“Be still, and know that I am God.” ... Psalm 46:10 NIV
“I might be in trouble here,” is what I kept telling myself as my pace deteriorated toward the toppling-over point. I was on my road bike, climbing a hill, trying to get back to a hot shower and eventual recovery.
We were spending most of the week with great friends at Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Everyone else in the group was attending yoga classes, but being the contrarian that I am I was cycling instead. I brought my road bike – I don’t do enough mountain biking to survive the trails around Santa Fe without beating my body to pieces - hoping to squeeze in a couple of rides in decidedly different terrain and altitude than I get at home.
I started my first ride feeling great, full of myself, especially since the route dropped in altitude during the first mile. However, reality returned quickly, and I had to gain it all back in the second mile, already more elevation change than I accumulate in a month back home. Then a long descent between miles four and six, meaning no pedaling was required but vigilance encouraged. In situations like this I start working my breaks when speed approaches 35 mph; fast enough for someone like me. Later, my friend Wes asked if I saw the opera house while riding past, but of course I saw nothing but the white stripe in front of me. I was concentrating on not crashing.
The thing about long descents is you eventually have to climb back up the mountain to get back home. Which I did. It was hard, but I actually enjoyed the change of pace and effort. And climbing meant I was now moving slow enough to appreciate the forest surrounding me.
It was the last half mile that made me wonder if I was in trouble. I was barely moving up the hill, just fast enough to stay balanced but too slow to safely unclip from the pedals without fall sideways. I had no alternative but to keep pushing.
The road was a 7.6% grade, which might as well be vertical for a flatlander like me with 61-year-old legs and lungs. In the context of local cyclists who routinely ride up the Hyde Park Road, ten solid miles of climbing, including a mile stretch at 9% grade called “The Wall,” what I did wasn’t so impressive. I blamed my difficulty on inadequate bike gearing, but it was probably more a function of wimpy legs and lousy power-to-weight ratio. However, it was a great ride. It was hard enough to clear the cobwebs from my brain and create space for new insights, which of course, was my intent all along.
Later that same day, after recovering a bit, I sat about five rows from the altar in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe. To my left was a statue called La Conquistadora, which has resided at this location since 1626. I heard the docent pointing out the ceiling above the statue to a group of tourists: “It was built in 1715, before George Washington was born.” The current cathedral where I was sitting was completed and dedicated in 1887.
I must admit most of the statues and icons were a mystery to me. Catholicism is not the tradition that raised me. My life has been firmly Protestant and Baptist, where we intentionally shy away from physical representations of faith. I often wonder if we’re as noble as we think we are in that regard.
I like to come to this cathedral and be still, to feel the space, to soak in the silence, to slow down and let my brain floaters settle, and to listen and absorb the centuries of worship. Even though my own tradition and theology is significantly different from what is represented here, the object of our worship is the same for me as for the generations who’ve sat here before me.
I often wonder if we modern evangelicals put too much effort into making our worship centers as nonreligious as possible, with industrial grade flat black ceilings, offering no incentive to tilt our heads and follow the columns and vaults as they point upward. We miss the nobility of architecture that draws worshiper’s eyes and hearts toward heaven.
As much as I lean into the future, which is a core value for me, my spirit longs to tap into the ancient streams of faith, to follow the footsteps of generations, to feel the strength and power flowing through all those who’ve come before, to, as Aslan said, experience “a magic deeper still,” to sing what my new friend Matthew Clark called “an anthem born before the world began.”
Richard Rohr writes that change and growth must be programmed into our spirituality or we’ll end up worshiping the status quo. My hope is to disrupt daily patterns and open my heart to a fresh word from God, whether that that means being physically still and quiet in a large space steeped in history, or pushing myself up a hill on an unfamiliar road.
How about you? What have you done recently to clear the cobwebs and be still?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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