Outdoor service reflections | June 4


I’ve encountered Joel a few times on the Olentangy bike path, and I think that’s what prompted his asking me to share five reflections about my bicycle commute to work.

Judy and I first encountered bicycling as a way of life during my postdoc in the Netherlands in the early 1970’s. That was the first time we saw paths dedicated to bicycles.  We didn’t have a car nor did we need one. We went everywhere, rain or shine, on our bicycles, and in those short days of the Dutch winter I went off to the university in the dark and came home in the dark.

When we returned to the U.S. and lived in the Boston area I continued to ride by bicycle, but riding down Massachusetts Avenue never felt very safe.  So, we’ve been excited to see the construction of bike paths take off in the U.S., and now that a bike path is complete from Worthington to the university and beyond, I can use a bike path nearly the whole distance of my commute. Unlike the Dutch, I’m a fair weather rider so I don’t do it every day, but I sure do enjoy it when its not too cold, too wet, or if the day’s activities don’t call for too formal attire.

So, here are my five observations from the bike path:

1. It’s fun—much more fun than driving!  At the end of a day I actually look forward to hopping on my bike to go home.  It’s a feeling I don’t get when I get in my car to drive north on Rt. 315!  Plus, it’s a good way to incorporate exercise into my day.

2. I see deer with their fawns, an occasional fox or coyote, evidence of beavers, great blue herons, ducks, egrets, osprey, indigo buntings, magnolia warblers, Baltimore orioles, and many more.  Lots of people pass me on the bike path—they have their heads down and they’re on a mission to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  Mine is a more leisurely ride, gawking from side to side to take it all in!

3. Riding the trail keeps me in tune with annual phenological changes in the flora and fauna, as well as the longer-term changes in the landscape.  I rejoice in the appearance of the first skunk cabbage and spring beauties, hatching of the first goslings, the spring migration of the warblers, the appearance of the goldenrod and Joe Pye weed as summer wanes, and the fall migration of those little black bean aphids that get in your nose, eyes and mouth as they make their fall migration from the bean fields to their overwintering sites on buckthorn trees along the bike path (not a joy that everyone embraces!).  At a longer time scale, it’s been fun to see the restoration of the prairie progress from year to year in Whetstone Park and to see the artificial wetlands near the university transition from open land to open ponds, and now to ponds fully enclosed by trees. In fact, the ponds are now so well hidden that, a few weeks ago, I got off my bike and went to see if they were still there. They are—a great example of the restorative capacity of our earth if we give it a chance.

4. Riding my bike clears my mind. It’s a time for reflection, almost a spiritual time. It gives me a chance to think “great thoughts”.  Well, maybe “great” isn’t the right word, but great for me!  Unlike these thoughts that were hastily written down on the back of a Vienna subway map as I traveled through European and Canadian airports yesterday, the thoughts that come to me on the bike path are more measured thoughts.  Many new ideas for experiments, phrases for a paper, or a title for a new paper were first tested on that bike path!

5. The bike path ties me to my community. I don’t recall seeing any of you during my commute by car on Rt. 315, but on the bike trail I have not only encountered Joel, but also Ila in her jogging stroller (at least I assume she was in that stroller, but Joel was going too fast for me to be certain!), Abby, Galen Martin and sometimes the whole Martin family, Ruth Massey, Ruth Leonard, Paul and Jan, Ryan and Susan (who live along my bike route), many of my students, as well as faculty colleagues.

I know many of you share my enthusiasm for the bicycle. It’s an environmentally friendly way to get around, with many fringe benefits. Ride on!


Carolyn May  |  Death and resurrection in creation

During finals week of my last semester of college, upon the completion of my philosophy and the environment class and just prior to graduation, my philosophy professor invited me and my roommate at the time to visit what she named the bluebell trail. As we walked into the woods, before reaching the bluebell trail, I remember feeling heavy. I was in a time of transition and I felt heavy with fear and with sadness. I felt heavy as I thought about all the changes that were about to happen and as I looked at the still bare trees and the trampled, muddy paths.

But as we came upon the trail which we came to see, and as I saw it wind through a sea of blues and greens, something shifted in me and I became overwhelmed by the truth of resurrection.

