For the Love of the Ride

So excited you can hardly sleep. Will your alarm go off? Does it matter? You will probably wake up before it goes off anyway because of the eagerness. You’re anticipating the first “real” mountain bike ride of the season. Sure, you have ridden a few little short rides on local trails that contain no technicality, but this ride is “real” because it will be hard. You realize that the pain, suffering, and work are truly what make a ride epic. The only race you face is getting all your stuff together in time so your teammates don’t leave without you. Did you start riding to race – no! You started riding because it was fun and this ride is all about having fun.

Gears? Single speed? 29er? 26er? Rigid? Hardtail? Full-suspension? Cross country? All-mountain? Who cares!? No one cares what you are riding, as long as you are having fun. You all cram into one suburban – never thought it would be possible to fit six men with all their gear and six bikes into one vehicle, but you all made it happen.

During the drive there you all talk about life. Work. Family. Things that matter. Perhaps you are talking about these things as a way to ignore the fact that you will be climbing 4,000 feet on a mountain bike. Perhaps you are talking about these things because you are a team, and you truly care about each other. Perhaps a little of both. You love your team.

You pull in to the parking lot, 20 or so cars already parked. You look at your watch – wow – that is a lot of people for being so early. It is a little on the cold side but you know it will get hot real fast because of the brutal climb that lies ahead. You grab your bike; you look at the other bikes…you like your bike. It is you. You are one with your bike.

You roll out. You thank your wife in your head for making pancakes and eggs; you know that you will be burning every single one of those calories in the next 3 hours. You pray to God to protect you and your friends, knowing full well that anyone of you could get seriously injured.

You are captivated with the immensity of the Columbia Gorge. It is breathtaking. You try to think of words to describe it but they all fall short. You keep looking over your shoulder on the switchbacks and staring at the horizon, the water, the mountains. Mt. Hood never looked so attractive. You continue climbing. You feel sorry for some of the guys who have not ridden Syncline before, they don’t know how long the climb is. At least you know how much energy you can pour into the climb and how much energy you should conserve. You see a seven year old kid riding up this climb with his mom – what!? That is awesome. You tap the kid on his shoulder, give him a fist bump and tell him how awesome he is doing. Continue climbing. Pause, the dogs need a break. It is fun mountain biking with dogs; they add so much energy to the ride. They also give an excuse to rest; no one is willing to admit that part though.

Finally reached the top. Now you get to go down. You earned it, enjoy. It feels like you are flying. You look ahead, Spence and the dogs are in front of you. You are going 35 mph and the dogs are keeping up. Craziness. Never saw little legs move so fast. What were those dogs’ names? Spence told me there names like three times, why can’t I remember their names?

You are so glad for the creation, it is so beautiful, and you get to enjoy riding your bike on it. You are taken on a new portion of the trail, exciting! You always enjoy new trails. You look ahead and see the ribbon. Ahhhh, bliss. Such a beautiful ribbon of six-inch wide single track in front of you. So flowy! You are flying again. Berm to the left, berm to the right, drop, pump, pump, power-up, berm right, berm left, power-up, creek crossing, rock garden, power-up, creek crossing, pump, dog? Dog in creek. Is she sleeping? Catching breath. You praise God for the dog needing to catch her breath and cool down, because so do you!

You realize that no adjectives can describe the scene. You are riding your bike in the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful day, the sun shining bright. You are with your friends. No mechanicals. No major injuries – aside from Jon accidentally falling and banging his knee while showing Jeff how to clean a section. The irony is fantastic. He’ll be okay. He’ll get up again and do it with you next week.

The drive back – you talk about the ride and riding more together in the future. This is what makes a team an actual team – the unified purpose to enjoy the ride together.

You love being on a team that you feel a part of. These men are such an encouragement and they help you enjoy the ride with them. And you honestly admit that the church could learn from the camaraderie of a well-knit team bicycle team.  There are so many varieties of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. But who cares which one you are a member of. Who cares if you ride a single speed, or a 29er, or a full-suspension? They’re still bikes. Likewise, those churches all confess the same thing: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the Triune God – one God and three persons; the full divinity and full humanity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven; and that salvation is only through faith and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Challenges will always be in your way, there will always be 4,000 foot climbs, but you will persevere through them with your friends, and then you will enjoy the benefits of your hard labor. At the end of the day, you will realize that the unified purpose was to enjoy the journey together in Christ.

