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This juncture of history…

Scott asked, “Do you have any advice for me going into ordained ministry at this juncture of history, culture and change?”  Here is my reply:

Scott,
That is such an important question. I find it difficult to answer as I do think it has to emerge out of one’s own personal discernment. But, I do think your awareness of entering ordination in this time of rich ferment and uncertainty is important. What I have had to wrestle with is that when I first answered ordination questions 22 years ago I did so with an image of what it meant to be a pastor in my home town where I grew up. Pastors were not only church leaders, but community leaders. My involvement in church was just one expression of a deeper community commitment including scouting, school leadership, sports, etc. To be a pastor was to be one of the spiritual leaders of the broader community.

Today, I find that to be a pastor is to be seen warily by the larger community and that our role is to pastor “the flock” or the religiously faithful.  It often seems limited to the people inside the church walls.  Granted, I have worked hard to buck this as I have become deeply involved city politics and planning, but there were barriers of trust to overcome first. I think the important thing, Scott, is to discern what your gifts and voice are and determine if the Church is where God is calling you. I am convinced that the Church, as we think of it, with its structures and polity, is just one slice of a much larger pie called the body of Christ. We have always affirmed that in our theology, but today there are more distinct lines between what we call the church and the society around us. When I was a child the two flowed easily between each other.  My particular call to ministry was a call to community leadership.  The culture shifted and the church is in survival mode and now I am fighting to hold onto my sense of call or learn to be at peace with a world that no longer exists.

I do think this time in which we live needs leaders who have deep integrity and fortitude. We are at this uncomfortable cusp of history where there is pressure to take care of an aging Church just as new forms of spirituality are being birthed. It feels very much like being part of the sandwich generation where an adult child is caring for an aging parent AND trying to nurture and nourish babies and young children. Both are in life stages where they are very “needy”. I find myself daily taking deep breaths as I try to walk with those who are letting go and share the energy and enthusiasm of those giving birth to something new.  If you can imagine a 35 year old who is watching her mother die while also being in her 8th month of pregnancy, that is how I often feel.  I think it is a reflection of the larger church culture you are entering.

Your journey may be very different than mine, but I hope that these questions and thoughts will be helpful! Peace, peace!

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Day 51   Monday, August 29   Austin to Middlegate Station, NV   64 miles

On to Carroll Summit

Plenty of time to anticipate Carroll Summit

Ah yes…images of leisure cropped up for me again today.  As I neared the second climb of the day I once again yearned for a wine country bike tour–5 miles, glass of cabernet, 5 more miles, a crisp chardonnay, repeat steps one and two as often as necessary.  The second image was being able to sit on my bed with a good novel.  I mailed my last one back home while in Ely and haven’t found a book store since.  Carson City is just two days away and a book is definitely on the agenda.  A third image has me looking forward to getting to the coast for the final leg of the tour where the ocean air will be a welcome prize for surviving the desert heat.

Carrol Summit

The lovely reward on the other side of the summit

I have nearly come out the other side of this particular wilderness.  It’s strange.  Physically, I feel fine.  Today I rode 64 miles with two moderately difficult climbs.  As I pulled into Middlegate Station (an old stage coach stop that hasn’t changed much) I felt like I could have gone another 25-30 miles without pushing myself too close to the edge.  I feel like I just get stronger every week.  It’s the mental fatigue that I feel today and, I think, began yesterday as I described that I just didn’t have much on my mind.  It was probably less a Zen moment than simple tiredness!

Nevada desert

A stark and reflective kind of beauty

Actually, I am sure the heat and the dry conditions are at the root of much of this.  It is one thing to wake up in the morning and prepare to ride next to a mountain stream all day.  It’s another thing to wake up and begin the routine of calculating food, water, time, wind conditions, heat and storms and trying to get to the next oasis before the conditions drain the last ounce of energy from you.

Middlegate Station

Middlegate Station where I am staying the night. Great hamburgers!

