It Really Is Like Riding A Bike

By Michelle Van Loon

Michelle Van Loon picToday, I’d like to introduce Michelle Van Loon as guest blogger for Holy Week. In 2016, NavPress will publish her new book focusing on the connections between Jewish traditions and our Christian faith.

Michelle’s deeply-rooted faith in Christ and secular Jewish heritage are apparent in her creative, carefully-crafted storytelling.

A focus on spiritual formation and education shines through her writing credits, which include two books about the parables, articles in four packaged devotional projects, regular contributions to Christianity Today’s popular Her.meneutics blog for women and blogging for the Evangelical channel. She has facilitated a number of retreats, and has over fifteen years of mentoring relationships with younger women.

Visit her web site at


If I wrote a job description for myself as a writer, it would include the following requirements:

  1. Must appreciate wearing pajamas to work.
  2. Must relish the battery-acid flavor of twice-reheated room temperature coffee. Room temperature Diet Coke is an acceptable alternative.
  3. Must know how to source and study each week’s most popular cat videos as a deadline approaches.
  4. Must remember.

Many writers affirm some variation of numbers one through three on this list. And number four seems obvious, right? Every job requires those doing it to remember something. Firefighters need to remember how to turn on the hose. Oral surgeons need to know how much Novocain to use before they yank someone’s wisdom teeth. NASCAR drivers and middle-aged women like me need to remember where they put the car keys.

However, the work of a writer goes beyond retrieving information stored in their frontal lobe, though it most definitely includes it. It also requires the kind of remembering that kept me from falling off a bicycle in front of a group of teenagers a few years ago. I was counting on the principle of muscle memory in order to save myself from a bruised ego – and perhaps a bruised tailbone in the process.

I’d been asked to teach the church youth group about Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. It was my joy as a Jewish believer to share the story of the Passover Seder, a formal ceremonial meal retelling the miraculous account of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Exodus 1-14. As Jesus infused deeper meaning into a ritual in which he and his Jewish disciples had participated every year of their lives, he told his friends, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) The broken unleavened bread, or matzo, and after-dinner cup of wine became what we now call communion. Most of the teens admitted that when they heard those words “remember me”, they thought those words meant they needed to recall the Sunday School facts they knew about Jesus. I wanted to demonstrate that the kind of remembering to which he referred meant so much more.

As I wheeled the bike into the long room where the youth group met, I told them I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since my teens three decades earlier. I prayed a quick prayer (Lord, please don’t let me crash!), then mounted the bike and rode across the room. They cheered, and I let out a big sigh of relief. I explained that if they practice a specific motor skill throwing a ball or playing an instrument, the movement becomes embedded in your long-term memory and you’re able to do it without thinking about it. I told them told them that when God commanded his people to remember his deliverance via the Passover, the way in which they were to do so was via participation in this meal around a table. Everyone present tastes, touches, smells, imagines, re-enacts, sings and prays. Those at a Seder are meant to discover that they themselves are in the middle of the story as if it were happening in real time precisely because they’d been called upon to remember deeply and actively, at the muscle memory level. I told the teens that this is the kind of remembering Jesus had in mind when he applied the familiar Seder elements to himself.

The teaching illustration was a lot of fun, though I’ll confess I haven’t been on a bicycle since that day. I have every confidence that if I had to get on a bike today, I’d be able to ride it up the block, though I doubt I’d be able to do it hands-free like I did when I was at the peak of my bike-riding prowess when I was a kid.

Still, I’m confident my body remembers just how to balance and pedal. This kind of remembering has become an essential tool in my writing life. When I write, I recall facts and ideas from my frontal lobe in order to share them with my readers. But I also rely on the muscle memory embedded my body and experience in order to make those facts and ideas come alive in me. If I am in the middle of God’s story as if it is happening right this moment – because it is! – it is easy to invite my readers to join me there.

Pajamas, a fondness for room temperature coffee and cat videos are probably optional for writers. Remembering is essential.

Now, if only I could recall where I put my car keys.


5 Responses to It Really Is Like Riding A Bike

  1. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka March 31, 2015 at 7:28 am #

    Michelle, I love your humor and your spot on truths here. It’s so easy to remember things about Jesus. But to know Him so well, and to remember Him in my daily living? That’s a little harder sometimes.

    Like riding a bike, it requires that I practice walking with Him and in His presence often, like daily. Then, when the hard times come (and they will come), it’s easier for me to remember Him and walk closely with HIm. To share fellowship with Him in each day.

    I loved your post. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Bronwyn Lea March 31, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    You KNOW I love this part: “When I write, I recall facts and ideas from my frontal lobe in order to share them with my readers. But I also rely on the muscle memory embedded my body and experience in order to make those facts and ideas come alive in me.” 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Mary E. Brown March 31, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Enjoyed your analogy with the bike which hit close to home with my own experience a number of years ago. I found that fear of falling was foremost in my wobbly efforts. As a child, the bike was an extension of my body and there was no fear. Your analogy challenged me today to ask myself if some of my doubts and fears with God, could be the result of not “practicing” or living enough in that spiritual, mental and physical groove with the Savior. There is something to be said about traditions that help us remember.

  4. Avatar
    Michelle Van Loon March 31, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    Jeanne, Bronwyn and Mary, thanks for your kind feedback! Mary, your observation about the connection between fear and “wobbly-ness” is such an important one! Practice embeds habits ever deeper in our muscle memory, and lack of practice atrophies those muscles.

  5. Avatar
    Carla Jo Novotny May 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Reading months later, I like your work. I will google muscle memory to learn more. And I will google you to know you better. Thank you.

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