20 August 2011

biking to Rome

My father-in-law is now more than half way in his bike trip to Rome. He's gone on a recumbent bicycle (see photo here), which isn't exactly known for its mountain-climbing abilities. But it's gone really well - and he's been enjoying the trip tremendously. He's been keeping a blog of his adventures: 'wil naar italie' - to read it, you have to understand dutch or know how to 'understand' the translations provided by babelfish or google translate.

In anticipation of his travels, I borrowed the book, Fietsen met God (biking with God) from my in-laws. It tells the story of three women who made a pilgrimage to Rome: one a Catholic, another an Anglican priest, and the third Reformed (vrijgemaakt - Canadian Reformed). I had planned to read it slowly, so that I could have a picture in my head of what my father-in-law was experiencing. But I just found it so fascinating that I couldn't help but continue reading! (Unfortunately, it hasn't been translated into English).

It tells not only of the physical challenge of the adventure but also of the exploration of three different expressions of the Christian faith. As much as I know that my father-in-law is being pushed by the physical challenge of his bike trip, this is a challenge that his 2-hour daily bike trips before his trip more than prepared him for. The situation in the book is different: although Monic could handle the physical challenge of it, the other two both had moments when it was too much for them. And while Monic had expected the physical exertion to be the challenge, she soon discovered that this paled in comparison to the challenge of learning how to wait patiently for the others.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the desire of the women to discover what their faith traditions had in common -  to explore their ecumenicity. It was interesting to see that it wasn't simply doctrines that were different - it was a complete manner of looking at the world that was different. And it was here that Agnes, the one from the Reformed Church, stuck out for me: her stubborn determination to search for the truth and to place that truth only in what the Bible says (and ignoring both the mystery of the faith and years of church tradition). And her scorn for relics and holy water (hocus pocus) caused friction. It was obvious that faith isn't simply what you believe, but also how you believe.

And yet, despite the differences in each of the women, it was obvious from the beginning that they needed each other. And learning how to need each other, while both acknowleding and honouring the differences, is a challenge - not only for a bike trip - but also anytime different Christian traditions come together.

And as for the idea of a biking pilgrimage - I don't think I'm up for Rome (although I'd love to go there, I think I'd rather take the train or fly). But the idea of making a biking pilgrimage to Taize, going through southern Catholic Netherlands and stopping by a friend of Matthijs in a monstery in Chevatogne, is perhaps an idea for 2012 - I just need to convince Matthijs (and finish the dissertation!)...

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