In an era in which "natural" is widely assumed to be equivalent to "holy," Course students often wonder what the Course says about nature. I have written elsewhere about this topic ("The Course and Mother Nature," A Better Way, January, 1993). Here I want to focus on one brief passage. In the process I hope to both clarify a bit about the Course's perspective on nature and communicate some basic points about interpreting the Course.
In Chapter 28, Jesus breaks into a prayer to God, in which he exclaims, "How holy is the smallest grain of sand, when it is recognized as being part of the completed picture of God's Son!" (T-28.IV.9:4) What does this mean? Aren't grains of sand illusions? How can they be holy? How can they be part of God's Son? What does Jesus mean by this strange statement?
There is actually no doubt about what he really means by this. We can read his mind on this with certainty. How? All we need do is very carefully read the sentences and paragraphs right around this enigmatic statement. Let's start, then, with the paragraph preceding the one in which this statement appears:
The Holy Spirit's function is to take the broken picture of the Son of God and put the pieces into place again. This holy picture, healed entirely, does He hold out to every separate piece that thinks it is a picture in itself. To each He offers his Identity, Which the whole picture represents, instead of just a little, broken bit that he insisted was himself (T-28.IV.8:1-3).
According to this passage, the "whole picture" of God's Son is one in which all the parts of it are together and unified. Now, however, this picture is broken into countless separate pieces, broken bits, like a disassembled jigsaw puzzle. The Holy Spirit's job is to take these broken pieces and reassemble the whole, unified picture.
What are these broken pieces? From the above paragraph we can see that they are not so much physical things as minds, for each piece thinks and insists (that it is a whole picture unto itself). To clarify this even further, we can turn to the previous section, because this image of "a picture of the Son of God in broken pieces" was actually introduced there, in a passage that makes it abundantly clear what the broken pieces are:
And what are you who live within the world except a picture of the Son of God in broken pieces, each concealed within a separate and uncertain bit of clay? (T-28.III.7:5)
What are the broken pieces? We are. But our bodies are not. Rather, our bodies seem to contain these broken bits. As this passage says, each broken piece is concealed in a separate "bit of clay"—an obvious reference to the body. Thus there are two different aspects to us: first, the fragment of the Son of God (the mind) and, second, the body which seems to house this fragment. Let us now turn to the prayer which eventually mentions the grain of sand:
I thank You, Father, knowing You will come to close each little gap that lies between the broken pieces of Your holy Son (T-28.IV.9:1).
To bring the broken pieces of God's Son back together again, all the gaps, the empty spaces, that lie between them must be closed. Since the pieces are minds, the spaces are not physical spaces, but mental separations. Jesus here is thanking God because he knows that God will inevitably reassemble the whole picture.
Your holiness, complete and perfect, lies in every one of them. And they are joined because what is in one is in them all (T-28.IV.9:2-3).
This passage elaborates on the true nature of the broken pieces. It says that within every single person, regardless of how worthless or rotten he may seem, lies God's perfect holiness. And because this same thing lies in every one of us, we are all joined. The picture thus only seems broken; in reality, all the pieces are still united. This passage, then, is drawing a contrast between our appearance and our reality. No matter how unholy our behavior is, within us is God's holiness. No matter how different we seem to be, we are all the same. And no matter how separate we appear to be, we are all joined. This contrast between appearance and reality leads right into that surprising statement about sand:
How holy is the smallest grain of sand, when it is recognized as being part of the completed picture of God's Son! (T-28.IV.9:4)
Notice the exclamation point. Jesus is coming to a crescendo of sorts. He thinks this idea is really worth emphasizing. What idea? That you can recognize the smallest grain of sand as one of the pieces of the Son of God ("part of the completed picture of God's Son") and therefore as being holy, just like all the other pieces. This sounds surprising, but Jesus is simply taking the theme of the previous two sentences and carrying it further, much further than we would anticipate. Those sentences said, in effect, "No matter what you seem to be on the outside, you are still part of God's Son and God's holiness lies in you—even if you seem sinful, even if you appear to be separate, even if you seem different from everyone else." Now he is simply adding on, "and even if you are the smallest grain of sand."
Jesus knows that at this point we are mentally cocking our heads. He knows that we are thinking, "You can't really mean a grain of sand, can you?" His next sentence, therefore, is a direct response to these thoughts:
The forms the broken pieces seem to take mean nothing (T-28.IV.9:5).
This sentence directly answers our objecting thoughts. A grain of sand, we object, is simply too different from us to be a Son of God like we are. It has no head, no hair, no arms, no legs. It does not wear pants or read the newspaper or drive a car. In short, it takes an extremely different form than we do. Given this, how can it, like us, be a broken piece of God's Son? The answer: "The forms the broken pieces seem to take mean nothing." It does not matter if you take the form of a beautiful body or an ugly one, a well-behaved body or a murderous one, or even a human body or a mineral one. Either way, you are still a Son of God. This is the same theme we have already identified: No matter what you seem to be, you are part of God's perfect Son.
The above sentence also answers the crucial question: How can an illusory grain of sand be a real Son of God? It answers this question by making a distinction between the broken piece and the form it seems to take. This is the exact same distinction we saw earlier between the broken piece and the "bit of clay" it seemed to be concealed in. In both cases, there are two things: first, a Son of God who seems to be broken off from the whole and, second, some outer form, some bit of clay, which this Son of God seems to be contained in. Whether this bit of clay is a human body or a grain of sand ultimately makes no difference. Its "occupant" is still the Son of God, in whom lies God's holiness.
What, then, is a grain of sand? The form that we see, the tiny fragment of rock, is very analogous to a human body, which means that it is a meaningless illusion (as is the whole "natural" realm). Yet, just as with a human body, somewhere in Heaven there is a holy mind that thinks it lives in that illusory form. Somewhere in Heaven is a sleeping mind that dreams, "I am this grain of sand. I have no will of my own. My whole life is one of being washed back and forth by the waves. I was born when I chipped off from a larger block and I will die when my tiny house disintegrates." Yet, though this mind dreams of a life that is so alien to our own (or perhaps not so alien), this mind is exactly the same as ours. It is our brother, who is merely dreaming a different dream than we are. Can we recognize him as our brother? He is every bit the Son of God that we are. And as a Son of God, he is far more than an individual mind. In him lies the whole picture, the entire Sonship, along with all of the holiness of God. Jesus' prayer closes on a reaffirmation of this stunning fact:
For the whole is in each one. And every aspect of the Son of God is just the same as every other part (T-28.IV.9:6-7).
How would our lives be changed if we truly believed that within each human body, each animal body, each plant and every grain of sand lies a part of God's Son, a dear brother who is identical to us and whose mind contains the whole of reality? Imagine how differently we would feel if we could look out at our world and say with conviction, "How holy is the smallest grain of sand!"