That pesky ‘something more…’


I don’t believe it matters how we start, when we start, or even where we think we’re heading, the only thing that seems to matter is listening to the part of us that longs for and just knows there’s something more.

We tell ourselves, or are told by others, many things about why we should ignore it (that it’s silly, that it’s selfish, that we’re tired, or bored or mad, or bad) but we don’t often consider, even the slightest possibility, that it could be something infinitely more positive; the Spirit moving within us and calling us on to the next growth stage of our lives.

The nay-sayer inside us tells us we’re too old, or too weak, or too stupid, or afraid to do anything about it. The nay-sayers around us tell us we’re too headstrong, or stubborn, or naive, or selfish if we follow its call. But the voice of Life doesn’t call us for no reason, it calls us because it loves us and it knows that, deep inside, we were created to respond to and to begin searching for that Love-inspired ‘something more’.


I call it the Holy Spirit, the sacred Spirit of Life, the divine Spirit of God’s Love, trying to capture our attention in a gentle, kind, but unsettling and deeply intimate way.  I believe that it moves itself within us, around us, and between us; prodding us out of our comfort zones and calling on us to notice it, to listen to it carefully and then to follow where it leads us, to a more abundant, fuller, richer and more fulfilling experience of Life.

From listening to countless people’s personal experiences of responding to that call, I believe that the place it leads to is unique and different for each and every one of us. But, for me, the place it led to was the reality of God’s felt and active presence in my life and, more importantly, the life-changing sense of God’s ever-present, unconditional Love. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, imagined, or been told it could be at any time before…but I had to find it in my own way; and following that ‘something more’ call was the way that led me to it.


It’s what has given me the confidence to stop always believing what other people tell me and to start believing more in that quiet voice within.

“Start here, start now, start from any place inside or outside, but start…and keep starting…until there is no more will to start” is what the voice inside me was really saying.  “Start out on your true search for me, and leave aside anyone else’s opinion of how and where you’ll find me. Just bring a truly open heart and mind and I will do the rest.”


If, like me, you abandoned belief in God long ago when you rejected what others, in their certainty, told you God was, I invite you to suspend that disbelief. If you believe that your way of relating to God – following a specific religious doctrine – is right and other ways of relating to God are wrong, I invite you to suspend that sense of certainty…and start out on your own, deeply personal pilgrimage.

If the Spirit is moving within you and is calling you to go in search of it, I believe it’s trying to tell you that your certainty there is no God (or your unshakeable belief that there is only one way of relating to God) is keeping your soul from finding the true peace that it longs for. It’s a peace that is experienced in a deeply personal and intimate way; one that will be as unique to you as you are to God.

Love is a deeply personal and intimate experience. It’s the most intimate, subtle, beautiful, life-enhancing and spirit-and-soul regenerating experience known to man. And I’m only talking about genuine, shared, human love when I say those words.


The Love of God, and the experience of that Love, is far deeper, greater and more powerful in its intimacy. It can strip us naked of our preconceptions and rip down our defences in an instant. It can flood us with a tidal wave of forgiveness and unconditional acceptance that is so unsought, and unexpected, it can leave us stunned, tearful and overwhelmed with a profoundly physical sense of gratitude and relief. How do I know? Because I’ve experienced it and, once it has been felt it can never be forgotten.

God has taught me that in choosing to live a life of daily conscious awareness of Him, I must also choose to release my need for certainty and control. ‘I must lose my life to find it’. Because God is mystery, divine mystery, and to live in intimate relationship with Him is to learn to trust in his Love and purpose and to discern when it is calling us to let go of certain fears or situations and to allow his Spirit to lead us to a deeper and richer relationship with Him and experience of Life.

He taught me that doubting what others would have me believe was the starting point of my individual questioning and that it was that individual searching that uncovered, and continues to nurture, the mustard seed of true faith that He planted in me at birth.


My journey to faith in God has been both helped and hindered by involvement with other individuals and groups. It’s grown naturally and organically from personal experience, by learning what is Love and what is Grace…and what is not; through observing the example of others and the effect it has on those around them.

I’ve seen others demonstrate a depth of generosity of spirit that I don’t possess and a height of arrogance that I do. But all of it has shown me what helps us to continue growing as human beings and what it is that tries to crush or stifle that growth.

I hope that, one day, my example and my journey of faith and trust in God will have enough power to provide strong branches of hope and encouragement to others seeking meaning, fulfilment, growth and understanding of what’s truly behind their nagging sense of ‘something more’.


Because all true pilgrimage is not really, at its heart, a journey to the physical site of any religious temple or relic or the regular celebration of commemorative sacraments or rituals. Rather, it’s a way of travelling to the internal place within us where we find a growing understanding of who and what God is, and what meaning this understanding creates within our lives.

It’s where we gradually and ultimately come to see and accept how God moves within our lives. It’s where the first steps of our deeply personal relationship with him are formed and it’s where we learn the healing power of speaking honestly with Him about the doubts and desires of our hearts. This is true, heart-and-soul-felt prayer and this is the place where our personal understanding of and peace with God is both found and made.


