Triacastela, Spain. 145 km (87 miles) to go to reach Santiago. Both of Jill ´s ankles are wrapped to get her through the remaining week, my sons are more than ready to go home now, and I ´m fantasizing about The Original Pancake House, American movies, and sleeping in my own bed.
Yet the pilgrimage is having the effect I hoped for and pray for every day. The heavy packs and 25,000 or so steps we take each day are making us very conscious of the ground under our feet. The experience is intensely physical, but the meaning of it is profoundly spiritual.
The concrete, physical realities of my own bodily limitations and needs mean I have to choose my path carefully, and soberly weigh options before deciding to take a detour to pursue an interest. The choices I make matter greatly for myself as well as for those who travel with me on the journey. I cannot ignore the pain in my feet indefinitely or my needs for water, food, shade, rest, encouragement, conversation, friendship, or hope.
How far can I truly go in a day? What will be the cost of waiting for the sun to come up before starting out? How do I need to adjust my plans to adequately care for my wife ´s needs as well as my own and my sons ´? When do we need to slow down and rest so that ultimately we can go further and get more out of the experience? How will we negotiate our competing values and interests?
All of the questions and issues stemming from our pilgrimage experience are helping me to become more grounded in my life–which simply means recognizing better the real world in which I live, and the implications for my decisions as I live out my life. As opposed to dwelling in the realms of ideas, hopes, dreams and imagination (where I love to live), being grounded focuses my attention on what is real–on myself, others, situations, and the world around me as they truly are in the present moment.
Being more grounded allows me to see my wife ´s agony and need for rest and support better. I am able to accept one son ´s fear and distress, and the other ´s boredom and longing, and respond to each one more constructively. I can notice what they truly enjoy and appreciate, as opposed to what I want them to care about and value. I can better see what their faces are expressing, and hear what they are not saying with words. Being well grounded requires slowing down, paying attention to details, shutting my mouth, listening, asking thoughtful questions, feeling my feelings, trying to articulate what is going on inside my heart and mind, and continually asking God to help me to see what I need to see, to have courage to face the truth, and for strength to act on what is revealed.
Being more grounded in the present is a stepping stone to becoming a better person and spiritual leader, as frustrating as having to admit my own limitations may be, and as painful as aching physically is, and as disappointing as experiencing my own weakness and self-centeredness can be. ¨Who am I? ¨ and ¨Who might I become? ¨do not yield the same answers. Yet by honestly facing the realities that come from exploring the first question, I have a better chance of creating a more satisfying answer to the second question. The more I can face what is, the more I can pursue what might be–and expect fruitful results. Being well grounded in reality also helps me to lead and serve better, teach and inspire more effectively, and encourage more powerfully.
I am learning much about myself–some of which is painful, some of which brings me peace and joy, but all of which is giving me greater clarity and hope for my life. As I anticipate continuing to pursue my calling to know God better, to teach, and to offer spiritual leadership and guidance to others, I see how much depends on being well grounded.