Tomorrow and Wednesday should be reasonably easy days.  Fallon is only 50 miles away and even though I could do more miles than that Carson City is another 60 miles beyond that.  The shorter days and arriving in two large towns with more services feels like a bit of a reprieve.  I said in an earlier post that each of the days on this “Loneliest Road in America” look doable, but it was the package of doing a number of days like this in a row that would be the challenge.  That has been the case.  It just wears one down one day at a time.  I am not begging mercy, by any means.  But, I do recognize the mental fatigue tonight even as my legs feel ready to go again.

Peter and the Camino

Meeting fellow cyclist and fellow pilgrim Peter at the International Cafe

In closing, the Camino de Santiago, a religious pilgrimage in Spain that dates back hundreds of years has come up a number of times.  One of my church members did a portion of it two years ago.  I stayed with a Warmshowers host who had completed it by bike recently.  One of the commenters to this site linked me in with a bike tour group that organizes bike pilgrimages on the Camino.  And this morning I met Peter in the same International Cafe in Austin who had completed it by bike a few years ago and has a certificate to show for it.

Open Range cow

The cows have been my special friends!

I have thought about what comes next after this pilgrimage.  Leading a group on the Camino de Santiago certainly has crossed my mind.  I just think how our spirituality these days is tied so intimatelywith idea of journey, openness and discovery.  This pilgrimage has convinced me that there is no substitute for the kind of depth, reflection, growth and connection that one discovers on the road.

For now, though, it is best I keep focused on this pilgrimage and let the next one unfold in its own time.  This pilgrimage is now calling for sleep.

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Day 50   Sunday, August 28   Eureka to Austin, NV   70 miles

I had sort of an empty and mindless day of riding today.  As I sit here on an overly soft bed (not complaining!) I can think of very little that I thought about or of any significant events while riding.  I have had so many momentous days that it was kind of refreshing for my mind to largely go blank for awhile.  I hear this is one of the goals of Buddhist meditation.  I clearly have a long ways to go.

Eureka courthouse

The historic courthouse in Eureka

I spent a leisurely morning taking a few pictures of downtown Eureka after having an exceptionally good breakfast at the Owl Cafe across from the motel.  I wasn’t anticipating a difficult day of riding as the first 40+ miles were expected to be fairly flat.  I knew that the ride was going to end with a false summit climb of 1600 feet followed by another 500 feet after a short descent.

Eureka to Austin

How the day looked between Eureka and Austin, NV

The descent was much steeper than I had expected and although it wasn’t especially long (about 11 miles) I had to dig deep.  By the time I arrived in Austin 90 minutes later my stomach didn’t feel right.  I recognized the feeling.  It’s the same feeling an athlete gets when running wind sprints going into the anaerobic mode and exceeding your oxygen intake.  It took most of the evening to recover and get my stomach settled back down again.

International Cafe

The International Cafe where religion, truth, spirituality and life was the topic

The real energy of the day took place at the restaurant where I consumed a small tasty pizza loaded with vegetables.  I ended up in three separate conversations about religion, rituals, knowledge, gnosticsism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, absolute truth, and belief.  I talked with Bonnie who worked in the restaurant. She described herself as an agnostic and shared with me that some of her best conversations come with her friend, the minister.  Then Mikey had stopped in with his friend on the way to Burning Man and we talked about the need for rituals and rites of passages in our lives.  I asked him about Burning Man and he described what it is that attracts him to this growing annual community ceremony.

The last of these three conversations was with Eric and Kent where we talked the evening away on the open deck in front of the restaurant.  Kent is an emergency room doctor who also teaches science of the mind and philosophy at the University of Colorado.  Eric runs a dog walking business in San Francisco and lives near family in Austin, TX.  The three of us explored a number of topics and really honed in for a time on the decline of institutional Christianity and the new questions and realities facing today’s people and culture.

I cannot share all that was shared in the three conversations, but I can share the message I am hearing in meeting with people all along my route.  The message is clear: “It’s all about conversation and dialogue right now!”  This is where the energy is.  What I find is that people are wary of certainty and aren’t even looking for it.  I am not finding people looking for the “one right answer”.  There is more a spirit of exploring, reflecting, contemplating, sharing and questioning.

