The Great Quiet

The soul of the earth holds
me with her arms, her
enfolding secrets of quiet.

“Listen,” she whispers to
delirious ears, “for my
desperate, insistent heart.”

For decades, nothing. Then:

“Forgive me, Mother.
I hear you now, and your
immense, dark silence.”

Michael James Fitzgerald

Photo courtesy Cristi Fitzgerald ❤️

A Covenant of Flowers

On loan from a distant world,
your borrowed beauty wakes
on spring’s eve,

Yellow trumpets singing
holy anthems to
the bones of the earth,

Summoning wonders and powers
and unfixed memories mere
science cannot abide:

This secret of the universe—
She in high office owns
a tireless eye for beauty.

Michael James Fitzgerald

Be Still, Know Peace, and Know God

I’m fond of stillness. I need a sweet slice of it every day. Without it, I feel empty and lost.

Sometimes I’ll sit in my home office and simply observe my thoughts and be present (though at times I listen and take notes). Sometimes I just quietly absorb the Infinite, trying to not put meaning on anything, letting negativity and judgment drift away. It’s like meditation, but not textbook. It’s a place where a scattered mind can regroup.

Be still, and know that I am God. —Psalms 46:10

It’s not easy to do nothing, but like nothing else, quiet heals. It reorders a disordered heart and mind.

Sometimes I find stillness in the car with the radio and smartphone off. The autonomic nervous system takes over the wheel and my mind is free to be.

Sometimes in the small hours, before my wife and the world are awake, I lie still on our bed, alone with God. He has a lot to say if we’ll listen.

I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. —Psalms 63:6

I love time in nature too. Fortunately we are near miles of nature trails where I run in the warmer, snowless months. A recent study found that a 90-minute nature walk reduced rumination or “repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self,” a known mental health risk factor. I’ve experienced that reduced rumination and I’m sure you have as well. (A 90-minute walk in an urban setting, by the way, produced no such benefit.)

The key for me is to turn away from distraction, especially media via technology. Distraction is a modern blight that seems bent on suffocating the world. I have found that nothing unsettles me like modern media, including social media. I need quiet to sort the world out.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. —Psalms 107:30

If quiet seems foreign to you, dive in. For me, it’s a survival skill.

Find a quiet place in the house with a comfortable chair—it might have to be before anyone else is awake or after everyone is in bed—and leave your smartphone in the other room. Or find a path in a forest or an open field. Then take a swim in the quiet. Observe and feel.

Give yourself 10 or 15 minutes, at least. Be open and trusting. In time, if you’re patient, your peace can flow like a river (see Isaiah 48:18).

“Forgiveness Flour” by Marguerite Stewart

Today I heard for the first time Marguerite Stewart’s poem, “Forgiveness Flour,” over the stake conference pulpit.

When I went to the door, at the whisper of knocking,
I saw Simeon Gantner’s daughter, Kathleen, standing
There, in her shawl and her shame, sent to ask
“Forgiveness Flour” for her bread. “Forgiveness Flour,”
We call it in our corner. If one has erred, one
Is sent to ask for flour of his neighbors. If they loan it
To him, that means he can stay, but if they refuse, he had
Best take himself off. I looked at Kathleen . . .
What a jewel of a daughter, though not much like her
Father, more’s the pity. “I’ll give you flour,” I
Said, and went to measure it. Measuring was the rub.
If I gave too much, neighbors would think I made sin
Easy, but if I gave too little, they would label me
“Close.” While I stood measuring, Joel, my husband
Came in from the mill, a great bag of flour on his
Shoulder, and seeing her there, shrinking in the
Doorway, he tossed the bag at her feet. “Here, take
All of it.” And so she had flour for many loaves,
While I stood measuring.

Forgiveness mustn’t be a stingy business, though it’s usually painful to offer. It happens at our very core or it doesn’t happen at all. But it takes time, and we are often willing before we are able.

It’s self-liberating because, once you forgive, you can think clearly about something else. The more freely we give and forgive, the freer we become.

