Written by Lauren Van Ham – 2013
In its second year, Berkeley’s now annual Blessing of the Bicycles took place on Saturday, May 4th, helping to launch the long list of activities connected to National Bike Month. The East Bay Bike Coalition partnered with interfaith clergy and spiritual teachers to create the 30 minute ceremony celebrating the joys and benefits of bicycling.
In her opening remarks, East Bay Bike Coalition’s Executive Director, Renee Rivera addressed the great circle of nearly fifty cyclists each accompanied by their two-wheeled friend. Rivera emphasized that while this ceremony (happening in other cities across the nation) is called the Blessing of Bikes, it is in truth, our bikes that bless us.
The interfaith clergy representing Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Unitarian-Universalist traditions took turns, offering a brief explanation about their own appreciation for bicycling, then extending an interactive blessing for every bike and cyclist present.
Rev. Lauren Van Ham blessed each bicycle with Holy Water and provided each cyclist with a small prayer card of Madonna del Ghisallo (Patroness of Cycling), for protection. Jewish chaplain, Nicole Bloom, along with her bike, circled the group, chanting her blessing for safety and joy-filled riding. Hindu teacher, Shivani Ray explained how, in India, all modes of transportation receive blessings and she extended Aarti (the blessing of fire and smoke) to each participant. Master Daxing, originally from Italy, revealed that prior to becoming a Chan Buddhist monk, he raced bikes in his homeland. With his Buddhist blessing, he stressed the importance of blessing the cyclists as well as the bicycles, “since the riders might ride another bike someday!”
After reading about the event online, Anglican chaplain, Fr. John, an Anglican chaplain drove over from San Rafael to join the line-up, “I wanted to see if Marin should do something like this. I perform street ministry and for the ones I work with each day, their bikes are the only way they have to get around.” Chaplain Susan Conrad, a Unitarian-Universalist, closed the ceremony. Waving a peacock feather in one hand, Conrad placed a fresh leaf of mint from her garden in the palm of everyone present, “May this remind us to appreciate the air and the earth – the fresh oxygen we breathe on the uphills, the cool breeze on the descents…and the amazing beauty we see from the seat of our bikes.”
Whether to save money on gas and commuting, to promote health and wellness, to foster community and safer neighborhoods, or simply to ride for the FUN of it, the list of bicycling gratitude was colorful and inspiring. Participants were happily surprised and visibly moved throughout the ceremony — each of them was made to reflect on why they ride and how the choices they make, as bicyclists, both informs their well-being, and undeniably contributes to the greater good.
To learn more about Bike to Work Day and Bike Month activities throughout the month of May go to www.ebbc.org/btwd.
About the East Bay Bicycle Coalition: the EBBC is a 4,000-member nonprofit working for safe, convenient and enjoyable bicycling for all people in the East Bay. For more biking resources, go to www.ebbc.org.
About Lauren Van Ham: Lauren lives, works and bikes in Berkeley. She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice. You can read Lauren’s blog at: www.laurenvanham.com