A Nun’s Bicycle

Blog Published: May 21, 2009
By Sister Julie

Summer is here and that means bicycle riding for me. Having grown up with bikes, taken bike day trips with my family, commuted by bike, ridden mountain bike trails and long stretches of open road, I feel very much at home on a bike.

I got an inside view of the world of bikes when I worked at a bike shop early in my nun life. Yes, I worked at a bike shop as a Catholic sister! It’s an interesting story and the short version is that I had done my MA in theology on the theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, whose fundamental belief is that we can directly experience God at any time, any place. At the time, I was in need of a part-time ministry and so I reasoned that if God is in all things, then surely God is in a bike shop. Why not do ministry there? I loved bikes, and I loved working with mechanics (my dad and brother are engineers), and I wanted to interact with ordinary folks in ordinary moments. So after consulting with my nuns, I applied for a summer job and managed to beat out the competition (a handful of high school boys). It was one of my best experiences of formation — learning how to be with people, to minister with them outside the ordinary or obvious places of church ministry.

Biking in ChicagoIn the bike shop, you meet a lot — I mean a lot — of characters from every economic bracket, educational level, age, culture, etc. Each person has a story, and when you see them that way, you find there are so many opportunities for being present to them. And often, a bike marks a significant moment in their life. Why? Because ultimately, it’s not about the bike. A new bike or a repair to a bike is often loaded with meaning. One guy lost his job and couldn’t afford to drive so he needed a bike to get around. A mom and dad bought their child’s first bike. A woman’s husband was emotionally abusive (we saw it first hand in the store) and she wanted a bike to get out of the house more often. A young woman bought a road bike for her first triathlon marking her journey to feel better about herself.

My bike is also a marker of significant moments in my life. It is priceless because of the stories attached to it — both good times and bad. I am highly protective of it and take good care of it. When I first moved to Chicago I went through at least 4 different bike shops until I found a shop where the people there had expertise I trusted and showed care about “the story” that people have with their bike or bike riding.

What significant moments does your bike (or similar thing) hold for you?

Archived Comments

Dale May 21, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thank you for the bike article. I have terrific memories of journeying on my 2 wheels. After climbing a mountain in Vermont, I have often felt that there are no limits to what I can accomplish (I could have taken a pass on the dairy by-product, though). I’m off for a ride tomorrow — can’t wait for what I’ll find on my journey.

Bryan May 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Great post. My wife and I just picked up a couple of bikes a few months ago at a locally owned bike shop. You’re right, it’s always really interesting to drop in there – you meet all kinds of people! Pax!

Venite May 21, 2009 at 4:22 pm

My bike is extremely important to me. In the Netherlands, and especially for anyone not yet out of college, it’s transportation system #1. Most students ride on old bikes that either get stolen or fall apart within two years – they’re the only ones we can afford (and nicer ones are dangerous to have, since we don’t have houses with bike sheds). Last year I got chondromalacia in both knees, which meant I couldn’t put pressure on them. No more stair climbing, and especially no more bike riding. It was like having my wings clipped. Suddenly the supermarket was 35 minutes away, and church 50 – no more popping in and out! I walked around for six months (which was interesting in itself, I noticed how my leg muscles changed). The worst thing of all was, my physiotherapist told me that even after she fixed my knees (to a degree) I couldn’t get on a bike that was too low. Problem: I’m 6’6″. There is no such thing as a bike that’s not too low – especially a woman’s bike (I like long skirts). And I couldn’t afford a customized bike on my student budget, of course. In the end, my four parental figures conspired, and got me a lovely, lovely bike, on which I race around and scare people. My bike means freedom and health.

discerninglife25 May 21, 2009 at 7:09 pm

I love my bike too. Mine just gets broken a lot, so its a little annoying. But for the most part, he does his job well.

