" 'The Holy Spirit is the Lord of our time,' a minister once said to me when we were discussing time management and how frustrating it was to that you could never get done exactly what you planned to get done. 'We give ourselves goals, deadlines, schedules, timetables,' he explained, 'but in the end, the Holy Spirit is the Lord of our time.' I understood what he meant. The interruptions — the problem phone call, the crisis at home, the sick colleague whose job we must fill — are holy obligations as serious as the devotional time we've set aside to be with God. Therefore if thou bring they gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

"So morning after morning I come to this place in a world of distractions, and I pray. I don't clock myself, but I use the subway stops as markers, guiding me in my ritual. I read from the 181st Street station to the 125th Street station, usually from the Bible, occasionally from what my wife calls a 'God book' — a work by some metaphysical sage, recent or not so recent. Then at 125th Street I close my eyes. It's the express train, no more stops from there to 59th Street. At least five minutes (but as I say, I've never clocked it) of uninterrupted time. This is my time for God.

"It's so little. I'm almost ashamed to admit to it on paper. There are other times too, I hasten to add. There are spot prayers at work between taking a telephone call, making a trip to the water cooler, and wrestling with moveable icons on the computer. There are letters that are really prayers as they capture a wish or a dream or a hope for someone else. There are formal prayers said at church on my knees, or grace at dinner with the children, thanking God for the minutiae of a day. There are those prayers I say in bed at night when I can't get to sleep because of worries about friends or work or family. And then there are songs that are prayers lingering in my head like the incense that clings to my jacket after a High Church festival Sunday with the thurifer swinging the billowing censer while smoke-sensitive choir members cover their mouths with handkerchiefs.

"But this early-morning time of prayer feels like the most important. Without it my day would fall apart and I would forget whose I am and what I want to do and what I believe. It's the time without which I would exist only for myself, without which I would be consumed by petty demands on my time and petty distractions of my ego. I would be pulled into a thousand pieces by the various roles of life I play — friend, singer, son, do-gooder, student, worshiper, committee member, faithful correspondent, telephone talker, writer, editor, husband, father.

"It's my time. It's my place."