The glory of God is the human being fully alive. (St. Irenaeus)
The days of a human life are like grass: they bloom like a wildflower; but when the wind blows through it, it’s gone; even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it. (Psalm 103:15-16; context)
In a few moments, I’m going to ask you an odd question, so I feel the need to prepare you for it first. Perhaps, the preparation will make the question seem less odd; only these intervening paragraphs will tell. Because I am in the act of typing this and (in an indeterminate number of temporal increments down the timeline) you are in the act of reading it, I feel quite confident in diagnosing both of us as “alive.”
Now, of course, you might have jumped out of the pages of a scifi/fantasy novel and thus might not be alive, but if that were the case, I imagine you’d be out looking for brains or thralls or something and not reading this reflection. But I digress.
So we are both alive. But I wonder what we really mean when we claim this. I am biologically alive because my respiratory system is working to bring air into my lungs, which then oxygenate my blood, which then travels to my heart, which then pumps it out into my organs, which then continue their never-ending routine. When these organs and systems cease functioning, I will no longer be alive.
But there must be more to being alive than the complex machinery of my body working in concert with the fuel that I ingest to keep the machine running. Biological life – the fact that I am a semi-autonomous organic construct that responds to some sort of stimuli – must only be one part of what makes me alive or else I wouldn’t have ever thought to reflect on it.
And this brings us to the quotation above from St. Irenaeus, who lived during the 100s in what is modern-day France. “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” In our discussion of biological life, it would seem that being alive is one half of a binary state. We are either alive or dead. But if we take what Irenaeus says seriously, it would seem that life could be lived with more or less fullness, and the fuller a life is lived, the more of God’s glory is shone.
So my question is this: when have you ever felt fully alive?
Dear God, source of all life, thank you for creating the perfect set of circumstances for life to flourish on this planet and for the circumstances that have transpired to make me the person I am. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, rejoicing that you constantly yearn to draw me more deeply and more fully into life.