from the Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine
By Dan Morehead
Dear Lord, help me to be at peace, so that others may be at peace.
Life is not harder than it used to be. In fact, in most ways life is much easier than it used to be. But life is more hectic than it used to be.
The mental pace of life has increased exponentially. Whether we wish for it or not, we are bombarded by text messages, Facebook posts, faxes, calls, emails, billboards, tweets, television, free samples, advertisements, blah, blah, blah. There is simply no down time left.
A few weeks ago I was on an interstate road trip, returning from a funeral. At 5 am in full darkness I pulled into a deserted rural gas station and began to pump my gas. I leaned on the car, staring absentmindedly at the whirling digits on the display. Eighteen inches from my face, a television turned itself on and began shouting “news” and advertisements. A small but well-protected speaker beamed urgent, distorted noise of faux-happiness and insistent encouragement. I looked around for some large metal object with which I could defend myself, but finding none I filled my tank and beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of the interstate.
I do not know anyone who likes this. In truck stop form, most of us find it ugly and alienating. Far better to return to the peace of our own homes, where we can, unmolested, sit back, relax, and turn on our cell phones, computers, and televisions, and go through our messages, mail, websites, shows and books in our own way. Because in the end, we overstimulate ourselves. This dangerous kind of overstimulation and haste is not the ugly and alienating kind; it is the kind filled with all that we desire, the forbidden fruit of the information age which is a “delight to the eyes” and “desirable for making one wise” (Gen 3:6).
In the end, it is I who want faster downloads, I who get impatient in the grocery store line, I who curse other drivers for getting in my way, I who hurry my children along so we won’t be late for church.
Contemplation is indeed the cure for all of this. For contemplation is, in one way, simply not doing. It is refraining from action, refraining from thinking, refraining from fantasizing, refraining from exploring.
Contemplation is just being still in the presence of God, or better, being still and recognizing the presence of God. And this is the way it has always been defined in the Christian tradition: not thinking, not doing, not sensing and not feeling. Just stopping and remaining in that something greater than ourselves, that deep darkness which dazzles.
Happily, we do not have to know much about contemplation to do it. Reading about contemplation, knowing about contemplation, and talking about contemplation help only a little bit. Practicing contemplation, however poorly and sporadically, bears surprisingly good fruit. Fifteen minutes (though it seems like an eternity) is enough, and five minutes (though filled with distraction and doubt) will make an appreciable difference. If we can “not do” regularly enough, over a long enough period of time, we shall begin to slow down. We shall begin (after much second-guessing and boredom), to know true peace, true calm, true clarity, and true love. We shall begin to receive what God has to give us, to hear the voice of God through the insistent shouting of our own minds.
And we shall finally, after much struggle and doubt, be in a position to offer those things to others. For we cannot give away what we do not have, and we cannot bring peace and love if we do not have peace and love to bring.
Of course, we will fail regularly as we attempt to bring peace into the world. We will, in the twinkling of an eye (or video screen), be swept back into the anxiety and urgency of the ephemeral and the unimportant. Over and over, we will go out with God and return with shopping bags full of everything but God. And here again contemplation shall be our friend. If we can return to it, we can shed that stress and empty desire, and return to that which truly satisfies.
Over and over, we will have to return, re-center, repent, and re-orient ourselves to God. Regular contemplation is a gathering of our scattered selves, a re-collection, an inspirational breathing in, so that we can again engage the world, and take God back into the headlong rush of the streams of life.
Taking peace and quiet out into the world will never mean effortless or stress-free living. It will never mean we are above it all, no longer subject to hurry and overstimulation. It will never mean that we can erase all of the wrongs and ills of the world, or alter the course of others’ lives through a mere word or look. But it does mean that we will no longer inflict so much of our own hurt, hurry, and impatience on the rest of the world.
And it does mean that we will sometimes be in a position to offer peace where there is fighting, grace where there is grasping, love where there is fear, and forgiveness where there is injury.
Daniel Morehead is a psychiatrist in private practice. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and 14-year-old son, where they attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Reach him at
To read more articles from the Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine, or to read the entire issue, go to this page.
● Declare some “no electronics” spaces and times in your home. So, for instance, the kids are not allowed to bring their iPhones to the dinner table. The backyard is off limits to anything digital.
● Let Sunday be Sabbath. Just for one day, don’t work.
● Remember that talking on the phone — even if it is not hand-held — is as dangerous as driving drunk. Let voice mail get it. If your city does not have a “no phone while driving” law, work to enact one.