What does the Sonship consists of?

Question: Or does it include other earthly entities like animals?

Short answer: The Course strongly implies that the Sonship includes everything in this world: animals, plants, and even what we normally regard as "inanimate" things. Therefore, behind every illusory form in the world, there is a part of the Son of God's mind that is dreaming it is that form. Our function, then, is to extend love and healing to all of our brothers, including our non-human ones. This not only heals our non-human brothers, but also enables them to heal others by bearing witness to the healing of the mind of the Sonship.

Note: I am indebted to Robert Perry for his article The Course and Mother Nature, which has inspired much of what I have written here. Robert's article addresses the topic of how Course students should regard nature, and I recommend reading it.


The Course strongly implies that the Sonship includes everything in this world: animals, plants, and even what we normally regard as "inanimate" things.

The Course's focus is on human beings and their relationships, and so it has very little to say about the non-human inhabitants of the earth. Yet what little it does say about them is enough, in my opinion, to support the conclusion that they are part of the Sonship, just as human beings are.

Our first clue lies in the fact that the Course tells us we are joined not only with other human beings, but with "all living things" (see, for instance, W-pI.57.5:6; W-pI.163.9:6; and W-pI.188.10:1). Since true joining can only take place between eternal, non-physical minds, this certainly suggests that non-human living things have such minds. This point is further reinforced by the fact that the word "living," as the Course uses it, doesn't refer to the temporary and illusory "life" of the body, which "neither lives nor dies" (T-6.V(A).1:4), but to eternal life, which is "of the mind and in the mind" (T-6.V(A).1:3). Thus the Course term "living things" refers not so much to things that have biological "life," but to things that have true life, which resides only in the mind. The implication is clear: If true life resides only in the mind, and the Course speaks of non-human living things, then the logical conclusion is that these non-human living things have minds. (Remember, we are speaking of eternal, non-physical minds here.) If this is so, these non-human living things must be part of the Sonship.

What specific non-human things are part of the Sonship? Certainly plants and animals seem to qualify, as suggested by the following line: "Forgiveness shines its merciful reprieve upon each blade of grass and feathered wing and all the living things upon the earth" (S-3.IV.2:3). If plants (like blades of grass) and animals (like birds) are considered to be "living things" in the Course sense, then certainly they are part of the Sonship.

Surprisingly, however, the Course suggests that even things we normally don't consider to be alive at all are part of the Sonship. At one point in the Text, for instance, it clearly puts grains of sand in this category: "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). If grains of sand are part of the Sonship, then the most reasonable conclusion in my mind is that all physical objects fall into this category (even man-made objects, since I can find no compelling reason to exclude them). But the category of things that are part of the Sonship seems to be even broader than that. Lesson 156 of the Workbook indicates that not only flowers and trees, but even waves and wind share the life of God (see W-pI.156.3:-5). Thus, amazingly, even physical processes like waves and wind are part of the Sonship.

All of this points to a single, startling idea, which I have already stated: Everything in this world (and presumably, in the entire physical universe) is part of the Sonship. Everything we see, whether it takes the form of a human being, a dog, a cockroach, a tree, a virus, a star, a hurricane, a refrigerator, or a dust bunny under that refrigerator, is in a very real sense our brother. I will talk more about what this means in my next point.

Therefore, behind every illusory form in the world, there is a part of the Son of God's mind that is dreaming it is that form.

I said above that everything in this world is part of the Sonship, but that idea has a crucial qualifier: The form of everything in this world is not part of the Sonship. Form is pure illusion, and God did not create it. So, though the line quoted above told us that grains of sand are part of the Sonship, the line immediately following that one says, "The forms the broken pieces [of God's Son] seem to take mean nothing" (T-28.IV.9:5). The idea that everything is part of the Sonship, then, is not pantheism, a philosophy which says that the physical universe is God. Nor is it panentheism, a philosophy which says that the physical universe is in God. The things we see are not part of God's creation, the Sonship, in that sense.

In what sense, then, is everything part of the Sonship? Quite simply, the physical forms of things are not part of the Sonship, but the minds behind the forms are. What this means to me is that things in the physical universe are no different in their basic nature than human beings. In the Course's view, each human being consists of both an illusory form and a real, eternal mind in Heaven that is dreaming up that form. What I gather from all of the clues discussed above is that the same basic principle holds true for animals, plants, and even "inanimate" things. As Robert Perry succinctly put it in the article I cited above, "Behind every form is a part of God." This idea has some very powerful implications for how we relate to the world, which I will explore in my next two points.

Our function, then, is to extend love and healing to all of our brothers, including our non-human ones.

If the Sonship is everywhere, then clearly the Course would have us love not only human beings, but also animals, plants, grains of sand—in short, everything we look upon. While the Course's emphasis is definitely on human relationships, its teaching is not confined to them. This is something I like to keep in mind when I'm interacting with the non-human world. When I'm relating with my cats, for instance, I remind myself that they aren't just projections of my own mind, but beloved brothers whose holy minds are joined with mine (no matter how much they refuse to do what I ask them). Their forms, like mine, are illusions, but their true Identity, like mine, is the glorious Son of God. They are thus worthy of infinite love.