I am finding that when I share that I am out listening for the story of the shift from institutional religion to personal spirituality, people start to share their story, their background, and their values and beliefs.  I cannot tell you what is happening or what all of this means.  What I can tell you is that there is energy in just allowing for and engaging in the conversation.  Eastninster, where I serve as pastor, has as its unofficial motto these days, “Follow the energy”.  I am convinced that the future of Christian spiritual community will not be in getting the answers right, but in providing a safe, nurturing place for people explore the questions together in community.

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Mac commented on my original post (Church of Ambiguity) about where I see the ecumenical and fundamentalist movements regarding where the Church is going in the future.  His questions exposed the fact that my primary audience when I am writing is to the mainline church and the children and grandchildren who largely left the institution for more individually-crafted spiritual values and activities.

Althought this is a more specific audience I do have some very strong feelings about where we fit in the larger context of the movement and evolution of our religious traditions.  In a word, I believe it comes down to how all of us individually and corporately make sense of the new global, pluralistic and multicultural world in which we live.  I think this new reality has essentially forced us into a fork in the road choice where there isn’t much middle ground.

In the Christian tradition I have primarily heard people voice this dilemma by asking the question,“If Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through me where does that leave people like Gandhi who followed the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, but who remained a practicing Hindu throughout his life?”  The question forces one to re-evaluate what truth is.  One can either hold fast to the belief that “truth is truth” and despite Gandhi being a pretty good human being it doesn’t change the fact that the inerrant, infallible Word of God seems to reject Gandhi in the eternal book of life.  One can also look at our pluralistic, richly diverse world and reject the claims of the Bible as being irrational, overly narrow and archaic in their worldview.

A third alternative is the one that I think that history will eventually ordain as the primary and accepted version of truth.  That is that all cultures develop myths, stories, rituals and traditions to define who they are, establish boundaries of community identity, and develop a meaningful rhythm to the stages of life.  This is the approach adopted by Joseph Campbell in “The Power of Myth” series where Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers in the late 80’s.  Self-proclaimed atheist, David, posted that religions are basically a creation of humans to meet our needs rather than a creation by God.  This agnostic Christian, namely me, subscribes to the same view.  We are th source of religion even though our object is God or the divine or the sacred.

A good example of how our perception of truth is shifting might be to highlight the tradition of a family.  A family could develop a tradition that they believe honors the best of what God wants for them.  Every Thanksgiving the whole extended family meets in a cabin at Lake Tahoe.  The family has been doing this now for three full generations.  This annual ritual defines them as a family.  It provides a connecting point that strengthens the bonds of the family every year.  At the annual Thanksgiving retreat new family members are welcomed and those who have died are honored.

In a fundamentalist worldview, the family would assume, because they heard this voice from God, that they believe all families should also schedule annual retreats to Lake Tahoe.  They might even go so far as to write up a schedule of activities and prayers that they believe will help other families carry out the intent of the retreat to deepen family bonds.  The fundamentalist finds deep meaning in their tradition and assumes that all people should adopt and pattern their lives in the same way if they want to honor God appropriately.

The religious pluralist accepts that their family tradition is just that.  It is THEIR family tradition.  The pluralist makes the distinction between the forms of connection, love and identity and the underlying values.  The pluralist does believe there are absolutes.  People and cultures need ways to define who they are.  They need stories and rituals that express their connection to each other and the world around them.  Where the pluralist and the fundamentalist differ is that the pluralist will have no problem if another family chooses to accomplish the same need for connection and love by joining together for Sunday dinner every week.

