by Laura Everett
Eerdmans, 201 pages
Reviewed by Ken Evers-Hood
I once heard Bob Dykstra at Princeton Theological Seminary discuss a lecture he heard by Barbara McClintock, Nobel laureate for her work in cellular genetics. He shared that McClintock somehow made a lecture on corn fascinating, leading him to a realization I have never forgotten: interested people are interesting people. When you are around an interested and engaged person, you don’t have to share her particular interest to be carried away by her enthusiasm.
I am not a cyclist, but because Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, rider of Clergy Bike and knitter of things, is one of the most passionate, engaged, interested and, hence, interesting people you will ever meet, I soon realized “Holy Spokes” would entice me along for the ride anyway.
The book is brilliantly conceived. In each chapter, Everett takes an insight from Brother Lawrence and a bike part, and then meditates on what spiritual wisdom this particular aspect of the bike might have to offer us. She connects brakes with our human limitations; gears with pacing ourselves; and helmets with our creative particularity. In my favorite chapter, she writes about the bike saddle and the importance of endurance. As Brother Lawrence reminds people of faith to acknowledge suffering, Everett teaches us one of the most important aspects of riding – and the life of faith – is simply staying in the saddle, even when it hurts. She encourages us to stay in the saddle when it hurts us physically and, more importantly, when we see more of our neighbors’ pain than we do when speeding past in a car. In gorgeous prose she writes: “This is the spiritual discipline of the bike: Look. Stay. Do not look away. Do not take a different route. Do not cross to the other side of the road. Accompany your neighbors in their suffering. See as you wish to be seen.”
Fantastic for personal, devotional reading, “Holy Spokes” would also make a great topic for adult education. The chapters are generally short, and Everett’s engaging writing has that rare gift of being hilarious at one moment and deeply poignant the next. I know of one pastor, David Weeks, who has already led a sermon series based on “Holy Spokes,” filling the chancel with various bikes. Everett also includes liturgies for blessing bicycles and for holding a ghost bike service.
This book changed the way I see the world. I travel to Durham, North Carolina, three times a year to serve as a mentor at Duke Divinity School. Last May I was heading towards campus, and my gaze was arrested by a white apparition: a ghost bike, a memorial dedicated to a fallen rider. I had driven past that ghost bike for years, and yet I never noticed it. After reading this book, not only did I notice this memorial, but like Moses, I felt compelled to turn aside and take a closer look. I learned it memorialized the life of Kent Winberry who lost his life in October of 2014. I prayed for him, for his friends and family and for the Durham cycling community. I also gave thanks for Everett, because her fierce, robustly vulnerable and unwavering commitment to seeing God’s world have helped opened my eyes, too.
Ken Evers-Hood is pastor of Tualatin Presbyterian Church just outside of Portland, Oregon, and author of “The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church.”