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Cycling metaphors for Advent

This week's blog post has been written by University Chaplain, Revd Harriet Harris.

Background note: Advent is traditionally a time of fasting and preparation for the twelve days of feasting that are Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.

Having mused in a previous blog on what cycling can teach us about life, I’ve arrived in Advent, still on the bike. Advent has huge themes - ‘the four last things’ (death, judgement, hell and heaven); preparation; vigilance; hope -  and Winter bike rides can echo their pain and glory. Here, then, are some cycling metaphors for Advent.

Avoiding the lesser evil, only to plunge into the greater one

Thankfully, I have no picture of this! I avoided the evil of a muddy puddle, only to plunge down an embankment too slippery for my brakes to gain traction, and crashed into a fence and prickly bush with my bike on top of me. I was not much hurt, and in retrospect it is very funny.

What are its parallels? Have the vaccination – the lesser evil – in order to avoid the greater evil of the full-blown disease. Endure the quarantine, to avoid contagion. Accept the discomfort of confronting a wrong, to avoid it becoming an outrage. Address the point of conflict, else you will be at war within yourself. I’m sure we can all think of examples, once we start playing this game!

 

Potholes

Winter bike rides can have glorious views, whether on a cold, bright day, or a day shrouded in cloudy haze. Tempting as it is to soak up these views, we also have to look down, especially on the Lothian roads!

We might have got into a cycling Zen, happily moseying along, when there comes a reckoning. Potholes or indecorous lumps of tarmac can throw us off. Piles of gravel dumped on the road waiting for the weight of cars to ‘roll’ them into the surface, are skidding grounds for cyclists.

These reckonings cause us to be vigilant. One of the Advent themes is that Jesus will come like a thief in the night, catching us unawares. The rough patches in the road might be the seemingly small thing that started a pandemic, or a sign of our changing climate, or the final straw that unleashed the Me Too movement, or the opening up of the cavernous ruptures that expose racism, child labour, human trafficking. Don’t ignore them; watch out for them.

Advent calls us to vigilance, but also has us look to the horizon and beyond – take heed, take responsibility, and ride gloriously.

 

Cyclists
The cyclist peloton in the rain during the 13th stage of the 2009 Tour de France, by roblisameehan, source Wiki Commons

Peloton

Thankfully, facing life’s challenges is not a solo affair. When we think that it is, we are in a kind of hell; what C.S Lewis called ‘The dungeon of [our] own mind’. We can be trapped obsessing about our own worries, or overwhelmed by the world’s woes because we don’t know how to address them.

We live in a very individualised culture, that celebrates individuals more than we notice the group effort. The reality is that we never truly achieve anything on our own. Even cyclists who circle the world in improbably short times are not unsupported, and lone-Channel swimmers have whole teams behind them.

The cycling peloton is a model of teamwork, with riders taking it in turns to lead and shoulder the worst of the winds, while others sit in the slipstream to catch some reprieve.

None of us alone can heal the legacy of racism, or curb climate change, so we need to find each other. None of us alone can remedy our isolation. That happens through connection. We can start small, by asking for help with one thing this week. And by offering help with another.

 

Norwegian Christmas tree
Arriving at Christmas 1947, after cooperation and solidarity during the long dark years of WW2, the giving of a Christmas tree ‘by the City of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45’. A tree has been given annually since 1947. Source of photo, Wiki Commons.

Spean Bridge

This metaphor will only make sense to the people on this particular ride, so you need to hear the story. A group cycling from Inverness to Glasgow on the wettest October day since records began, stop for what they hope will be a hearty meal at Spean Bridge. This is the Highlands, so watering holes are tens of miles apart. Unfortunately, they arrive after the chippy has closed, and the best they are offered are cups of coffee from the nearby Co-op, which they drink with the sandwiches they’ve been carrying. Exhausted and near-frozen, they make do. Having marginally warmed-up, they get back on their bikes in their still wet gear, to continue their horripilating ride. 300 metres down the road see a teaming café full of food and jollity, by which time they decide it’s too late for another stop!

Look further down the road. Journey on, and you’ll find the feast. And when you find it, join in!

P.S. A prize will be given to the first to email me, spotting the new word I’ve learned this week! H.harris@ed.ac.uk