Fundamentalism makes the form absolute rather than the underlying values absolute.  I do think that fundamentalism will be shortlived.  Unfortunately, in historical terms short-lived may still outlive our lives and our time.  I also think, as we have seen, that the retrenchment of fundamentalism will lead to ongoing violence until it takes its last gasp of breath.  This new global, pluralistic and multicultural world has had the effect of making religious fundamentalists feel like a trapped snake.  I don’t mean to associate fundamentalists with snakes because I know many who are very sincere and are  trying to make sense of this new world without losing the faith that has been the ground of their security and life.  But, I do think the more our pluralistic world becomes our new reality, the more feisty those who represent fundamentalism will become.  I don’t think fundamentalism can push back the floodtides of pluralistic thinking.  It is where life is going.  They can, however, make make the process rather uncomfortable until the water completely settles.

The reason I have directed my comments at mainline Protestant Christianity is 1) because that’s the community I am part of and serve, and 2) because I think the ongoing decline of our denomination and churches is directly tied to our unwillingness to make a decision.  We have been frozen in our tracks at the post-modern fork in the road.  The reason is actually a very practical one.  Our churches have largely been made up of the moderate center of the community.  Our members themselves are torn on whether to go to the left or the right at this fork.  Either one represents a potential split in a community.  Will we lean to the right and take a stand that “truth is truth” no matter how much the world changes?  Or will we lean to the left and admit that our truth is just that–OUR truth and can’t be superimposed on another people or culture?  What pastor is going to demand that a congregation choose one or the other if it means Mrs. Smith will quit pledging or the Newsom family is going to take their children someplace else?  Pastors have to live too and what pastor is going to push an agenda that could very well risk his or her job?

And so we focus on keeping the people of our particular church happy by tip-toeing around the central question of our time: “How will you define truth in this postmodern, global, pluralistic, and multicultural world?”  The problem is this.  Tip-toeing may keep the people in the pews happy, but their children and grandchildren already know which way they have chosen at this fork in the road.  It has become a litmus test of looking for a spiritual community.  Do you stand for the unchanging truth of the Bible or do you understand truth in a new pluralistic world that honors many faces of the one truth?  If you want to reach today’s people you have to know where you stand on that question.   The bulk of our mainline congregations have largely tried to stand in the middle on this one in order to hold onto the people we still have.  In the end it will be the death of us.

“The Church of Ambiguity” is an invitation to the church to choose the path to the left and recognize that we live in a world with many faces of truth.  God is bigger than Presbyterians, bigger than Christians, bigger than religion itself.  There is a fork in the road and our children and grandchildren knew well enough to make a choice.  We mainliners got caught offguard like a deer in headlights and still don’t know what hit us.  Paralyzed we stand at the postmodern fork in the road and are too scared to step in either direction.

Postmodernism is the question.  Religious fundamentalism is one answer.  Religious pluralism is another answer.  I think history will prove that God is a pluralist.  I am betting my pastor’s salary on it!

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Day 34   Friday, August 12   Loveland to Estes Park, CO   40 miles

First things first…HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHIL!  My son turned 25 today and it is the first birthday of his that I have missed.  He was on my mind as I rode through my old stomping grounds and training routes.

Highway 34

Riding my bike on Highway 34 to Estes Park just like I used to

The road from Loveland to Estes Park was a special delight today.  It was a route my racing partner and I regularly trained on when we were cycling in the early 80’s.  It was fun to recall the hills that we would anticipate and push each other by seeing who could outgun the other.  Keith tended to win on the longer steeper climbs. I tended to outrace him on the shorter hills that required more strength and less endurance.  I digress…that was a long time ago!

Mel and Betty

Leaving Dave's parent's house in Loveland. Thanks, Mel and Betty!

I left Loveland with a good deal of nervousness this morning.  Something about turning the corner and heading west left me reflecting on the totality of the pilgrimage remaining.  On prior days I was able to focus more on the day before me and not worry about how many miles were left.  I also know that I have to be mentally ready for the climb up Trail Ridge Road.  It is one of those places that you don’t say, “Well, I’ll just see how far I get and then stop for the night.”  You either make the commitment to get over the top or you turn around and make another attempt the next day.

