Day 72 Monday, September 19 Florence to Junction City, OR 71 miles
I made the decision to start heading east back into the Willamette Valley a couple of days ago. I have traveled along the coast all the way from Florence to Astoria in the years I have lived in Portland. Once I reached Florence yesterday I was anxious to see some new Oregon country that I had not yet seen. I chose a route to Junction City that added just a few miles, but got me off the beaten path and introduced me to some new roads. Did I ever make the right decision! I have a friend who cycles with me occasionally and I am looking forward to introducing her to this long, lonely, lovely stretch of serene road.
I actually didn’t anticipate getting into such a wonderful cycling rhythm today. My mind had turned to planning the best route just to get me home quickly and safely. After riding the first 15 miles through somewhat foggy conditions and a few spotty showers, I made the turn at Mapleton to Highway 36 and set my mind to making good time over the next 55 miles to Junction City. I wasn’t but a mile or two into this alternative route when I realized I had been given a gift. It was a lovely two lane road with a creek running alongside it. With only a few exceptions, the only vehicles I saw were a few service trucks supporting the occasional house along the stream. I stopped and picked ripe blackberries along the way and took a few minutes down by the stream enjoying the rippling waves and the peaceful atmosphere.
What I realized as I fell unexpectedly into this wonderful side route was that there is a unique combination of factors that make a route perfect riding for me. I do ride quite a bit in Portland, but I can say that most of the in-city riding is largely for the exercise itself. When I get onto sacred stretches like this the riding moves into a moving meditation. I had this many times on my trip—usually when I get onto the open road without distractions and when the difficulty of the riding isn’t so intense that all I can do is focus on the physicality of it. It is hard for me to explain what I experience. I enjoy other forms of meditation that are less physical and I find that I have to work hard to stay focused. When I fall into a certain rhythm on the bike the meditation literally enters me without even inviting it in. Too little exertion and my mind wanders. Too much physical exertion and it’s all I can think about. When the rhythm is just right I forget about my body, my mind quiets and I fall into a deep, empty, restful and healing place.
As I am nearing Portland and the end of this amazing personal pilgrimage my mind has turned to the question of “Now what?” It is the same question that my friend, Dave, relayed to me after another cyclist had traveled by tandem to the tip of Chile over 6 months and found himself asking “Now what?” I don’t feel completely at a loss. I think the wisest thing is for me to return home and discover what Eastminster has also learned in this time (they invited in ten different speakers—some churched, some not—to share their spiritual journeys). One of the things that has touched me tremendously is the number of people who have said that they have used this blog as part of their daily spiritual discipline. I have really just tried to share what I have experienced every day and I am both surprised and humbled that others find words for contemplation here. When I think about the question of “Now what” I do know one thing. I can’t imagine suddenly halting my writing and reflection on this when I arrive in Portland on Wednesday. It was never about the bike; it was about my own personal wrestling, struggling and reflecting on my life, my call, and my place in the Church in this time of transformation and change. The biking part will end, but the spiritual journey will continue. So for now I plan to continue to write for as long as I still have something to say. When the words run out, I’ll stop.
The second thing that I reminded myself was that we at Eastminster have been following a little motto in recent years that is simply, “Follow the energy.” It’s just another way of saying, “Listen to the Spirit.” I do wonder what the next step will be, but I do trust that whatever energy, whatever interest, whatever conversation this pilgrimage has stirred up is the path that we need to follow. At Eastminster we have faithfully followed this motto of “following the energy” and it has led us to wonderful new ministries. We have partnered with the community to open a 60-bed homeless shelter, broken ground on a large community garden, and established an adult education program that has brought together both church people and spiritual explorers. Will this lead to a thriving church community once again? Maybe, but if it does it won’t be church as we have ever known it. What I do know, however, is that as I return I feel secure that Eastminster and I are on the same page. I don’t know where this will go, but I do know that we have a made a commitment to “follow the energy” and in that I expect that much of my answer to the “Now what” will emerge from that.
It seems somehow appropriate that I will be meeting with a new colleague tomorrow who had read my post yesterday on “Letting go, letting go, letting go” and recognized herself and the issues that she and her Church has wrestled with. My sense is that many ministers are struggling with churches who are “holding on” but who really are ready to “let go” and think more about legacy than surviving. If nothing else, I do hope this pilgrimage can serve to open up that conversation and allow us to be more honest with each other and our congregations. On the other hand, maybe I am the only one, I am just making a grand fool of myself! It wouldn’t be the first time.