The idea that the Sonship includes everything in the world is also, in my opinion, a strong rationale for a truly Course-based environmentalism. Personally, I've always been drawn to the idea of "walking gently on the earth," but as a Course student, I've long found it difficult to relate to the environmental movement. Most environmentalists seem to stress the idea that we should love (or even worship) the earth because it is our home, and if we don't change our ways soon, life will be destroyed forever. This way of seeing things is totally alien to the Course, which stresses that the earth is not our home, and that true life resides only in Heaven and cannot be destroyed. Conventional environmentalism is simply incompatible with the thought system of the Course. How, then, can we as Course students love the earth? And even if we can find a way to do so, should we?

Recognizing the earth and its inhabitants as part of the Sonship is, in my mind, the key to answering these questions. The earth is not our mother, but its inhabitants are our brothers. Because of this, I personally believe that we Course students can love the earth in a way that is true to our own path. Not only can we do so, but I believe the Course is clear that we should do so. Extending love and healing to our brothers is at the heart of the Course's path. And one way in which this extension takes place is through treating our brothers' physical forms with kindness. Even though those forms are illusory, we don't express love to our non-human brothers by wantonly destroying their forms, any more than we express love to our human brothers by punching them in the nose. Healed minds lead inevitably to healed external forms, and so I truly believe that following the path of the Course has the potential to bring great healing to our earthly environment.

This not only heals our non-human brothers, but also enables them to heal others by bearing witness to the healing of the mind of the Sonship.

I believe that the greatest gift we human beings can offer the world is to follow a healing path like the Course. This, I think, is the primary way in which the minds of non-human members of the Sonship are healed. Obviously, things like birds, blades of grass, and grains of sand can't read the Course or follow any other spiritual path for themselves. Therefore, our job as human beings is to lead the way. By extending love to our non-human brothers, we heal them. In so doing, of course, we also heal ourselves.

But the healing doesn't stop there. Once our non-human brothers are healed, they extend the healing we have given them by healing others. They do this not by consciously extending healing the way human beings do, but simply by serving as living witnesses that a healing in the mind of the Sonship has taken place. This, at least, is what Lesson 109 of the Workbook seems to suggest. This lesson describes a healing process that begins with the healing that extends from our minds to others whenever we do our spiritual practice (in this case, an hourly meditation practice in which we "rest in God"):

Each hour that you take your rest today, a tired mind is suddenly made glad, a bird with broken wings begins to sing, a stream long dry begins to flow again. The world is born again each time you rest, and hourly remember that you came to bring the peace of God into the world, that it might take its rest along with you. (W-pI.109.6:1-2)

How literally are we to take this poetic description? Well, I don't think it means that every single time we do our practice, a dry riverbed somewhere is literally filled with water, and a bird literally starts singing because its wings are suddenly healed. However, I do think it means that whenever we truly enter the peace of God, minds in the Sonship (human and non-human) are healed, and this healing can express itself in healed physical forms. In a nutshell, our spiritual practice can and sometimes does literally lead to physical healing in the world—including, in some cases, revitalized streams and restored birds.

This leads to the next step in the process. Lesson 109 goes on to describe what happens to those with "worn and tired minds" (W-pI.109.7:2) who encounter the brothers in the natural world whom our spiritual practice has healed:

And they [those with worn and tired minds] will hear the bird begin to sing and see the stream begin to flow again, with hope reborn and energy restored to walk with lightened steps along the road that suddenly seems easy as they go. (W-pI.109.7:3)

Again, this is a poetic description, but I think it points to a very real phenomenon: As a result of healing our non-human brothers through our practice, those non-human brothers bear physical witness to the healing that has taken place, and thus heal the minds of all who encounter them. Our practice leads to the world's rebirth; the world's rebirth leads, in turn, to the rebirth of all who walk the world in need of healing. The gift we gave is given everyone. In this way, the entire mind of the Sonship will ultimately be healed.

Conclusion

I find the idea that everything in the world is part of the Sonship to be profoundly beautiful. I also see in it a Course explanation for the spiritual experiences so many of us have in nature. For ages, human beings have been refreshed and renewed by encounters with nature—in particular, encounters with vibrant, healthy nature. It is this experience of renewal that has led some to conclude that the forms of nature are inherently holy, and so nature should be worshiped.

But I think that the real source of renewal is not the forms of nature, but a vision of the radiant Sonship behind the forms of nature: a Sonship that shouldn't be worshiped, but should certainly be treated with brotherly love. In this vision (which can be extended to man-made things as well), we commune with the minds that animate the forms we see, and recognize our oneness with those minds. This recognition heals those minds, along with our own. And with this recognition, even the forms take on new beauty. They are not holy in themselves, but they can be infused with the holiness of the minds that made them. In addition, as we've seen, the healing of those forms can serve as a powerful witness to the healing of the mind of the Sonship. This is a deeply spiritual vision, and one I think the Course would have us cultivate. Let us, then, cultivate this vision of all our brothers who share the earth with us, the vision of Christ in which "the smallest leaf becomes a thing of wonder, and a blade of grass a sign of God's perfection" (T-17.II.6:3).

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