North Fork of Big Thompson

Riding up the North Fork of the Big Thompson River

Tonight I had a little lesson in the discipline of keeping my diet and fluids monitored.  Halfway into the ride I was having problems catching my breath.  Granted, I climbed about 3500 feet before descending into Estes Park.  But, I have been at this elevation now since entering Montana almost three weeks ago.  It didn’t make sense to me that I would suddenly be suffering from altitude sickness.

I arrived in Estes not feeling quite right.  I was in a bit of a hazy zone in my head and I simply was not able to get a full breath.  I felt like I was short 10-20% on each breath.  Knowing what faced me tomorrow I was a little concerned.  If I was feeling this way at 7000 feet how would I be feeling at 12,000 feet?

Close to Estes

Descending into Estes Park with stunning rock formations

I needed to be eating, but I just wasn’t hungry.  I did continue to drink water, but with little effect.  I decided that the best thing I could do was to listen to the subtle cues from my body and not worry about how much I should be eating prior to the climb tomorrow.  I started with a large fruit smoothie and continued to drink water.  I laid down in the park and felt weak enough that I could sleep right there.  After resting for awhile I still couldn’t fathom putting a full meal in my stomach.  I wandered around town trying to decide if and where I could eat.  It wasn’t until I spotted a sushi bar that I found something I could digest.  There I discovered why I wasn’t feeling quite right.  The rich miso soup was hitting the spot.  Then I quickly gobbled the small salad that came with the sushi.  I kept having to ask the waitress to bring more water in addition to the Sapporo beer.

Estes Park

Looking toward Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park

I had become dehydrated and low on electrolytes.  My appetite for fruits and vegetables told me that.  I had taken two days off and allowed myself to return to a less disciplined diet.  I had so many things to do and people I wanted to see that food and drink took a back seat.  Bad decision!  In this altitude, in this heat, and with the amount of climbing that I will be doing I will need to be more disciplined.  Lesson learned.  I am recovering well tonight and we’ll see if there are any lingering effects from letting down my guard for a couple of days.

Mountains above Estes

The mountains just to the south of Estes Park

That aside I am in one of the most stunning places not only in the state of Colorado, but on this planet, as far as I am concerned.  Estes Park is a recreational magnet as it sits at the entrance to Rocky Mountain Park.  People come here to hike, backpack, kayak, fish, bike, camp, rock climb and experience the awesome granite mountains.  It is special place even if you didn’t grow up here.

P.S.  The sniffles and sinus pressure just started while I was posting this.  Could my diagnosis be wrong?

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Day 30   Monday, August 8   Medicine Bow to Laramie, WY   60 miles
The Virginian

Departing the famous Virginian Hotel this morning. Now there's character!

This may be a little too nerdy for some of you, but I want to describe just how easy this day was.  Do you remember when I posted about riding along the Salmon River out of Stanley for over 80 miles?  I followed the river downstream and enjoyed what felt like an extended “Sunday drive” in the country with little effort.  That day I averaged 16.4 mph.  Today I averaged 16.7 mph and I actually gained 700 feet in elevation.  What gives?  Believe me, it wasn’t that I suddenly garnered super-human strength.  Wind!  Lots of wind!  And it was all going my way!  There is really nothing else to report except that I sailed along effortlessly for 4 hours and arrived in Laramie in fresh condition.

Carol in Rock River

Carol and I had a good conversation on religion and diversity of views

This gives me a chance to reflect on one of the conversations I had today. I stopped for a quick cold drink in the little town of Rock River and there met Carol at the counter of the convenience store.  We got into sharing snake stories and made a segway into religion.  I wasn’t sure if I negotiated that or she did, but we ended up there.  Carol is a member of the Religious Science community.  She was very clear that that wasn’t Christian Science or Scientologists!  She said one very important thing in our conversation about “all anyone has is their own perspective which is why we have so many interpretations of the Bible”.  She added that because we all have different backgrounds and unique personalities we can’t help but to see these differently.  This is very close to something I have been saying in recent years.  “We can only come to a text or a story through the lens of our own lives and experience.  There is no one right way to see things.”

Holy Bible billboard

If only it were that simple and easy!

