The Search for Urban Spirituality

The Search for Urban Spirituality April 4, 2020

Laura Everett
Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels 
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017.
Available at Eerdmans.
Available at Amazon.com.

By Dr. Jill Firth

When I received this book a year or two ago, I placed it at the bottom of my review pile. I had fallen off my bike years ago, and my last bicycle has already gone to bicycle heaven. I thought Holy Spokes would be a niche book for cyclists, a coterie to which I no longer belonged, and I felt no pull to read it, despite having visited Boston where the book is located.

Recently I have engaged in the labours of Jacob, setting aside seven days to review a pile of unread books which have been granted to me. Holy Spokes now appeared in a more attractive light – only 190 pages, which included some drawings. I read the Introduction and flicked through the end pages and found myself drawn in.

Laura Everett’s book is an urban spirituality, inviting attention and participation in the daily rhythms of neighbourhood. In her daily commute by bicycle, Everett comments, ‘I see the same woman … walking alongside the bike path. I see the same trees go from barren to bursting as the seasons change. My regular route has given me a small piece of land to watch over.’ She treats the city as a text: ‘Moving through Boston by bike has shown me that the city is a sort of scripture, a holy text to read and reread, to study and memorize, to grieve, to celebrate, and, finally, to make sense of the world.’ Everett draws on Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, heading each chapter with a Brother Lawrence quote and adapting a monastic practice to her bicycling metaphor. The twelve chapters are: Frame ׀ Rule of Life; Wheels ׀ Habit; Saddle ׀ Endurance; Tires and Tubes ׀ Border Crossing; Lights ׀ Visibility; Fork ׀ Rest; Handlebars ׀ Adaptation; Gears ׀ Pacing; Chain ׀ Embodiment; Helmet ׀ Particularity; Brakes ׀ Limitations; You ׀ Joy.

The book concludes with two orders of service: a ‘Blessing of the Bicycles’ and a ‘Ghost Bike Service’, which can be adapted for use anywhere where cyclists can be found. The Blessing of the Bicycles includes a reading from Ezekiel 1, prayers for safe riding, a blessing, and songs. It is adapted from a Denver service, and can be downloaded from RevEverett.com. The Ghost Bike service commemorates a cyclist’s death on the roads. A white painted bicycle is installed at the scene of the tragedy as a memorial to the deceased cyclist. The service includes a reading, remembering, silence, and the installation of the ghost bike. Everett’s order of service can also be downloaded at RevEverett.com.

Though I am no longer a cyclist, I walk a daily path, see the same joggers and dog walkers, and watch the leaves change and the water level in the creek rise and fall with the rains. Having lived in small rural country towns, inner and outer city suburbs, a small remote mining community, and a Hong Kong village, I see that many of Everett’s locality insights can be applied to other locations. Everett, a minister in the United Churches of Christ, describes herself as a ‘four-season bicycle commuter’ who ‘works as an organizer and activist for safety and solidarity among cyclists.’ Her book is a gift to cyclists, urban dwellers, and anyone wishing to deepen their spirituality of place, movement and community.

Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. Her research is in Psalms and Jeremiah.


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