Over recent weeks, I have joined massed cycling events in Richmond Virginia, Central London, New York City and Harrogate, Yorkshire. Participants have not been observing social distancing rules and I have not seen a single law enforcement officer. Since the UK & US introduced social distancing measures these events have got busier and busier with tens of thousands joining in from all over the world. In Yorkshire last week, the beautiful countryside was crammed with athletes.
Zwift is a cycling app where cyclists from across the globe compete against themselves and one another on virtual courses using smart trainers linked to computers. The number of miles covered by users has more than tripled since the Coronavirus pandemic began (now 3.5 million miles per day). Zwift designers copy elements of real-life locations to create their courses – you ride along the Mall to Buckingham Palace, past Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate and around Central Park in NYC. Real features are shuffled around to make them more interesting for cyclists (Box Hill is just across the Thames from central London on Zwift!). They have done a pretty good job.
I have cycled in real central London and Yorkshire. Zwift Harrogate does have grand Georgian buildings, roads lined by limestone walls, green fields, sheep and the occasional traction engine. But it does not have the smell of fresh rain on dry fields it does not have the feel of the wind behind you and realistic sounds of sheep and birds. Zwift London does have Tower Bridge and Big Ben, but it doesn’t have the buzz of city life or the thrill of being quicker than the cars. Zwift is frankly (and unsurprisingly) less real than cycling in the real world.
I advised the kids in our church to read the Chronicles of Narnia whilst in lockdown. I’ve just finished re-reading The Last Battle again with our kids. At the end of the story the kings and queens leave the old Narnia behind and come into the new Narnia (you’ve had 74 years to read it, so I’m not apologising for the spoiler!). What they discover is that things are the same – the same mountains, woods and valleys, but that everything is more real, the fruit is more tasty, the air is fresher, the views are more beautiful. They also discover that they themselves are strengthened – aches and pains have gone and they can run and run without tiring – they are themselves, but more real. Lewis covers a similar theme in The Great Divorce where day trippers to heaven realise that they are mere ghosts and that heaven is to solid – too real – for their taste and voluntarily return to the grey town. Of course, both fictions are drawn from a biblical vision of the future. The new heaven and the new earth: where the wealth, culture and creativity of all the nations are preserved and unified for the Glory of God – the same stuff, but made real and permanent. The resurrection body of Jesus: solid to touch, but able to pass unhindered through walls. The same Jesus, but more real. The hope of Paul that we too will be raised imperishable – the same but more real.
I’m enjoying zwifting in Harrogate during lockdown, but real cycling in the real Harrogate would be so much better. There is much that is wonderful about this life – even at a tough time like the present. But the Christian hope is that resurrection life will have every wonderful blessing of this life made more real…. And no Coronavirus.