Before the sunrise begins lighting the sky, long before anyone else in the house begins to stir, an alarm pierces the quiet. Through foggy eyes, I fumble around to shut off the noise, and then take a moment to get my bearings.
I shuffle into the bathroom, where a change of clothes laid out the night before awaits. I put myself together to make my way downstairs, where the morning's first task awaits.
I flip on a few lights in the basement, still a little groggy. Through the haze and after a few minutes of stretching, I climb on to my elliptical machine, I set my program, I press Play on my iPod, and I go.
For the next 40 minutes, this is my only concern. No phone rings. No emails demand my attention. My entire family is still sound asleep two floors above. The church won't expect my presence for hours. This time is truly, completely mine. I grimace and push, I mouth the words to a song or catch up on a favorite podcast, I wipe the sweat from my forehead. For a short time, this is my entire world; all the further my reality stretches. It is all I need.
For years and years, I've treated time like a precious possession. My life is carefully measured by minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years. My watch and my calendar are among my greatest treasures. I measure out and give my time to many people in many situations. And those situations are important, and those people need my attention.
But here, before the day's light shines on those people and situations, I wake my mind and body. I engage in my own service of Lauds, calling forth the day from my makeshift kneeling bench with an unconventional liturgy.
It is not just blood and adrenaline, not just muscles and joints working and stretching and preparing for what comes after. It is my mind and my spirit that demands this; that propels me out of bed and down the stairs to begin with. "You must and you will," they say. "We both need this. You cannot refuse."
By the time I finish, I am fully awake. I am ready to greet my waking family, ready to engage in the work of the church. I've taken time for myself and will now give time to many others.
I have tried to start well. Now I continue.