Monday, May 14, 2018








May 14, 2018

What a pure gift my pilgrimage has been.  I am humbled and overflowing with gratitude for all of the ways God has brought people into my life before, during, and presently at this holy shrine. I’ve spent a great time in reflection on how I will end this blog. Here is my story. Here is my heart. Here, our call to God’s whispers in our soul. Allow me a brief personal history.

My call to walk my first Camino came during intimate prayer time. March 23, 2012 was the first surprise. I won’t go into the detail, but somewhere during contemplation I had a moment when the Camino burst into my awareness.  I could go on and on about the moment, but the most precious experience from that spiritual experience was a mighty and certain and heart-compelling moment when I heard God speak to me. Well, it was more like a power embedded in a whisper. It came in two words, “Have faith.”

This has been a prayer mantra for me every day since.  It empowered not only my first Camino. It has pushed me in ministry to do what I never thought I could ever do. It has been a force to go beyond myself. And, it came in His mighty whisper, “Have faith.”

I returned from that Camino so humbled and grateful to share the insights and experiences of life while on a 500 mile walking pilgrimage. I thought it was a one and done deal. Two years later in fall 2015, again during a deep moment in prayer, a new whisper drifted powerfully into my spirit. I can only say that God spoke to me to return to the Camino, again. Yep, I was being called to walk all 500 miles again. He whispered these irresistible words into my soul, “I have so much more to tell you.” I know full well what this means.

After serious prayer, my wife and I agreed that I was to accept God’s call. I walked the Camino and His offer was so cherished. I do so love the uninterrupted time to reflect on His goodness while walking in all His breath-taking creation. It is the 24/7 silence and uninterrupted prayer I grew to treasure. His whispered offer was abundantly made true. When I “shut up and listen” there is room for listening for more of Him.

Returning from the second pilgrimage was to be my last. What more could God want me to gain while walking again? My life ambition is to complete a book of my Camino experiences. I was 13 chapters into the book when some life demands put the writing on hold. When I tried to return to the writing, my memory of Camino faded with the two year hiatus.

The God of surprises had a new calling for me to walk the last 200 miles of the Camino from Leon to Santiago.  This took on a serious discernment. I was older, and I well knew the sacrifice of what was ahead. Leaving my precious wife for three weeks was a big sacrifice. However, when God calls, I must listen. And listen I did, to yet another compelling God whisper captured in these words, “Catch the thunder.”

That might sound odd to most, but it strikes a profound note in my heart of hearts. You see, I have a riveted inspiration in St. James and his brother, St. John. Jesus found something enduring about them enough to provide a nickname for them in Mark 3, “Men of Thunder.” To say that the idea of those boys being identified with something as bold as thunder can only suggest that there must have been nothing timid about them. Thunder is loud, it announces something bigger ahead, it is attention-getting, it makes one stop and listen. Thunder is power.

Can you see how this out of nowhere God whisper, “Catch the thunder” would arrest my attention? I was completely consumed in this new calling.

That’s a bit of the history. Now the best part. It is May 13, 2018. I am vested as a deacon and about to serve on the altar at the Cathedral of Santiago, my thunderous hero.

Who would have known what would happen on this day, and only at this pilgrim mass. It is a special celebration of Feast of the Ascension, and yes, St. James, my hero, “man thunder” is being paraded among the faithful as the one who was faithful to Christ as He arose at the Ascension. The image of St. James was leading us in worship of the One whom he followed, served, and was beheaded in faithfulness (Acts 12:2) The service was to honor Jesus, but the life example of James was leading our way.

For my whole life, I will never forget this moment. I vested with six priests and another deacon from Portugal, praise God, he spoke Spanish and English. He and I led the procession immediately behind a glass encased bust of St. James resting on long, horizontal, wood poles that secured it. Four men carried the bust of the apostle's image on their shoulders.  In front of them was a male cantor with a professional and deep voice leading song. Before him was a small band of bassoons and French horns. This blared a melody I never before or would have imagined played together so commandingly.  Filling the musical air above the band and singing was one of Europe’s prized pipe organs. Known for its 200 plus pipes, its notes rattled fifty foot high arches built in the year 1078 (that’s more 400 years before Columbus!)

Now the wow part- the ritual of the Botafumeiro, the giant incensor that stands three and half foot tall by two foot wide was ignited. The eight servers prepared this silver vessel carrying flaming coals and billowing clouds of incense,  hoisted this "spreader of fumes"  allowing it to swing like a pendulum fifty feet to one side of church nearly fifty feet to the cathedral's ceiling. The free swinging movement allowed it to raced with speed and momentum fifty feet to the other side and another fifty feet to the ceiling on the other side of the church. It was spellbinding. 