It’s where we find the spark of inspiration, the root of our belonging, the way of seeing what really matters and, in the seeing and understanding, it’s where we find our personal pathway to the purpose, meaning and inner peace we seek within our lives.

It’s in these moments, when we speak and listen from a place of truth with God, that we discover how inseparable Truth is from True Love, and how True Love is inseparable from Divine Love. The Love that God is.


It takes courage to start out on a personal pilgrimage, one that trusts more what the Spirit moving inside us is trying to tell us, than the voices around us who want us to ‘stay safely as we are’. But every act of true faith involves confronting the fears within us and the fears of those around us.


So let me be the voice that encourages you. Start walking your own personal pilgrimage, whatever and however that may be, and I guarantee that you will meet with God in a unique, personal, totally-disarming and life-enhancing way…as sure as the sun rises on the distant horizon, each and every day.


I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve seen it happening, time and time again; God responding, in seemingly miraculous ways, to people’s sincere and heart-felt desire to know and to more fully understand Him; and to the commitment and courage of any individual who truly seeks to find Him. Because we all, knowingly or unknowingly, long for and seek non-judgmental acceptance, compassionate understanding and unconditional Love. And these three things I’ve found, after many miles of personal pilgrimage, are simply other names for God.

Sometimes

Sometimes words don’t work.
Sometimes a candle-lit room, accompanied by the sound of rain, says more than the greatest philosopher.
Sometimes pain is our greatest teacher.
Sometimes those that give us life try to destroy us.
Sometimes time doesn’t heal our wounds.
Sometimes choosing life is harder than giving in to death.
Sometimes friends become our family.
Sometimes healing hurts more than the injury.
Sometimes we must let go in order to receive.
Sometimes we don’t live happily ever after.
Sometimes we must create distance, in order to find ourselves.
Sometimes we must embrace our fear and sit with our grief.
Sometimes tears come without reason.
Sometimes it is better to receive than to give.
Sometimes it is “and” and not “or”.
Sometimes there is no explanation.
Sometimes stillness is the best medicine.
Sometimes breathing is all we can do.
Sometimes we are shattered.
And sometimes…
we are held.

(Poem by Carli Youndt, from the anthology Held: Blessings for the depths’)

“Start here, start now…”

Two people inspired me to start writing my blog again this week and they did it subtly and unintentionally, just by telling me their stories, which came straight from their hearts. Talking to both of them felt a little bit like looking in a mirror because, although we had different views and experiences in relation to some things, there was enough similarity and respect between us to find light in the reflections. One of them was Robert (shown outside Logroño´s church hostel in the photos above), a pilgrim from Germany, who had walked more than 2,700km from his hometown of Leipzig (through Switzerland, France and now Spain) and who arrived in Logroño on day 114 of his long-distance trek, looking for somewhere to stay.

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I first came to the city in March of this year, also walking the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, and when I finally reached that destination several months later, I turned round and walked back here again. Because the last 6 years have taught me the value and wisdom of listening to the quiet but insistent voice of my heart and my heart told me to return. It´s six months since my last proper ´blog´post and I shared it just before leaving Logroño, Santiago-bound. I´d spent the first period of the Coronavirus lock-down here, gradually growing to love this beautiful and historic place; and also having most of my prejudices about Christian communities and Catholicism challenged by what I saw and experienced at that time.

For the initial part of the confinement period I lived in a rented apartment which happened to be right on the Camino path through the city; a fact that I was unaware of when I booked it on-line through Airbnb . And again by pure coincidence, I soon discovered on my daily walk to the supermarket that, in the street next to the apartment, was the church of La Iglesia Santiago El Real. When I saw that the church was open I began to go there each day in search of some spiritual connection and solace because, despite being a lapsed Catholic who turned her back on organised religion and belief in God as a teenager (many years ago) church buildings have always felt, somewhat paradoxically, like places of sanctuary to me.

When the priest noticed a regular, solitary stranger sitting quietly in the semi-deserted pews each day, he asked me who I was and why I was here and, discovering that I was a peregrina he invited me to move into the pilgrim hostel which is attached to the church, until the on-going state-of-alarm and its related confinement came to an end.

If I believed in the holy spirit of God (which I do and have used many different names to refer to in the last few years: the Universe, Life, Love etc) I would say that the coincidences that occurred were the Spirit at work. But I also believe that the Spirit doesn´t work in isolation, it needs the force of our trusting cooperation, our loving choice (for ourselves and others) and the conscious use of our own free will. I chose to stay in Spain and to wait as long as it took to be able to continue my Camino because the quiet voice of my heart said “It´s important that you stay”. And staying brought me shelter, a small but welcoming community, and a great big challenge to face the arrogance of my ´blanket prejudice´ against the majority of practicing Christians and the Catholic Church as a whole.

