Being Alive

At church yesterday my pastor asked the question “When was the last time you felt fully alive?”  That question got me thinking (as all pastoral questions should), when WAS the last time that I felt fully alive?  That question led in its turn to the question “What does it mean to feel fully alive?”  This new question led me further to wonder “What does it even mean to BE fully alive?”  I’m not at all certain that I know the answer to any of those questions but I believe that they are worth investigating, so I will begin with the last question and work my way towards the first.

I guess that to be fully alive might mean that I am breathing.  Metabolism and cellular respiration are taking place within my body.  I am different from the chair in which I am sitting or the large volcanic rock resting on the patio outside of the coffee house where I sit writing this essay, in that I am alive and they are not.  This revelation would lead me to conclude that the last time that I felt fully alive was the last nanosecond before this current nanosecond.  I do not believe that this conclusion addresses my pastor’s point however.  Under the simple construct “alive equals fully alive” my pastor’s question would have no meaning, and pastors, good ones anyway, don’t ask questions that have no meaning.

Looking a bit further out across the patio I see trees in very large pots.  Those trees are much more like me than the rock is and I believe you could say that it is fully alive.  Water and nutrients are coursing from the roots up the stem and branches to the beautiful red leaves, where photosynthesis is going on to provide the sugar needed by the plant to maintain life.  Yes, I believe that I can honestly say that this tree is fully alive.  What I am not able to say is that it feels fully alive.  I don’t know if the tree feels at all.  Then again, I don’t know that it does not.  I was always intrigued by the line from the 1951 movie “The Thing from Another World” in which an alien that had evolved from a plant origin rather than an animal one is threatening scientists at a research station at the North Pole.  A journalist is amazed by this discovery and a scientist tells him that some plants, such as the telegraph vine, do a certain sort of thinking right here on Earth.  The journalist is mind boggled and then told that he should not be.  “Intelligence in plants and vegetables is an old story Mr. Scott.  Older even than the animal arrogance that has overlooked it.”  Of course, that’s just a movie.  But in truth I don’t know what plants may or may not ‘feel’.  Perhaps they do feel things in some way.  This would be a most unsettling thought for my vegan friends.

So even in my not-knowing I am going to assume that plants never feel more alive or less so.  Animals however present a tougher nut to crack.  I have kept many cats as pets in my life and can testify to their many moods.  I have seen anger, contentment, fear, hunger, playfulness and perhaps even affection in my cats.  What makes the waters more muddy is the question whether the cats KNEW that they were angry, contented, afraid and so on.  I don’t believe that they did.  When a cat was curled up on my blanket-covered lap while I took a nap on a gray winter afternoon, did she ever think “I feel contented now, but I felt more contented last week when I was curled up here after a really big meal?”  I don’t think so.  Plants may feel things and animals certainly do, but I cannot convince myself that either one can reflect on their feelings.  Forgive my human arrogance, but only we can do that.

This brings me to the question of what it means for me to be fully alive, and in order to get to the heart of that I have to ask what if means to be fully me.  That question leads me inevitably into theology, and that should surprise nobody since this whole line of thought began with a question by a pastor in a church on a Sunday morning.  Me, therefore, is a sentient being of the species Homo sapiens (although a charge of containing a considerable amount of Neanderthal DNA has been leveled against me from time to time). I am not only unlike any other non-human lifeforms on this planet, I am unlike any human one too.  I have likes and dislikes, I not only know hunger and contentment and fear but remember other times that I felt them and can grade whether or not I was more hungry then or more afraid now.  I can create and I can willfully destroy; yes, I am unique in the universe.

To what can I ascribe this uniqueness (for better or for worse)?  To chance?  Not likely.  No tornado ever went through a Kansas junkyard and made a jet aircraft, and leaving an old Buick on blocks in the front yard of my house will earn me a few lumps on my head from the hand of my wife but will never evolve into a Lamborghini.  Things left alone go from order to disorder; all real scientists know this.  So I have to conclude that I am designed by an intelligence that is outside of the natural order.

That intelligence has broken into our world and told us a little bit about Itself and why S/he went to the trouble to create me, and has explained that what I am on this day as I write this rambling essay is a very imperfect image of what I was designed to be and, I am promised, some day will be.  I am alive today but not fully alive.  My being, now freed from the iron grip of death, must still drag vestiges of death around as I go about my daily affairs and I cannot help but feel the effects of those ultimately conquered but nevertheless troubling vestiges as I progress towards the day when those final vestiges well be fast off and a new life as what God – let’s go ahead and call that Intelligence what S/He really is – sees me as will begin.

Feeling fully alive, then, means to me feeling at least in part how I will feel when I finally am that being that I am intended to be.  When full joy, full love, full compassion, full mercy, finally are the norm for my life I will be more like the tree and the cat: aware of love but not as a variant from full love and aware of contentment but not as a variant from full contentment and so on.  Only hunger, pain, anger, disappointment and the like will be either memories or obliterated altogether.  A life of infinitely variable joy, not variable in the sense of quality but rather in the manner of sensing and expressing it, will be what I will feel when I am fully alive.

So when was the last time that I felt fully alive?  I haven’t yet.  There are a good many times when I have felt pointed toward feeling fully alive; when a child or grandchild was born, or when a kitten is rescued from likely death, or when I see the first shoots of a garden break through the soil with their promise of delicious and healthy food produced by the work of my hands and sweat of my brow.  But I have never felt fully alive and do not believe that I ever will until my earthly struggle is over and I stand perfected in the presence of Ultimate Perfection.

