Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I believe he meant that when humans are fully alive, they are their most true selves and honor and glorify God to the fullest. This same theme was one of G.K. Chesterton’s favorites and the main idea of his novel called Manalive (which I’ve just read for my new class). It’s a short story centered on the escapades of Innocent Smith, a man who “refuses to die while he’s still alive.” He is a man full of joy and zest of life. He looks at the world with wonder and his presence causes many around him to awaken from their slumber.
Smith is “blown” into a group of people living in a London boarding house on a great wind. They are people who have become deadened to life by the routines and the disappointments of life. Their souls are dead. They have settled for the way things are. They, who had “long been consciously imprisoned in the commonplace”, had fallen asleep to the wonder and the beauty of the world around them.
Innocent Smith blows fresh life into their midst. One character says to another, “everybody has to take the world as he finds it; of course one often finds it a bit dull–” To that, his friend replies about Smith, “That fellow doesn’t…I have a fancy there’s some method in his madness. It looks as if he could turn it (life) into a sort of wonderland any minute by taking one step out of the plain road.”
Smith’s method is that he refuses to “settle”. He refuses to let things become “commonplace”. He is constantly striving to keep life fresh and to see things anew. “I am always trying to forget what I know – and to find what I don’t know.” By forgetting what he knows, he can look at it for the “first” time and find it again. He leaves his home and travels around the world so he can find it. He says, “I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.” He woos his wife over and over again to “keep alive the sense of her perpetual value, and the perils that should be run for her sake.”
Smith is called the “Man Who Would Not Die”. He is committed to truly living and to helping others awaken to the world around them. Though some would call him a madman, others call him a saint. “I don’t deny…that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.”
I was profoundly challenged by this book. I feel deeply challenged to consider the things in my life that deaden my soul and the things that bring life and awakening. I want to be Innocent Smith – full of wonder and joy; seeing things I’ve seen a thousand times as though they were brand new; savoring the life I’ve been given. I refuse to die while I am still alive!
I encourage you to read Manalive if you’ve never done so. It can be read for free at http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Gilbert_K_Chesterton/Manalive/. Whether you read it or not, I invite you to ponder the questions my professor has invited us to consider: Ask yourself this week what it is that “deadens” your soul and what it is that “wakens” it to God. Take time to “come alive” to the wonder of the world God has created.