Now imagine being in the procession while the botafumeiro was roaring just eight feet over your head?  The silver vessel gleamed from the raging charcoal flames inside and the spewing cloud of incense.  I stood directly beneath this with my mouth agape while sweet-smelling incense sifted from above for me to breath in. It was such a rare gift.

In front of this small band was one tall young man carrying a long silver staff.  In a perfect cadence to the progression of music and all behind him in procession, he would stop with all going silent. He would then pound the staff dramatically on the marble floor. Its sound was a startling distinction, alarming, and demanded attention. After a short pause, the ensemble would continue.

This procession within the Cathedral of Santiago thundered with song, music, organ pipes so loud the notes rattled in your chest. The sharp striking of the staff echoing off the ceiling and reverence of nearly 2000 worshipers leaning over for photos was all too humbling. My senses were on overload so I worked so hard to memorize everything I saw, heard, and smelt.  

Then an inspiration laced in emotion washed over me while taking in all I was experiencing during this service. I can but describe it as something from the Holy Spirit. Do I dare call it a holy thunder? It rolled above me, behind me, around me, beneath me, while encircling me. As one of the first in the procession, I was catching thunder deep in my soul. I stole a quick flashback to my God whisper. Yes, yes, yes! This was the gift He had planned for me in His whisper, “Catch the thunder.” God's timing is perfect. It's never early, never late. His perfect timing allowed me to experience a holy thunder, body and spirit, in the Cathedral of Santiago and on the Feast of the Ascension! 

I am profoundly humbled. I am blessed. I am loved. I am His.

When I step back and look at this whole history of God whispers and His calling me to the Camino, a new insight is born. I string all three together: “Have faith, I have so much more to tell you. Catch the Thunder.”

These are three pearls of grace I do not take lightly. Nor should we ever take the graces God puts in our life lightly. Though some might read this final reflection and think, “Well, that’s nice for you, but I’ve never had that. God doesn’t speak to me. I’ve never had a God whisper.”
I get it. I can only share my truth in hopes it leads you to find truth in your journey of faith.

That point made, let me make some things clear. Hearing God’s call is an infrequent gift to me. I seek it, but I don’t get these callings regularly. God whispers are undeniable, but they are not for me every day, every week, or every month experiences. These experiences are graces God offers as He chooses. There is no spiritual cause and effect routine for receiving them.

However, there are some things on my part in which I can cooperate with grace. There are even some things I can do to be more receptive to receiving His grace. I feel compelled to offer these.

Four for Our Camino:
First, I must have the desire to hear God speak to me. Sounds simple, but there are times I’m not honestly sure I want to hear Him tell me to do something different than what I’m enjoying right then.  I might say I desire to hear God speak, but I don’t allow myself to be in a spiritual posture to receive it. Sometimes I find myself resistant, so I pray that God would give me the desire to desire whatever He wants to speak to my heart. That’s right, desire the desire. That is a prayer posture that starts a new momentum in a spiritual quagmire of me, me, me.

Second, once I’ve prayed for the desire, I need to examine my own conscience.  I ask, is there some unconfessed and/or grave sin I have not “manned up” and addressed? Owning my faults and asking God for forgiveness clears the ear canals of grace.  I cannot hear with a wax build up. Ear wax is like sin. God wants to speak to me, but my ears are plugged with sin. Confessing my sins clears my hearing. Some wax may have festered and hardened by years of denial and passionate protection of my ego. This makes me deaf to God’s voice.

Third, I ask myself if I’m really listening. Thomas Keating’s quote always reminds me to temper my prayer time. He said, “God’s first language is silence; everything else is a poor translation.” I can get caught up in reciting prayers, reading inspirational messages, even reading the scripture without being mindful of whom I’m reading about. What I call prayer time can be more academic and mentally stimulating, a kind of spiritual mind candy. If I’m not mindful, what I call prayer time may not be attentive toward my relationship with Him. Don’t get me wrong, I need all those prayers and certainly the scriptures. However, I fall deaf of Him when I allow it all to be detached from relationship with Christ.

Finally, I can get caught up with my expectation for God to speak during my prayer time. It’s like, “Ok, God, let’s talk, I’ll listen and tell me what you want me to do today.” I might try to compartmentalize God’s time to talk when I scheduled it. Many times I hear nothing. Nothing. That’s ok because He just loves being with me. And the truth is, I love just hanging out with Him.

He can whisper a calling to me any time in my day. He whispers encouragement and love messages in your day as well.  Some will be gentle and soft. And maybe, just maybe, you will receive one that strikes you like thunder.

Here’s my encouragement. Go, catch the thunder. It will roll ahead of you. Thunder comes before the storm. And His is a storm of love.

Be prepared. Listen. God’s whispers might be a rolling thunder within you right now.

I end my Camino with my favorite quote that I hope inspires you. 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us. 
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our Light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others."
                           Nelson Mandella

Ultreia, Deacon Willie