Yesterday I passed by a sign promoting the Holy Bible as being “inspired, absolute and final”.  I am really a bad person because I couldn’t help but to capture the irony that right next to it was a road sign that said, “Wrong Way”.  It said it for me.  My conversation with Carol and this billboard represent the widening gap that is happening in the world of Christianity.  Isn’t it interesting that I can make a soul connection with some motorcyclists who have committed to serve the community and don’t go to church while being critical of a Christian billboard?  But, that is the nature of things today.

Carol only goes to church occasionally, but has a healthy appetite for religious literature.  I couldn’t keep up with all the names of writers of religious and philosophical works that she was quoting.  But, what makes her an example of our modern age is that she was keenly aware that her reading and her exploration was about following HER path, not THE path.  She was glad to share with me her passion and her insight, but she in no way felt compelled to sway me to toward Religious Science.  She was just sharing the beliefs that were important to her.

The billboard on the other hand was making an objective claim that the Bible is inspired by God, the absolute truth, and is the final word on all things material and spiritual.  “Accept it for eternal salvation or reject it at your own peril,” it seems to proclaim.

Rock formation

Just another day along the road...endless beauty

Look, I am a serious student of the Bible.  My sarcasm is not directed at the Bible.  It is a rich resource and a window into the lives of poeple thousands of years ago who were asking questions about what it meant to be faithful, how they should treat each other, and what the ultimate meaning and source of life is.  It’s lovely stuff, even if it can be confusing and troubling at times.  My sarcasm is directed at the lack of intellectual integrity that this billboard and the assumptions behind it portray.

I have not called the number on the billboard.  But, if I did I would want to ask, “Which version of the Holy Bible do you consider inspired, absolute and final?  Is it the narratives the early Christians used before canonization in the fourth century?  Is it the Bible that was canonized 400 years after Jesus life?  Is it the Protestant Bible that removed the Apocrypha from the Catholic Bible?  And what about translations–KJV, NIV, NRSV, Good News, etc.?

Carol is on to something.  All we can have is our own perspective because we are shaped by our backgrounds, cultures, and personalities.  I say it only slightly differently.  We can only see the world through the lens of our own lives and experiences.  Is it just coincidence that people in the West see the Bible as true and people in the Middle East see the Quran as true? 

Alkali

A drying alkili lake

Carol and I talked about how many of our Christian friends think we are going to hell for our more tolerant (they might say wishy-washy)views and lifestyles.  She has a friend who has decided that when that time comes she doesn’t really want to be in heaven where everyone has an aura of righteousness about them and is all buttoned down.  She decided she would rather be in hell calling bingo numbers!

Kennedy and Evan

Kennedy and Evan--Warmshower hosts in Laramie

American Christianity is definitely at a crossroads.  No longer can Christians assume they have something in common with other Christians just by name.  I am sorry that it has come to this, but I have more in common with Religious Scientist, Carol, with motorcyclists Gary and Glenn, and with Warmshower hosts who have picked up the old mantle of Christian hospitality.

I have now traveled over 1600 miles of diverse and rich landscapes–mountain passes, dry deserts, rainy forests, and endless wheatfields.  All of it has felt infused with the spirit and pulse of God. Why should it be any different with people?

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Day 29   Sunday, August 7   Casper to Medicine Bow, WY   94 miles

 

Wyoming prairie

Riding through the Wyoming prairie

There was a moment today when I slowed down to take in the view of the endless miles of soft green prairie.  With the exception of the occasional car I had ridden myself completely out of civilization.  On all four sides stretching for dozens of miles each way there was not a single building—just a lonely road splitting the prairie land in half.  I began to softly cry.  I don’t know where it came from except that I began to feel this immense amount of grace in my life.  I feel like I should have felt lonely.  I certainly knew not to linger too long out in that magnificent vastness as the night would have unnerved me.  I didn’t feel abandoned, but rather a deep sense of belonging.  I stood there alone, but I knew that I was not alone.

