By Stan Purdum
I’ve sometimes called my bicycle a “Genuine Joy Generator,” but it’s a “Marvelous Thought Machine” as well.
I say that first as a writer, because on numerous occasions, after becoming “stuck” while attempting to write an article or a sermon (I’m a pastor), the solution has come to me while riding my bike. By the time I completed my ride, I knew how to finish the piece.
The Thought Machine seems to function best while cycling solo — when riding with a friend or a group, conversation usually crowds out deep thought (!) — though while alone, it sometimes works almost too well, such as when I suddenly realize that I’ve been so lost in thought that I’m not quite sure which road I’m rolling on!
Still, I welcome the creativity that comes as byproduct of pedaling. (Actually, one of the common suggestions for sparking creativity is to let your mind run freely on something else. Agatha Christie, for example, said she got her best ideas for her mysteries while doing the dishes.)
Here’s a case in point: At one church I pastored, the usual schedule required me to deliver the bulletin information to the secretary by Wednesday. Most weeks, that was no problem; I worked enough ahead on my sermons that even if I didn’t have them completed by Wednesday, I had them sufficiently along that I could provide the scripture readings, sermon title and related hymns for the order of worship.
Eventually there came a week when, after the bulletin had been printed, I realized the still-in-process sermon was lifeless, and no amount of CPR on my part was able to revive it. Finally, I let it go.
But I had no idea what to do instead. There was a certain dryness in me. No water seemed to be flowing in my inner well of inspiration, and my bucket was coming up empty. Following a desperate morning in my study and several unproductive starts at a new sermon, I put my books and computer aside and went outside to ride my bicycle. I can’t say that I went pedaling in hope of rolling onto a solution; cycling is my preferred recreation, and I simply went riding because I was at a standstill otherwise.
Somewhere on that ride, however, it came to me that “stuckness” was a problem not unique to preachers. All of us have areas in which we are supposed to function, and most of us generally do so with reasonable skill. But every once in a while, our usual ability fails us.
I thought about parents who, most of the time, handle the day-to-day parenting tasks just fine. But then comes a day when the kids are noisier and less cooperative than usual, and the parents become a little unglued. Their parenting well has run dry, if only temporarily.
I thought about employees who handle jobs that not just anybody can do, and day after day, they solve problems in ways that please their employer and meet customer needs. But then one day the material they send up to the front office comes back with a note saying, “This won’t do. What were you thinking?” What, indeed? Their creativity well has run dry.
Still pedaling, it occurred to me that I had my sermon. It didn’t match the information in the bulletin, but it had life. I returned home from the ride, sat down at the computer, and put down in written words what had been tumbling in my head while on the bike. That Sunday, I preached about “stuckness,” a topic that seemed to connect for quite a few in the congregation, and I had my bicycle to thank.
I could give other examples, but I hope I’ve made my point: Those two-wheeled steeds we ride can double as thought machines, and that’s just marvelous.
By the way, the idea of writing this article occurred to me — where else? — while riding my bike.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.