Thanks for the ride today, gentlemen.

Why so much suffering?

What is pain? What is suffering? What is evil?

Personally, I have experienced a lot of pain. In high school I was a nihilist – nothing had purpose. Sure I was an intellectual, but hidden behind that was a huge amount of depression, isolation, and perversion. Upon entering college, I was crushed as the girl I was engaged to ripped my heart out by cheating on me…not a very “fun” experience! Have you ever cried yourself to sleep every night for weeks on end, crying out to a God you don’t know!? Meanwhile, at the math department, the students I tutored invited me to Church. I finally caved in after a few weeks, and during the worship service, I lifted my hands in the air realizing that God loved me. The worship pastor helped bring me into the presence of God. Later that year I was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by the head pastor and realized how forgiving God is.

…one year later, it was discovered that the pastor’s daughter was being molested by the worship pastor and two weeks later it was also discovered that the head pastor was also molesting his daughter. This poor 15 year old girl had been molested since age 9 by the two most “spiritual men” she had ever known.

Where was God in the midst of that?

It was these two men that personally helped me come to know God – where was God? For me, I had no doubts that God was there the entire time and my faith only solidified all the more. I had experienced large amounts of pain before I became a believer and seeing more pain now only made me realize all the more that God was there all the more and that He was gracious. Not once did I waver in my faith. I stood strong and went to the authorities to turn these two men in, even when the denominational head threatened me to be quiet.

This is a horrific story and it is true. And there are many other stories like this concerning people you speak to on a daily basis. So where is God? If God is Good and if God is Powerful, why does He allow all of this evil to exist? For many, this logic has destroyed their faith in God. Perhaps we are to self-absorbed and asking the wrong questions. When Adam & Eve ate the fruit, they knew the consequences! They brought the pain and suffering upon themselves. God is just to allow this suffering. But there is more to the story: God became a man, being born of Mary, living and preaching the Gospel, crucified on the Cross, was raised from the dead, conquered death and corruption, and ascended into Heaven. If we follow Christ, we too must die! How many times are we told to endure, to take up our cross and daily die, to count suffering as joy, we can only enter the process of salvation by partaking of the sufferings of Christ! Not only is God just to allow suffering, God is gracious to allow us to partake in His sufferings! We are perfected through suffering with Christ.

I am sorry if you feel as though I have minimized the pain you have personally experienced, this is not my goal. I hope to encourage you in your journey. There will be pain, it is simply a matter of how you face your pain. Will you despise it or will you embrace it. And when you see others in pain, will you ignore it or enter into their pain with them. I hope you will embrace it and enter into the pain of others, following the perfect example of Christ.

Praying through the Dark Night of the Soul

Saint John of the Cross is a Saint but also considered one of the 33 Doctors of the Catholic Church. He was part of the Catholic Counter Reformation and helped guide the Church into mystical contemplation of God. Dark Night of the Soul narrates the journey of the soul from her bodily home to her union with God. This is a painful experience which people endure as they seek to grow in spiritual maturity and union with God. A year after writing this poem, in 1586 he wrote a commentary on Dark Night of the Soul with the same title.

The Dark Night Of The Soul
By Saint John of the Cross

Once in a dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
O coming of delight!
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
O coming of delight!
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.

I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

“This dark night is an inflowing of God into the soul – called infused contemplation or mystical theology. God secretly teaches the soul and instructs it in perfection of love, without its doing anything. It is the loving wisdom of God, and He prepares it for the union of love with God. This Divine wisdom is night and darkness for the soul, and affliction and torment. When this pure light assails the soul, in order to expel its impurity, the soul feels itself to be so impure and misterable that it believes God to be against it, and things that it has set itself up against God.” (Dark Night, II.5)