07/08/2013 05:55 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2013

Rites of Awakening

Pour water into the kettle. About five minutes to boil. Set up the french press with six or seven scoops of coffee grounds. In the meantime, boot the computer up. Log in to check and reply to emails. Check for "friend" activity on Facebook. Go to a news site. By now, the kettle's hissing, sputtering with impatience. Pour water into the carafe, stir, and wait four or five minutes. Press. Pull out my favorite mug and add milk, microwave for 30 seconds.

Pour coffee. Sit, sip, and wait.

It's a ritual of awakening that many would recognize, a "getting ready" for what's coming routine, but I sometimes wonder if it's more like a ritual against awakening: Things I do, each day, according to rules of the day. Its labors. Its time. Its worries. Almost like putting on protective clothing against fatigue, against the too real face of the day which is not beautiful, not promising, that is more likely to be a slog than yet another "soaring" day at the office.

That may be for me. But it is not so with our children. When our children wake, they almost always go for a snuggle. A spot of time curled up on the couch beside their mother do more for them than any stimulant will ever do for me.

That and a cup of warm milk. A bowl of cereal. A slice of toast with jam.

I'm not likely to give up my morning routine of coffee and Internet, but watching children discloses a different sense of time, of day, of being. For one, children choose companionship over caffeine. They also choose the warmth of real human beings rather than social networking. They "occupy" time, laying hold of it in an almost effortless way as they play, sensing that this is what it is for, that this activity, in its timelessness, in its time-fullness is the very thing for the hour. Indeed, there is no "hour" as such, only the jostling of tickles and splendid abandon of bodies to giggles.

Of course, with children things can quickly turn into drawn faces and tears. Just as completely as they lend themselves to play, so completely they surrender themselves to seemingly devastating grief -- my sister poked me, or a spilled glass of orange juice will do it -- these things can turn light into darkness in an instant.

As a parent, I've tried minimizing but that rarely works. Even with adults it doesn't work. But if I happen to see a bird, maybe a cardinal outside our window, I will say to our 2-year-old son, "Look at that bird, Gabriel, do you see that cardinal?!"

He whirls around to see and now he is besotted by a brilliant bird that will light upon a fencepost and be gone an instant later. Almost magically, with tear drops still wet on his cheek, the universe becomes full again, vibrant and colorful, full of flight and unanticipated praise.

Often, he will claim the gift of discovery as his own, and while I'm distracted with other things, he will bellow, "Look, Daddy, look at the bird, a big one!"

And thus it happens to me, too. Awakened to a world brimming with ordinary miracles, you can turn back to the broken parts of life with a little more perspective, a sense of the world alive around you.

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that God begins the work of creation under cover of night: "There was evening and there was morning, the first day..." We awaken to the world already born, already wailing with its colors and its textures and its diversity. While we slept, the Creator swept over the depths of non-being with the living breath that stirs our silences into life, our shapelessness into hills and valleys and waters, each wholly abandoned to its own form of praise. It is not that we need to "make" the world but that we only need to respond to it, to welcome it as it has welcomed us, in our own way, with our particular voices.

So I'm trying in my own life, when the broken parts seem to be the only part. Awakening to the riot of colors in the prairie, the low level hum of insects as they create a symphony of sound out of wings. Miracles of life, gifts of creation's abundance, remind me that the broken parts of life, while real, are not finally definitive. There's still something of the child in every grown up, whose eyes can become captive to the beautiful and the magical.

Or so my children are teaching me. . . .