Culture At Large

Mountain Biking and Joyous Momentum

Michael Morgan

Not long ago I took my oldest son mountain biking for the first time. It was like throwing a duck in a lake. He took to it with a depth of joy that must have always been there in his bones, just waiting for the opportunity to erupt. He followed me for a while, but before long he was out front zipping around bends and over rocks with the occasional, “Woohoo!” I confess I wasn’t an avid mountain biker before (my last ride had been almost a decade ago in another life as a pastoral assistant), but I think I am now.

That pastor was the first one to introduce me to this peculiar endurance sport. When the sun would start to thaw out the trails, a change would come over the office, as the atmosphere switched from hunkered down to itching to get out. I used to chide my boss for taking breaks in the middle of sermon prep to hit the trails. He’d quip back about the importance of doing creational theology. I used to think it was just a witty excuse, but I’m a different kind of believer now.

Riding in the slipstream of an almost 7-year-old’s exhilaration as we sped through Louisville’s Turkey Run Park, it clicked that mountain biking is like an embodied psalm. I watched my son, the boy whom, for better or worse, I am helping to mold, and I saw him in a way similar to how God my Father might see me when I, his child, take joy in what he provides. At the same time, I could look at the beauty of the land—the hills, the trees, the creek, the occasional panicked squirrel—and be humbled by the expanse of God’s promiscuous outpouring of creativity. And what are the psalms but attempts to see the world like God sees it, while also bowing before his greatness?

The psalmist delights in God’s law the way a mountain biker delights in the laws of physics.

Of course, the psalms are also about God’s law, but even this was on glorious display that afternoon. See, mountain biking comes in two parts. The downhill and the uphill. The downhill goes fast and you hardly have to think about it save to steer. The uphill takes strategy. It takes skill. Luckily, instead of crushing us with a straight uphill climb, the Hickory Trail looped back and forth on the side of the slope. So even as we worked our way back to the top, there were moments of respite, where the trail leveled off and even sloped downwards for a bit. In these moments, we could have coasted. But the skillful thing to do was to pedal hard so that when the path angled up again we had momentum to help carry us through to the next respite. By this rhythm, we endured and took the hill.

What does this have to do with God’s law? If you look at God’s law as a list of rules to obey, it’s hard to make a connection. But if you look at God’s law as a way that leads us to honor how God made us and the world around us, a way that leads to flourishing, then it becomes a little clearer. There’s wisdom and joy in finding and staying to God’s path, just like there’s joy and skill in figuring out the best way to climb a hill on a bike. The psalmist delights in God’s law the way a mountain biker delights in the laws of physics. Because in it he finds the best way to engage the world s0 that he’s able to endure more than he thought he could.

What do we do when life takes a steep turn? It’s easy to say, “Well, my hope is in Jesus so I’ll have my reward in heaven.” And that’s not untrue. But, you still have to get through the day until that day comes. Resigning yourself to misery until Kingdom Come leads to a series of long, bad days. Flourishing in this world, broken as it is, is wonderful, but it is not easy. It takes skill. Floating along on whatever feels good seems to work OK until you get to a place where nothing feels good. Pleasure, it turns out, has very little momentum.

Our downhill glides in life are usually momentary and bracketed. They are not the rule but the respite. We would do well not to coast. Our work in those moments is to rejoice and remember so that when the path grows steep again, we have that joy in our hearts as we continue on along God’s way. Joy is the ultimate momentum.

Topics: Culture At Large