We have just begun the new year, and we are looking ahead and thinking about our lives for 2022. This column is called Journey of the Spirit. As leaders of faith communities in the Greater Bay Area, we are called to support the faith lives of people in our area, so that in this new year we can be in step with the Journey of the Spirit. What does the Journey of the Spirit look like? I see this journey as steadily walking/running/biking on a path together to reach the destination of the greater good in the lives of our fellow citizens and in our own lives.

I see that through being attentive to spiritual practices along the way, such as prayer, meditation and reflection on sacred texts, it becomes a journey of growing in core spiritual values, such as those just celebrated during the Christmas season — hope, peace, love and joy. I see it as a journey of expressing those values through serving our neighbors in our community as best we are able, working together with organizations that support people through times of struggle with food, housing, family relationships, health and schooling, and with organizations that work toward greater justice for everyone.

I see it as a journey that inevitably leads us into the “land of serious challenges” that slow us and discourage us, such as the rough terrain of strained relationships, the hills of complicated processes, and the surprises of blocked paths, which call us to choose fair, consistent and creative responses.

Recently, I have been thinking more about what the Journey of the Spirit looks like as our social and physical environment changes, bringing our daily path much more frequently into “the land of extreme challenges” — which I see as challenges that threaten not only to slow our progress toward greater good, but also to throw us off the path completely and to attack the very fabric of goodness in our lives. I find myself thinking of the “land of extreme challenges” as being like a bicycle motocross track, which is territory that I have been very familiar with since the late ’90s.

A bmx track is full of extremely challenging obstacles from start to finish, which you ride on at full speed, including various kinds and sizes of jumps, bermed corners, a series of little hills called rollers, along with up to seven other competitors pressing in on you from both sides. My list of the top obstacles that we face today while on the Journey of the Spirit in the “land of extreme challenges” is, the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic upheaval and loss of workers, the intensive care needed for our relationships with other citizens and with our democracy, extreme weather, increased strategic action to address the climate crisis and stopping the chaos of cyber attacks.

What my son and I learned early about racing on a bmx track full of extreme obstacles, sometimes learning the hard way, is that it calls for a complete balance of body, mind and spirit. It begins on a starting hill that calls for you to stand and balance both feet on the pedals of your bike with your front tire against the gate. When the gate drops, you are then ready to spring forward smoothly and in rhythm, down the straight into the first jump.

Because of the great pressure you feel when you are balancing on your bike on the starting gate, this balance must become a habit, which Charles Duhigg, in his book “The Power of Habit,” teaches us is based on “cue, routine and reward.”  To learn how to balance on the starting gate, we bought an at-home, single-person starting ramp with a gate that drops, so that we would have total access to practice the routine of balancing. But for me the most important part was that the gate was big, and was a big investment, making it very noticeable in our garage. It was a powerful cue to remind us to practice often.

My application of this to the Journey of the Spirit in the land of extreme challenges is that to stay in rhythm on the journey we need to focus on developing a complete balance of body, mind and spirit, and that in order to do that, we need to “go big” in cueing ourselves to establish the habits of strong spiritual practices, especially in the morning, which is the starting hill of our daily walk/run/ride in the Spirit.  How might you “go big” in cueing yourself in this year? Perhaps by joining an online community or local community of those practicing morning prayer, putting out a candle and your devotional book prominently on the kitchen counter where you will see it when you wake up in the morning, signing up for a conference or retreat that begins each day with prayer and worship.

The Rev. Steve Alspach has served as a pastor, trained interim pastors, and has been a faith organization leader in New England over the past 40 years. He lives in Searsport and is pastor of the Congregational Church of Sandy Point. For the last 20 years he has raced a Crupi bmx cruiser bike in the over-40 age class on many challenging bmx tracks. GBAM, an interfaith group, envisions a world in which faith unites, rather than divides people. It gathers monthly to support one another and our community. The group can be reached at 338-4482 or on its Facebook page, GBAM – Greater Bay Area Ministerium.