Kathy

Yes, she's a nut! This surprise visit became a gift I didn't know I wanted.

I think this was partly brought on by the surprise visit of one of my Colorado friends who drove 150 miles to surprise me with a cold Coke and a few other goodies. Yes, she is a bit of a nut! Had she done this during the first couple of weeks I would have been annoyed as I found myself sinking into a deep, personal solitude.  But, as my post on Saturday indicated, I have been finding myself moving out of the solitude gradually and slowly re-entering the world (I even have the TV turned on for the first time in four weeks—PBS, of course—I still wouldn’t be able to handle the rest of the dribble.)  Part of what happened with Kathy’s roadside visit is that I had an initial internal reaction of “You can’t do this!  This is a  pilgrimage!”  As I rode on I realized had a stranger stopped me and said I heard about your pilgrimage and wanted to offer some cold drinks and cookies I would have seen it as a God-moment and certainly would have written a whole post about it.  I was struck by the contradiction of why I would accept gifts from a stranger, but not family or friends.

Wyoming terrain

There is just so much beauty in so many forms

This pilgrimage is a microcosm and a mirror of my larger life and I am realizing that it left me with some important questions:  “Why do I feel like I need to do this all alone?”  “Why doI  have such a hard time asking for help?”  “Why do I expect myself to be there for others, but won’t ask others to be there for me?”  “Could it be that I am not as alone as I have assumed?”  Those questions will be percolating in coming days for sure.  Tuesday I should be in Loveland (cool name, huh?) where many of the assumptions underlying these questions were formed.  I will have a chance to look into the mirror of my subconscious life.

Outside Casper

Glad to stop for a picture rather than fight the wind!

The ride itself today was a mixture of many graceful moments and many miles of punishing riding.  I anticipated that it would be a challenging day.  The route from Casper to Medicine Bow is 90 miles, gains an elevation of 1500 feet, has only one rest stop with water, and promises head winds for much of the distance.  I began the day climbing out of Casper into a headwind and I was already wondering whether I could get all the way to Medicine Bow twenty miles in.  I planned enough water for 70 miles and worried in the back of my mind that the rest stop wouldn’t be there leaving me dry for a final stretch.  Thankfully, the rest stop was at mile 50 and I filled up with cold water.

The best part of the ride followed.  I went through an expansive valley that felt like I was riding through brushed corduroy.  Despite the harshness of the environment there was a softness in this valley with sparse green grasses blanketing the entire valley.  It is not the lush green of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but riding in the midst of this sea of tannish green grasses was therapeutic, almost hypnotic.

Rattesnake

One picture was all he had patience for!

The highlight of the afternoon was startling a magnificent rattlesnake on the side of the road.  Just as I passed, his rattle went off and I recognized it immediately–it has a way of making one’s spine shiver.  I looked down just as I passed him just three or four feet away.  I quickly checked traffic and made a U-turn hoping I could get a picture of this lovely snake.  He was still there warning me not to come too close, but also hadn’t coiled into his defensive, biting stance.  This was a big snake—6 feet long and about 3 inches in diameter!  He was just beautiful and unnerving at the same time.  I rode away with my heart full from this chance encounter.  Of course, I also found myself scanning the roadside a little more carefully after that!

Wind turbines

Even the turbines had a feeling of grace as they and the wind played in the afternoon

The wind turbines scattered throughout the second half of the ride were like riding in the middle of an art canvas.  They reminded me of Christo’s landscape art, but on a much grander scale.  Sometimes the turbines were set against the late evening sun as their arms rotated together in rhythm.  And something about seeing the dozens of them on the horizon spinning away just deepened the feeling of gratitude I was feeling.  I can’t explain it, but I felt like I had been the only person invited to witness a new creation.  I realized that occasional cars speeding along at 75 mph couldn’t be having the same experience.  I got to see a snake and they didn’t!

Tonight my legs feel like mashed potatoes.  But my heart is full of grace.  Something is starting to shift.  I am alone, but I don’t feel abandoned or lonely.  This is new for me.

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