Originally published on Eden Keeper.
We all know that riding a bike is good for the environment and for your health. But riding a bike in a busy city, like San Francisco or Manhattan, is a harrowing experience. Potholes lay waiting to grab your front tire and flip you over. Taxis speed by, more concerned with their next fare than with your life. And just when you think it’s smooth sailing and start to relax, a car door opens to smack you head on.
But there is a way for bicyclists to feel safer on the road that doesn’t require a helmet, knee pads, and a strobe light. Did you know that for years, bicyclists have invoked the protection of a higher power at mass bicycle blessings in the United States and Canada?
At a recent Blessing of the Bicycles at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, a rabbi, a priest, and an imam blessed 150 bicycle riders and honored other riders killed in traffic collisions with a “Missing Bicyclist” memorial lap around the hospital. One of the participants was Eric Weinstein of Santa Monica, who spent about 90 minutes biking to the morning event. The Hindu god Ganesha, responsible for removing obstacles, was displayed on the front of his bicycle.
“My bike needed to be blessed. The Ganesh is not enough,” Weinstein said.
In 2013, 743 people lost their lives in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes in the United States, just under two people every day of the year. Injuries have hovered around 50,000 in recent years with 52,000 injuries in 2008, 51,000 in 2009, and 52,000 again in 2010. California, Florida, and Texas lead the nation in the number of bicycle fatalities.
”When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose,” the Rev. Harry H. Pritchett quoted from Ezekiel at the first Blessing of the Bicycles event at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. “Wherever the spirit would go, they went and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”
Then the reverend, clothed in a white robe, sprinkled holy water on the cyclists and their bicycles and administered a moment of silence to remember riders killed in accidents with motorists.
Helping people feel safe behind the handle bars is critical for the environment and human health. Car emissions expose people to carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and soot, no matter where they are. Plus, cars contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. If biking gets at least some people off the road, that’s a benefit for everyone.
“We hear a lot of stories about the environment that can be depressing, and the event is our way of trying to feel better about these stories while doing some good,” said Rev. Karen Gitlitz, an organizer of Blessing of the Bicycles in Saskatoon, Canada.
Ann Russell, a Master of Divinity student who presided over this week’s nondenominational Blessing of the Bicycles at Toronto’s Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, agrees. “We have a strong commitment to live with respect in creation,” she said. “Celebrating riding bikes is a way to follow the commandment to tread lightly on the Earth.”
There is something divine about riding a bicycle. On such a simple machine, people can experience a more visceral connection with the world around them as they challenge their body. As they bike around the busy city streets they can hear the sounds of a street drummer or smell the oil and garlic as they pass a pizza shop. It’s not just about doing something for the environment, saving money, and getting a work out — it’s about living well.
“May the road rise to meet you,” said Rev. Gitlitz. “May the wind be ever at your back; may all your journeying be joyous; may you and your bicycle be cherished in the Spirit of Life.”