I am indebted to Madison U. Sowell who helped my find this poem as he cited it in his BYU Devotional, “On Measuring Flour and Forgiveness.” “Forgiveness Flour” by Marguerite Stewart was published in the Religious Studies Center Newsletter 7, no. 3 (May 1993).

Walking into the Future

Forty years ago today, alone and scared, I walked into the front doors of the Salt Lake Mission Home—the old Lafayette School—at 75 North Temple in Salt Lake City. It was terrifying, but it was also one of the best investments I have ever made.

Mothers and fathers were weeping with their departing missionaries. My parents were 800 miles away. I was there against their will, so I was alone. I was rebelling against them by going on a mission.

I had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 14 months earlier. Nobody talked me into going on a mission, and no one could talk me out of it (except myself, but I didn’t). I knew from day one of my conversion that a mission was my destiny, that this is what I should be doing with the end of my second decade and the beginning of my third. And I am so glad I did.

My mission was really hard, but I loved it. I loved the people of northeastern Ohio. I loved my companions. It was so hard it was funny. Not just in retrospect, but while I was in the middle of it, it was funny. Sometimes our trials can be so incessant and ridiculous, we just have to laugh.

Here’s an example. I was in my first area, Alliance, Ohio. My trainer and I were knocking a door. A man came to the door and said “not interested!” in 3.22 seconds. He tried to close the glass storm door, but it was cold and windy. The wind caught the door and blew it open again, and the glass broke on my hand. It started to bleed, a lot. Our erstwhile antagonist softened. He apologized profusely and invited us in so he could get a bandage for my hand. That door approach still makes me laugh!

I’m grateful beyond measure for those trials—and for my current “great fight of afflictions” (see Hebrews 10:32)—because they do three very important things for us: they make us grow up; they prepare us for upcoming trials; and they open the door for us to draw closer to God.

On that cold Saturday morning in January 1977, I had no one and nothing to turn to except the true and living God. He did not let me down that day. He never has. It’s through extremity, when we can feel Him carrying us, that we come to know Him best.

The old Lafayette School was torn down in 1994. Behind it was an office building, built in 1973, that is still there. I have no memory of that other building, but I no doubt noticed it at the time. It’s the building where I now work. Incidentally, I am currently a ward mission leader. I go out with the missionaries almost every week.  Where will I be in 40 years? I don’t know for sure, but I hope missionary work is involved.

14 Powerful Quotes about Goals

“If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.” ―Lou Holtz

“I’ve worked too hard and too long to let anything stand in the way of my goals . . . I will not let myself down.” ―Mia Hamm

“Be unstoppable. Refuse to give up, no matter what. It’s the best skill you can ever learn.” ―Charlotte Eriksson

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard . . . is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.” ―Shauna Niequist

“An average person with average talent, ambition and education can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals.” ―Brian Tracy

“You may be the only person left who believes in you, but it’s enough. It takes just one star to pierce a universe of darkness.”  ―Richelle Goodrich

“People do not wander around and then find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.” ―Zig Ziglar

“While intent is the seed of manifestation, action is the water that nourishes the seed. Your actions must reflect your goals in order to achieve true success. . . . Take action! An inch of movement will bring you closer to your goals than a mile of intention.” ―Steve Maraboli

“If you’re not honest about what you want, you’re never going to get anywhere.” ―Sara Winters

“When reaching for the stars, there does not have to be a ‘how’ if there is a big enough ‘why’.” ―Criss Jami

“Don’t judge your creation. Just create it. Banish doubt and fear and step out of your own way if you have to. . . . Do what you were born to do. Only then will you know a remarkable life.”  ―Toni Sorenson

“The hallmark of great dreams is not their possibility but their impossibility, and the fact that it is the very notion of the ‘impossible’ that inspires us to go and accomplish them anyway.” ―Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Although goals are important, having a plan of action is vital to the success of those goals. Having a goal with no plan of action is like wanting to travel to a new destination without having a map.” —Steve Maraboli

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” ―Rabindranath Tagore