that far. It will take you thoroughly away, and then, tired and sated, it may bring you home.
I love riding with you down the big hill on the way home from school. The anticipation of gathering speed, daring ourselves not to brake too soon. Heart and guts leaping. The sounds of the wind, buzz of the freewheel, rubber snicking the road. Relaxing our grip on the brakes is the release for you from the strictures of school; for me, of the performance of too many roles. It’s inconceivable not to whoop and holler. Then intimacy of inertia giving the tightest of embraces as we swerve around the bend at the bottom. I hope that one day you’ll feel that hug and think of your Father.
At first the bicycle appears a trick: something for nothing—that for less effort you can go further and faster. But it isn’t a trick. It’s the deep rules of the universe.
Not the rules of Newton though. His physics will tell you that everything is constrained by the law that nothing is lost and nothing gained. The bicycle works by the application of leverage and force, the management of friction, redistribution of energies across a simple system. Look! It can be written in symbols. But watch out, my son, for mathematical representation! It always stands at a level of abstraction, a model that is as blind as it is revelatory.
The physics of grace is more true, more obvious, and less often seen by your friends. The universe contains an infinite amount of More. Always it waits for the hand outstretched to receive, the foot descending to discover. From nothing we came, and now we drink the strong, clear, free, water of life. We knew nothing, and God has given us words. All your life you have experienced this abundance. Always he gives us what we did not earn. He laid the foundations of the world on the beams of his grace. So, when you push upon the door, it opens to reveal more than you could possibly imagine. When you push upon the pedals, it carries you further than you deserve.
The gracefulness of a bicycle belongs to a world only penultimately ruled by entropy—where the wheel turns to resurrections. Be generous, boy. There is no need to be afraid of scarcity when there are bicycles.