Anne May 22, 2009 at 5:39 am

I have a touring bike with a long-long wheelbase, a station wagon of a bike. I fell last year, bruised my kidney, bloodied up my leg and bent the handlebar. I had one of those St. Christopher visor-clip medals with wings hanging from the back rack. No blame–I did walk away. Anyway, when I brought the bike into the shop for repair, I forgot to take St. Christopher off. And, when I picked it up, St. Christopher had been moved and enshrined on the handlebar stem. I’m a wimp (thus the long wheelbase) and was hesitant about getting back on the bike, and still get anxious in traffic. It helps me to leave the worries in St. Christopher’s hands, so I can focus my attention on the road. I am grateful to the young man in the bike shop who honored St. Christopher and comforted me.

David K. May 22, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I have been a regular bike commuter for over a decade. I have a sporty touring bike for most commutes, but also recently purchased a “long-tail utility bike” that enables me to carry more than twice as much as a conventional bike. I try to bike commute as often as I can- not only to my office, but to appointments as well. I am a lawyer and college instructor who regularly consults and lectures at hospitals on medico-legal and ethical issues. I just love it when I have a packed auditorium and I arrive with my bike, and in my bike clothes, to seek the event organizers and a room in which to change my clothes. The phenomenon of “judging a book by its cover,” is often witnessed. The civility afforded to someone often initially perceived as a bike messenger is very different (and less) than that afforded to a professor/lawyer. Mitigating that behavior in myself is a very important spiritual goal that is often (amusingly) reinforced for me when I bike commute. Roll safely and be well.

Rosemary May 22, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I don’t have a bike… used to many many years ago…. but I just loved your story.

kari May 24, 2009 at 6:03 am

My bikes have been so important to me too! What a great place to see the human connections and explore your ministry. Thanks for writing about this!

nocode May 25, 2009 at 6:31 am

i have been wanting to learn how to ride a bike, ever since i was 10 yrs old, i think. but since i came from a poor family, having my own bike is not included in the budget. my uncle priest who was still alive then, told my mother (his sister), that he was thinking of buying me and my sisters a bicycle because he could see the longing in our eyes whenever we look at our cousins as they rode their bicycles. but because one of our well-to-do neighbors got their bikes “bike-napped” and almost got kidnapped too, that made my uncle retreat from the idea of giving us a bicycle. he didnt want his gift to be a cause of any future accident. and so the desire to cycle was buried in our hearts.

fast forward to year 2007….around that time, i was already in the netherlands, working as a babysitter. now, having a bicycle is a necessity in this country. and since the kids are growing up and learning how to cycle, the nanny should have her own too. that was what the parents of the kids thought, and so as a chistmas gift, they gave me a 2nd hand red bicycle. i was terrified of it, because i didnt know how to balance myself in two wheels. but the kids’ parents didnt pressure me, they just wanted me to keep the bike. the other family whom i work for has a bakfiets, a sort of bicycle attached to a big wooden box where 4 kids can sit. this bakfiets has 3 wheels. 1 on each side of the box and 1 on the backside of the bike. with the bakfiets, my balance problem was no longer an issue. this bakfiets made it easier for me to transport the kids from house to park to chapel to playground to kids’ library. plus it gave me the confidence i needed for the 2 wheeled red bicycle. this bakfiets was instrumental during the times when i greatly needed comfort and solace from God. i would just bike along the park (with the kids safely in the box, doing their own thing — playing or sitting looking at the sights) and pray or sing. sometimes the kids would sing along (in their own kids’ language or in their own version of the english language….they only know dutch) while i sing my own songs in my native language and english. mostly songs to God, songs that comforted my heart, and calmed my soul. because of this bakfiets i was able to get in touch with God, give myself enough time to nourish my spiritual needs, while at the same time perform my duties as a nanny. this bakfiets also helped me learn how to ride the 2 wheeled bicycle that was given to me.

now i still use the bakfiets with the kids, but i also use my own bicycle especially when i am in the apartment and i have nothing to do. whenever i cycle, i can feel the wind blowing against my face, my hair, sometimes so gently, that my heart soars with the thought of God touching my face, embracing me, engulfing me with His love. cycling still gives me the sense of peace and comfort i crave whenever i feel down. my time with the bicycle is a time to reflect, a time to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings and give back to God praise and thanks for His goodness and for the majesty of His beauty.

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