HOLY SPOKES beautifully captures Laura Everett’s evolving cycling adventures around Boston, Massachusetts, impregnating a bike manual with a spirituality that is acutely attentive to the other. Having enjoyed cycling around Middlesbrough, Pontefract, York, Cardiff, and now Scarborough, I fully understand how cycling through even the most deprived suburbs makes Everett feel kinder toward the city and the city feel kinder to her.
Brother Lawrence, who made drudgery divine in a 17th century sadly devoid of bicycles, seasons each of the chapters. Everett is a mine of fascinating information: the velo-orthodox fanatics travel only by bicycle, even moving house by bike; Everett devises a poignant liturgy for the installation of white ghost bikes marking a cycling fatality, as well as penning a cycling Benedicite for happier times; male cyclists, who slice safe tracks through Boston’s icy winters, are affectionately known as Freds, the most renowned of them hosting a website, www.sheldonbrown.com, a veritable encyclopedia of cycling.
Everett concludes that “the mind’s sediment settles on a bike, enabling you to think often about God.” Indeed, I find hymnody wells up naturally, pacing my cycle ride. St Patrick’s Breastplate forms a perfect fit for cycling the former East Coast railway from York to Selby, with pedestrians wisely keeping well clear of a bishop trilling “against the Wizard’s evil craft, against the death wound, and the burning”.
Mourners disapprove when Everett turns up for a funeral on her bike: I agree that too many see biking as an undignified mode of transport for a priest, let alone a bishop. Cycling to a confirmation in a very wet Cardiff, covered from head to toe in waterproofs, I parked my bike in the church porch. I was assailed by a churchwarden: “You can’t put your bike there, son, we’ve got the bishop coming!”
Very human, very funny, and inevitably earthy, Everett positively pedals faith and empathy, facing threat and injury, but surprised by love along the way. In the 19th century, medics feared that women’s intimate contact with the saddle would be sexually arousing; Everett reassures us that “the threat of tens of thousands of permanently aroused nymphomaniacs never materialised.” Shame!
The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is a former Assistant Bishop of Llandaff.
Holy Spokes: The search for urban spirituality on two wheels
Church Times Bookshop £17.10