So should I despair that I can never, by my own efforts, hope to even approach being fully alive while in this life?  Not at all.  I get periodic glimpses of what that fully alive life will be like and that is enough to keep me energized and moving forward toward the life to come.  And when was the last time that I had one of those glimpses of being alive?  Today, and yesterday, and the day before that.  Any time that I stop for a moment to savor watching two friends chat over coffee at the table next to me while one of them scratches behind the ears of a gigantic Newfoundland dog, or when I help a friend prepare his garden for planting the spring crop, or read a story to a grandson sitting on my knee, I am looking down that path toward being fully alive, and sensing in a small way how it will be when it is my only reality.

I believe that we all have many opportunities to feel like we are on that pathway toward being Fully Alive every day.  The complexities of life may cloud the view and there’s no point in being a pollyanna about this; some people’s life circumstances make sensing that path to Fully Alive a lot more difficult to see than do other’s  It can still be done however, if we have the desire to do it.  I recommend that choice, as it makes all of our “nows” more bearable.

2 thoughts on “Being Alive

  1. Well, Glenn, please do not write S/he when referring to God. God is not a female. I am asking you not to even think about God as a female because there is nothing in the Bible to support this thinking. I do not mean any disrespect, by pointing out that this is faulty thinking but I feel compelled as Christ’s ambassador to let you know the truth. However, I think you already know that’s the truth and perhaps were waiting for someone who is blunt and bold enough to tell you. I am actually putting it in writing. It is not often I disagree with you. I am not really a very good ambassador, because I lack in diplomacy and tact has never been one of my gifts.

    The message our pastor gave us yesterday was on whining. He asked us if we wanted some cheese with our whine. Very funny. I was feeling sorry for myself and whining yesterday over the circumstances of which my sons’ poor choices have placed them, their children, their wives, their friends, and their parents in. We love them, but are not responsible for their poor choices but nevertheless feel great sadness about what’s happening. I whined to my husband and told him that neither of us deserved this because we have been good parents. Well, we both have been saved by the grace of God and we didn’t deserve that either.

    I try, but often fail, to live in the nanosecond of every breath He gives me. I find joy in the Lord and the blessings He has given me. I read Scripture every day and feel His presence in nature, in my surroundings, and in my circumstances, and in conversations with Him. He reveals Himself to me in ways I would never have imagined before I was saved. He didn’t promise me a rose garden. He just promised me eternal life and I believe John’s vision in Revelation that Heaven is a real place that is going to be more glorious than even John envisioned.

    I was feeling rather hopeless yesterday, and then God broke into my sorry attitude with the sermon about whine and cheese. I was reminded to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and not on my circumstances or anyone else’s. It was when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus that he began to sink. I do not want to drown in my sorrows. I want to celebrate the joy I find in my Lord and Savior. Even today, when my husband had to take our sweet cat to be euthanized, we were able to rise above our sadness and understand we did what was best for that poor cat. We didn’t want to keep her alive so we didn’t have to suffer the sadness of missing her. She will always be in our hearts and we will remember the frolicking days of her youth and cute and silly things she did to amuse us

    God blessed us with that cat. God blessed us with sons, and we will continue to focus on the good memories of them growing up, getting married, having children, and raising their children as good fathers when they were in a better frame of mind and making better choices.

    Someone asked me one day many years ago when our son was having problems if I were sorry I had children. My immediate answer was no. It still is. Life is full of problems. Life isn’t fair.

    I can look forward to an eternal life of joy, no tears, no sickness, no sin, no problems, and to having personal conversations with God who I will actually get to see. Hallelujah! That keeps me going. I wish everyone understood how wonderful it’s going to be in Heaven and how horrible it is going to be in Hell. I will continue to spread the Gospel. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. He adopted me and He adopted you. The only hell we will ever know is on planet Earth.

    How glorious it is to try and find those bits of Heaven on Earth as we are passing through. Family, friends, people, animals, nature, and a personal relationship with God are my nanoseconds of appreciation throughout the day for who He is, and my extreme gratitude for His free gift of grace.

    That’s just a tiny little bit of experiencing God’s blessings that brings me joy when I meditate on His Word, or experience one of his divine appointments which can be a whine and cheese party of revelation.

    I am so happy to be an alien on planet Earth.

    1. Hi Yvonne; I was not ignoring you, I have just been extraordinarily busy this week. Feel free to disagree with me whenever you feel the need. One of the most important things that I have learned in my life is that I can be wrong. That was a hard lesson and I resisted it furiously. I now welcome all input. I have applied myself to the issue of gender and simply cannot assign one or the other to God. The Creator who spoke the universe into existence and sustains it from nanosecond to nanosecond by the power of the Holy Spirit, who knows not only the number of hairs on my own scruffy head but also the number of cilia beating in rhythmic waves on paramecia and other ciliate protozoans on this world and any other world where our God may have chosen to put them, is too immeasurably expansive for me to place in one gender or another. The ways in which God created us in God’s image were spiritual, not physical. In fact, God is spirit, although the Son came to Earth in a male body to preach to a lost world. I sometimes use “Him” when referring to God because “It” is thoroughly inapplicable. If I am to be honest however, I must run with what my own musings and conversations with others has led me to believe, that God is not limited by gender.

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