I just returned from a soulful and refreshing two-week vacation. Soulful in that my sister and I visited our second mom who continues to languish in memory care after a decade-long slide out of this world. Soulful in that we buried our first mother’s ashes on an embankment overlooking a stream and pond on my sister’s property in Northern Wisconsin.
And the trip was deeply refreshing. I have always enjoyed the sacred space that driving long distances permits. Over the two weeks, I put 4,300 miles on my car driving through some of the most stunning of American landscapes—the Sawtooth’s of Idaho, the Big Sky Country of Montana, the rich, calming stretches of North Dakota and the thick, forested canvas of Northern Minnesota.
Rarely I have returned from a vacation and felt like it was actually longer than the two-weeks I had allotted. Usually vacations go by too quickly. But this one was different. With no agenda except to get to Wisconsin in time to be present to the journeys of our two mothers–one disappearing, the other deceased—I let my soul guide my route and my pacing.
One of the surprises is that I had first anticipated heading through Colorado on my return trip. However, a short stop-by visit to the Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula on my way out proved to be so productive that I planned my return route around a second visit to Adventure Cycling.
The extra few hundred miles was worth it. I have often said that we seem to be witnessing the dissolving away of the lines of separation between the secular and the sacred. Adventure Cycling was proof of this.
I spent a full two hours talking to staff, touring the building, taking pictures and pondering the shift that seems to be taking place between religion and spirituality.
As I talked to Geoff, I was not surprised to find out that the Adventure Cycling headquarters is actually a repurposed Christian Science church. I could see it in their architecture, but even more than that, I could feel it in the values of the people I talked with. These were people who I believed were not deeply anti-religious, but were committed to the spiritual values of a bike culture that understands the need to practice good stewardship of the earth’s resources and the spiritual, physical and psychological benefits of adventure travel and pilgrimage.
While our Presbyterian churches continue to experience a precipitous membership decline (72% since 1967) Adventure Cycling has seen a six-fold increase in membership over the last 40 years growing from 7,800 in 1978 to their current membership of 54,000. This is not to say that Adventure Cycling represents a new religious culture. But when you talk to the people associated with this you get the sense that cycling is not a religion, but an expression of their deeply held spiritual values.
Talk to the people at First Presbyterian Church in Trout Lake, Washington about the hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and you will hear the same story. A spiritual culture is emerging out on the trails and the roads of America.
For church people, this is likely experienced as grief, but it also should be an occasion for hope—the church’s spiritual values are not disappearing along with our members; they are showing up in new places, in new forms and in a new generation.
For those on the trail or the road, this might elicit a “Duh. What took you so long to see it?”
Adventure Cycling is in a former church building. Their staff and their members are deeply dedicated to the values of good stewardship and adventures that deepen one’s spiritual and psychological identity.
It doesn’t look like church in the way we have become accustomed. But, then again, Jesus was more of a road person too.
On the way with you…
Spiritual pilgrim and religious innovator