Growing up I went camping a lot and so from a young age I developed a love and an appreciation for creation. But I think that day on the bluebell trail was when I realized that the earth is not only to be looked at and appreciated. I realized that day that we have things to learn from the earth.

From the earth I think I have things to learn about the beauty of vulnerability–about being fully me and choosing to not hide that for fear of not being loved or appreciated in the ways I think I need. Just as the bluebells were always going to be there and to be beautiful whether we showed up to be in the midst of them or not. I’m sure I have things to learn about stillness, quiet, and also about play and creativity.

Perhaps most significant for me at the time that I found myself on the bluebell trail–just before I was to transition out of college–I realized that death and resurrection is literally the heartbeat of creation. It’s now impossible for me to think of creation without thinking of or recognizing this rhythm, this pulse.

Since then, I’ve realized that the more time I spend connecting to the earth–whether in hiking, sitting in the woods, biking, simply letting myself feel the warmth of the sun, running in the rain, touching soil as I garden, or even eating foods in mindfulness of where they came–the more time I spend in and with creation, the more easily my life also falls into the rhythm of death and resurrection.

Wendell Berry has a poem with a line I love which states simply: “Unmaking makes the world.”

I’m reminded of this each time I see green moss growing out of decaying logs. Death and new life are the dance of the universe.

It gives me great hope to remember all of this because I’m approaching another life transition. In August I’ll be moving to NYC to attend Union Theological Seminary. As I think about leaving Columbus it feels easy to focus on the death of what currently is. But creation and past experience all remind me that I can walk into this “death”, this change, boldly and with courage and trust that new life will spring forth.

God of beauty, God of creation–
Thank you for your love and for the gift of the earth. Give us courage to go deeper into ourselves in search of you. Give us courage to venture into the woods and the fields. Give us courage, God. Enter into the dark parts of us and be light. Make us teachable. May your creation inspire our creativity. As the sun sets here, those on the other side of the world look to begin a new day. Dead flowers drop their seeds and new ones bud. This insect eats that insect and the world keeps turning. Help us to embrace the process of becoming. May we see and hear and feel new life pulsing in the world your hands molded. Remind us that resurrection is the heartbeat of the world. May our lives also fall into that rhythm. Unmaking makes the world. We pray, God, that that might be true in all places where violence and destruction prevail. May this unmaking pave the way for new life. Let us choose to take part in the healing. Amen.


Michael Lachman  |  Where Do Our Deserts Lie?

Luke 4:1 – Now filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan River. And then the Spirit led him into the desert. (ERV translation)

This passage is one of many in the gospels that describe Jesus isolating himself to reconnect with the divine, to see temptation clearly, to rest, to breathe deeply. Personally I experience deserts, both literally and figurative, as elemental, expansive, free of distractions, places where I can examine the significance and insignificance of myself in solitude.

We need solitary times. We need times of vast space. And yet deserts also threaten our survival if we stay in them too long

When Becca and I started adding rooms to our home five years ago, it was partly in anticipation of welcoming a new member to our family, one who still has not yet arrived. It was also a project of housing our grand piano, intended to be a hub of social singing.

Today the added rooms are furnished but quiet. Some days they feel necessary; at other times I visualize gas driven through pipelines, flaring to heat those empty corners and the globe beyond the walls.

Has the individualism of our culture has led us to build permanent deserts around ourselves? It is no secret that the average carbon footprint of Americans is roughly double that of most other nationalities, an impact measured in square feet and miles driven.

In the scripture passage, Jesus sojourns in the desert and then returns to the loud, messy, shifting, problematic bosom of humanity. On Friday at the Nelsonville Music Festival, I sat packed close to a few dozen other people on the floor of a 1850s one-room schoolhouse, listening to some fiery gospel piano. Later, a friend remarked that we’d lost some ability to gather spontaneously to make music. They wanted that back. So do I.

As an aspect of living as part of creation, let’s commit to conversation about what space is sufficient – and what we consider the dividing line between cramped and communal.

And I invite you to ask these questions that I’m also wrestling with: Which deserts do I need to visit more often? And which have I created around myself that I might water and shrink?