A physical form of piety


Our bikes were packed, ready for a 70-mile ride through Oregon’s Willamette Valley when Joe motioned for us to sit beside him on the edge of the bed in our motel room. He was holding a water blotched set of papers, with prayers, hymns, and religious readings and clearly expected Guy and me to join him in a religious exercise before we mounted our loaded bicycles for a much more physical form of piety.

Joe and Guy had been doing this since the beginning of their cross-country trip two and a half months earlier and were familiar with the routine. Because this was my first (and only) day to ride with them, the routine surprised me.

But only a little, because Joe was using a booklet that I had drafted in 1979 for use on the first week-long cycling event that I had conducted under the sponsorship of the seminary where I taught. Joe had ridden on four of these and had been joined on some of them by his wife Ellen and on successive years by infant daughter Teresa and infant son Noah.

I had first known Joe and Ellen when they were doing their theological studies at the seminary, and the friendship continued when they became pastors of a church in Indianapolis where the seminary was located.

In later years, Joe and another seminary student now graduated and serving as pastor had been co-leaders of similar programs for teens. Rick and his wife René and daughter Erica had also ridden with me on one of the events. Joe and Rick adapted the devotional guides we had used and they became part of the fabric of bicycle-enhanced youth activities in years when I was no longer conducting religiously oriented tours for teens and adults.

Over the years, Joe and Rick have taken self-contained bike trips together as part of their vacations or sabbatical leaves.

The title I gave these events was “Spiritual Journey for Modern Pilgrims: Religious Quest on Bicycles.” The religious tone was suggested by one of the spiritual exercises I prepared for use that first year: “Devotions at a Place of Pilgrimage.”

1. The Blessing of God

Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, from age to age you are God.

2. The Remembrance of God’s Self-Revelation

Eternal Spirit of the universe, in all times and places you have revealed yourself through the lives of faithful people. Despite uncertainties and fears, frailties and temptations, and the alluring pleasures of this world, they have heard your call, answered in trustful obedience, and followed you wherever you have led them. By their example teach us obedience, courage, faithfulness, and hope.

Especially do we praise you for the people and events commemorated at this place of pilgrimage and prayer. (And here it is appropriate to meditate upon these persons and events, remembering them and naming once again ways in which they reveal God to us.)

One and eternal God of time and space, be present here, that all who call upon you in faith believing may know the power of your presence. Through Jesus Christ, your eternal Word, who is the source of life. Amen.

3. The Presentation of Ourselves to God

Inspired by God’s self-revelation, we dare to meditate upon our own lives, acknowledging our sin, asking God’s forgiveness, and renewing our baptismal vows of faithfulness. [Five reflective exercises were in the booklet, one of which follows.]

Learning to Be Content—Philippians 4:11-13

“I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” [Then follows:] Meditations offered silently to God: +++The contrast between contentment and the discontent that so often characterizes life; +++The dangers of resignation and despondency; +++The positive power of adaptability to the circumstances of life.

4. A Concluding Meditation

Helper of all persons: I need strength, humility, courage, patience: strength to control my passions; humility to assess my worth, courage to rise above defeats, patience to cleanse myself of my imperfections; and the wisdom to learn and to live by the teachings of my heritage. Let me not be discouraged, O God, by my failings; let me take heart from all that is good and noble in my character. Keep me from falling victim to cynicism. Teach me sincerity and enthusiasm. Endow me with the courage to proclaim your name, to serve you by helping to bring nearer the day when all humanity will be one family. O God, be my guide and inspiration.

As we moved our loaded bikes into the cool morning air, Guy said quietly that this cross-country bike trip was a deeply spiritual experience. While the prayers we had said together had prompted his comment, his continuing conversation made it clear that he had much more in mind. More on that some other time.

5 Responses to A physical form of piety

  1. Sharon says:

    So glad that you got this day together!

  2. arloduba says:

    Dear Keith,

    I copied your “A physical form of piety” and Doreen and I will be using it tomorrow morning. Our physicality is gardening, and it fits quite well I think.

    With gratitude for the blessing,


    • Arlo: I’m glad that these prayers from so long ago continue to serve as a framework for life with God. One of the activities I sometimes think about but never seem to accomplish is to gather materials like this together in a single document. May the blessings of a faithful life continue with you and Doreen. Keith

  3. Joe Culpepper says:

    Thanks Keith. Well done! Did I tell you that we used the Devotions at a Place of Pilgrimage after visiting Gethsamane Abbey & at several other places where we visited historic sites with importance for our nation’scultural & religious history?

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