Because that´s the thing I find with this troublesome Spirit that moves us…it doesn´t just move us into peaceful places filled with harmony, endless birdsong, rainbows, love and light. If we´re prepared to truly surrender ourselves to it and to see things through its unrelenting ´eye-of-truth´, it will also take us to dark and challenging places on occasion, to show us the error of our ignorant, loftily-superior, naive, unforgiving and often self-defeating ways.

So here I am, living once again in the church hostel, which has a long tradition of offering safe refuge to pilgrims who request it. There haven´t been many other pilgrims passing through the city lately, which is understandable, as a second wave of movement and service restrictions is currently affecting both the city and the country as a whole. But, in spite of this, two intrepid souls did appear on the hostel doorstep on different evenings last week; the first a young man in his early 20’s, who´d walked more than 800kms from Le-Puy-en-Velay in France, and the second was mild-mannered but highly motivated and quietly-inspiring Robert from Leipzig in Germany.

Although it´s officially closed (and has been for most of this year) the pilgrim hostel´s guiding principle of Christian hospitality (which it actively lives, rather than just preaches) has always been: “No-one will be left to sleep on the street…there will always be room here for those in need”. And so room was found for each of them and dinner and breakfast were provided too.

That gave me a wonderful opportunity to share meals with them, to talk about the profound life questions that many pilgrims often find themselves discussing and to hear their stories about why they’d decided to walk now. The young pilgrim from France said he wanted to challenge the culture of fear that seems to be sweeping through the world. “At home people told me that it wouldn´t be possible to walk the Camino now” he said “but I have no problems. People welcome me and I find somewhere to sleep every night. I find that when I listen to other people´s opinions my world becomes small and unhealthy, but when I decide to find things out for myself, I see that they´re not the way others say they are.”

He talked about his frustration that many people seem to just accept whatever they see on television, and the more sensational and pessimistic the news, the more willing he felt they were to absorb it and to pass it on. “I don´t waste my time anymore talking to people who have no direct experience of something and just repeat what they see on television believing that it´s the truth.” he said. “There´s no point in trying to tell them otherwise, they just don´t listen”. He also had an interesting question for me, and for the priest, before he left.

“Why don´t Christians believe in miracles anymore?” he said. “If they truly did they would accept that this is all part of God´s plan and they would have more faith, but they seem to believe more in fear and wanting to spread that fear to everyone around them. No-one seems to believe in miracles anymore”.

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Robert´s story was an unfolding one. He told me that he left Leipzig with the initial intention of walking to Switzerland but that, when he got there, his heart told him to keep on going. He´d had the desire to walk the Camino for some time and that had prompted him to start his epic journey but it was people´s reactions to him, and the good fortune and kindness that he experienced on the way, that had motivated him to keep going. “I´m keeping a diary” he said, “of all the things that people give to me and do for me to help me on my way. Look!” and, with that, he showed me a little notebook, its pages filled with neat, individual entries. “Every one is an individual act of kindness” he said with a smile.

“In Switzerland I only had to pay for one night´s accommodation, all the other times people invited me into their homes or offered me somewhere sheltered to stay. They trusted me, a complete stranger, because I´m having the courage to do what I´m doing. They were interested in hearing my story and I learned something valuable from my experience of spending time with each of them.”

He talked about more things uniting us as human beings, despite our different languages and cultures, than dividing us. He said that what we all want, deep down, is connection, humanity, contact with each other and love. “I don´t want to live in a new normal of social-distancing and wearing masks all the time” he said “I refuse to live with that culture of fear…and part of this pilgrimage is sharing that message of hope with others, because I´m finding many, many people who feel the same way”.

And his words lit a little light of hope inside me, because I also feel the same. This camino has taught me to be respectful of other people´s fears because I´ve come to understand that, in many cases, they´re acutely felt. But what I won´t accept is other people´s pessimism or their attemps to stifle genuine actions or expressions of hope because it feels threatening to their own circumstances or beliefs.

I´m a firm believer in optimism. I believe that there will be many, many pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago next year, but I´m in a staggering minority in that belief. Someone said to me recently “It´s fine being an optimist, but we have no idea what will happen next year. You have to be a realist too.” I am. I fully accept that I may be wrong and, if I am, that that will be part of God´s plan for us all too. But thinking as I do, and taking action now to help prepare for what I believe, is not being blindly optimistic or unrealistic, it´s doing something positive and creative to manifest a little hope in the midst of all this uncertainty and fear.

Today is the first day of Advent, a massively symbolic period of hope for a brighter future, regardless of individual belief. There is a Spirit that fills this Universe and that touches all of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. One of the ways that it manifests itself positively and noticeably is when we cultivate an inner sense of Hope, but it doesn´t work in a vacuum…it has to be invited in.

On my first Camino five years ago I met an Englishman called Christopher. He was on his third attempt to reach Santiago, his previous pilgrmages having come to unexpected and premature ends. He became a symbol of hope personified for me and he left me with some memorable words of wisdom:

You have to be prepared to believe in miracles before they can happen Michele. It never works the other way around”