For at least the last 25 years, an old alarm clock radio has sat beside my bed. The radio part stopped working long ago, but the bright red, glowing digital clock has faithfully kept time over all of these years. Look up in the middle of the night, 3:30 — Great! Lots of time to sleep still. Look up again later, 6:00 — Rats! Time to get up. Year after year, my old alarm clock has keep me on time.
And then suddenly, this week, it stopped. .
Well actually, it did not stop. The face of the clock did not suddenly go dark. The red numbers still displayed brightly. But one night this past week when I looked up at the clock, it read 0:00. And then later when I checked to see if it was time to get up, it continued to read 0:00.
I have no idea why my hard working clock was now displaying 0:00, but it got me thinking. What time is 0:00 and what is one supposed to be doing when it is 0:00?
So much of how we live our lives is defined by our clocks. We organize our days in increments of hours. I book out an hour and a half for a meeting, half hour travel time either way. Set aside fifteen hours for the sermon.
Time is also a proxy for how society calibrates the worth of our work. Is your work worth the hourly minimal wage? Is it worth more? Less? Who decides and why?
But sometimes, we find that we have slipped beyond time. (Usually we are not even aware of this until the tick tock, tick tock intrudes on us again and we realize that we had been in its absence).
We sit at the bedside of a beloved who is dying recounting stories and gently sweeping the hair from her precious brow.
We rock our newborn while the rest of the house sleeps and find that the gentle light from a street lamp outside our window feels like the presence of a friend.
We are swept up in creativity’s embrace and become her pen, her paintbrush, her lens. We are filled by such beauty and wisdom beyond our capacity to bring into being — so much so that the product of our labors feels not like ours at all!
There are times when we slip out of time and are in a space and place where there are no hours, no march of time at all.
There is a deep story of our faith that come from the book of Exodus. It is a story about a people who cried out to God because they no longer wanted to be a people bound to the clock. They did not want to be a time card, punch the clock, calculate your worth by what you produce — people. They could no longer stand being slaves to Pharaoh.
They did not know what the alternative was, to be sure. They had no idea what living at 0:00 would be like, but they were willing to risk a change. And they were delivered. They were no longer to be slaves to production but instead would be set free to be children of God.
That did not mean that they got to do whatever they wanted. No, indeed! There were commandments to be given and to be followed. There was a covenant of relationship to define who they were and were to be. And it meant that they would take time to step out of time each week to honor their freedom from the clock and that freedom would come to be called Sabbath. Sabbath was what was set in time to remember that they were people a part from time. Slaves no longer of the hours, but freed children of the God of 0:00.
I take Fridays as my day off each week. On Fridays I have set the intention that I will refrain from checking my email. I am thinking now about adding the intention of living at 0:00. What would it be like to have one day not parceled out to the hours of expectation and duty but instead to live it at 0:00?
My old radio alarm clock may be on its last leg. But I will let its 0:00 continue to light up my nights and illuminate my waking for a few more weeks. I think it may be telling me something that I very much need to hear, see and be.