God's guiding hand

Many-a-time I have felt God guiding me into certain places and situations where I have had significant meetings with people, and through which I (and others) have experienced God's abundant graces.

But on Sunday morning, I had one of my clearest examples of such an experience yet.

Normally on a Sunday (exceptions being extreme weather or having other commitments), I would join the rest of my community for Morning Prayer (Divine Office) at 7.30am, leaving them to meditate for 30 min. whilst I get ready to set off on my racing bike to meet other members of my club (Birkenhead North End Cycling Club) at the Eureka cyclists café at the Two Mills crossroads (south end of the Wirral). I would then do my own meditation on the bike, often using a podcast from the Jesuit-run "pray-as-you-go" web site, followed by podcasts from Radio 4's "In Our Time" (Melvyn Bragg - see 2 posts previous) and Radio 5 Live's film review slot with Mark Kermode. Between them, these would normally get me to the Two Mills by 9.30, having left at about 8.25.

Me (right) with friends from Birkenhead North End C.C.

However, last Sunday I woke up feeling particularly tired and phlegmatic... I just "couldn't be bovvered" to leave chapel after Morning Prayer for what was likely to be a rather wet day on the bike if the weather forecast was anything to go by. I have felt like this on a number of Sunday mornings and generally still gone out and got a good ride in. I do get so much out of cycling and generally come back from rides (after anything between 45 and 120 miles) feeling energised, upbeat and at peace.

This particular morning, the negative thoughts were particularly strong, however. My mind wandered a little during Morning Prayer itself as I started to have a bit of an internal debate: "Look Lord, I really don't want to go out this morning. I'd rather rest and recuperate, maybe get a little work done later on... But if you want me to go, maybe because I'm meant to meet and talk to particular people, well then I will go." After a further 15 minutes extra prevaricating at the end of prayer, I left the chapel and went to get changed, but now 15 min. behind schedule.

I normally choose one of two options with the Merseytunnel trains: either just take the train under the river, get out in Birkenhead and ride the 10 miles or so to the Two Mills, or I stay in the train as far as Hooton and ride the last 3 or 4 miles to the café. The latter option being the most likely if I know I'm going to be getting in a long ride with my club mates into the hills and mountains of N. Wales. However, due to my prevaricating, I missed my normal Hooton train, a Birkenhead train and the next Hooton train. I eventually back on my bike at Birkenhead at around, 9.10, faced a ride to the café that would normally take my 35 min. or so. I held out little hope that I would get to the Two Mills before the gang set off (normally about 9.35-40am).

But when I set off, I immediately noticed a very strong tailwind, so I put the bike into a big gear and started to churn away at a pretty decent speed, certainly faster than normal on that road. I heard myself saying to God, "Well, I'll do my best to get there in time, but if you really want me to meet up with the gang... well, I'll leave it to you."

I ended up arriving at the café at 9.41, just as my friends were getting ready to set off... and most of my closest friends in the club were there. About 20 of us set off together. Despite rough weather, we had a really good ride (I'd done 78 miles by the time I got home), but more importantly, the club President asked me if I would say grace at the club's Christmas dinner in a few weeks - the first time I had been asked this - and I had quite a deep chat about God with a relative of Olympic champion Chris Boardman (he used to be in the club as a lad and his parents still ride, with his Dad competing in Veterans events).

This may all seem rather insignificant, but to me as it was all happening, I could feel deep down that I was being led, that God was guiding me by the hand. Now this doesn't happen automatically. You have to be prepared to trust in God totally, to trust in his Divine Providence (a phrase that my order's founder, Fr. Jean-Marie De La Mennais, was very fond of using), to hand yourself over to him and respond freely to his will.

Such experiences call to mind Jn 21 and Jesus saying to Peter that as he grows older they will put a belt around his waist and lead him where he would rather not go. One thing this passage does not suggest is the joy and peace that can come from such self-abandon to God.

The following picture is of a cycling magazine photo that some wag in our club put up on the Eureka café noticeboard (next to a picture of Steve Cummings, BNECC member, World Champ + olympic Silver Medalist) following our annual club weekend: 2 days riding into the Peak District and back (I did ride reasonably well over the 2 days). I must admit, there is a certain likeness facially, at least. It is in fact Leonardo Piepoli, Italian mountain stage winner in the major tours, inc. the Tour de France. I took it as a compliment :-)

The caption says: "Brother James, taking the club weekend a bit too seriously!"

This one was taken on day 2 of our club weekend in Youlgreave, Peak District.
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