Found while cycling Boston's streets: A new spirituality

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, the Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, rides her bike to a meeting of clergy, in Cambridge, Mass. Everett says commuting by bike after her car died has connected her to the city, its neighborhoods and residents. Everett has turned her experiences and the connections she’s drawn between biking and spirituality into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, rides her bike to a meeting of clergy, in Cambridge, Mass. Everett says commuting by bike after her car died has connected her to the city, its neighborhoods and residents. Everett has turned her experiences and the connections she’s drawn between biking and spirituality into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo a plate featuring the word "clergy" is attached to a bicycle belonging to the Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, in Cambridge, Mass. Everett says commuting by bike after her car died has connected her to the city, its neighborhoods and residents. Everett has turned her experiences and the connections she’s drawn between biking and spirituality into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, puts on a hat before donning her helmet to ride her bicycle, in Boston. Everett says commuting by bike after her car died has connected her to the city, its neighborhoods and residents. Everett has turned her experiences and the connections she’s drawn between biking and spirituality into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
HIn this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo a card featuring a likeness of St. Patrick is wedged into the spokes of a bicycle belonging to the Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, in Cambridge, Mass. Everett says commuting by bike after her car died has connected her to the city, its neighborhoods and residents. Everett has turned her experiences and the connections she’s drawn between biking and spirituality into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.” (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON — Bicycling through Boston's twisting, traffic-clogged streets may seem more about self-preservation than spiritual enlightenment.

For the Rev. Laura Everett, her daily 6-mile commute is a way of connecting to her adopted city, its residents, and her sense of community and vulnerability.

Instead of hopping on the subway and popping up in another part of town, Everett said, bicycling has exposed her to the warp and weft of Boston's neighborhoods and the people who animate them.

It's also led her to a new sense of spirituality and inspired her to turn her experiences into a new book, "Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels."

"Part of the regularity of a daily commute is what I think forms it to be a spiritual discipline," said Everett, 38.

"That commitment to the same route time and time again, starting to see the same people, seeing the same neighborhoods, seeing the trees change from budding to bursting — that is where I started noticing this is really having an effect not just on how I move through the city, but on my soul," she said.

Along the way, Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, stumbled on an impromptu congregation — a tribe of fellow bicyclists who share the joys and terrors of Boston's byzantine streets.

She has married bicycle couples and officiated at an annual "blessing of the bicycles" in which bicyclists gather to pray for fellow cyclists who have died and let Everett and others anoint their bikes with a mix of holy oil and chain lube.

Everett's most poignant contribution may be her participation in "ghost bike" ceremonies.

Ghost bikes refer to the practice of painting a bicycle and its tires solid white and locking it near where a bicyclist has died, often after being struck by a car or truck.

"Bicyclists have the experience of knowing our own vulnerability, and knowing that in some ways our safety is dependent on the actions of others," she said.

Ken Carlson, head of the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee, first met Everett at a ghost bike ceremony for Cambridge bicyclist Marcia Deihl, who died in 2015 after being struck by a dump truck.

"I was really touched and impressed with Laura and her deep sense of empathy, sympathy and connection to the bicycle community," he said.

Bicycling raises another spiritual challenge, Everett said: anger.

"What does it mean to absorb other people's anger? What do you do with your own anger? How do you live in a system that's unjust," she said. "Those roads aren't fair."

One goal of her book was to ponder what she calls "an intentionally urban spirituality."

"What if what is transcendent and what is heavenly is less like the Green Mountains of Vermont and more like Blue Hill Ave.?" she said, referring to a busy Boston thoroughfare.

Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, sees the connection between cycling and spirituality.

"You're thinking about your mortality on a daily basis and where you are going and how you are going to get there," she said.

Everett didn't always see herself as a bicyclist.

Although she rode for fun growing up in suburban New Jersey, it wasn't until she moved to Boston and her car broke down on Interstate 93 that she turned to bicycling.

Members of her Bible study group helped her fix up a bike and taught her how to ride from her home in the city's Forest Hills neighborhood to her office near the Statehouse.

Everett said she is also interested in the concerns of "invisible bicyclists" — those who rely on bikes, often in poorer and working class neighborhoods, not to look hip but because they have no other options.

"The guy who's retrofitted his bike to carry all the tin cans he's picking up," she said. "Isn't he a bicyclist, too?"

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