Small is So Beautiful!

By Colin Gibson in Articles

We have been reminded of the infinite magnitude of the universe in which we humans occupy the merest blink of time, but we also need to be reminded of the infinite smallness at the heart of the universeall that vast complexity made out of the infinitely tiny building blocks of matter.


Rod Mitchell has reminded us of the infinite magnitude of the universe in which we humans occupy the merest blink of time, but we also need to be reminded of the infinite smallness at the heart of the universe-all that vast complexity made out of the infinitely tiny 'building blocks' of matter.

Yes, say the scientists, the world, the whole universe we live in, is wonderfully present in every minutest detail of itself. We are, quite literally, the stuff of stars; and Creator-God's very presence may be seen and felt in the smallest being, in the tiniest quantity of reality we human beings can possibly imagine.

'We fly forgotten as a dream, born by the ever-rolling stream of time', says Isaac Watts (and science and experience agree); yet he affirms that such short-lived beings as ourselves have an eternal home within God.

There is a wonderful story in which a father takes his small child outside to see the universe, by which the parent means the infinite magnitude of the stars winking and blinking in the night sky. But the child's eye is at ground level. 'Can you see?' asks the dad. And the child responds, 'I could see, even though it was almost dark. I saw a snail from the universe creeping over a stone. I saw a blade of grass swaying in the wind of the universe. There was a flower called a thistle. And there was dad staring at the sky. "Yes, dad,' I whispered, "I see it."
'See!' call our artists and poets and musicians. 'See the incredible beauty of the infinitely small universe!'

William Blake, the poet, tells us to 'see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower.' Remember that for Blake (a city man) the sand he was thinking of would be the sand that filled the hourglass, and so symbolized the passing of time.

The Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins, can see the grandeur of God shining in the rainbow colours of a pool of spilt oil; 'nature is never spent', he declares, 'there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.'

In little birds flying backwards and forwards to feed their young-as they are starting to do in our neighbourhoods right now-Jesus sees nothing less than the natural loving providence of God. In the sheer beauty of the wild lilies and grasses growing round the margins of his local lakeside, Jesus perceives a glory that surpasses the royal splendours of the fabulous King Solomon.

'Small things make the big things grow', sings Shirley Murray, 'grains of yeast inside the dough, puffs that fill a big balloon, notes that make a happy tune.' (Have you ever looked at the little ink dots that represent notes and all the sound of music?) Her images of grains of yeast at work, or the notes that make the tune are in keeping with the findings of scientists exploring the infinite consequences of the Big Bang-as well as the mystery of music and its working on the human heart.

The characters in A. A. Milne's unforgettable world of animals, are deeply concerned over the disappearance of Small, the very small beetle. (An echo of Jesus' parables of a lost coin, of a single straying sheep, of the infinite value of a single child?) For all their wayward foolishness Milne's characters finally discover the tiny lost beetle lodged on Pooh's back-and are as overjoyed as any father greeting his long-lost prodigal son.

Remember, says the scientist, every grain of sand is a little miracle of atoms and sub-atomic particles, the consequence of the infinitely slow processes of sun and wind and water wearing down stone and rock. Every grain of sand is a microcosm of the universe itself. Time like an ever-rolling stream, bears the natural world as well as all creatural life, away, to be forgotten like a dream. How precious then becomes that brief glory and beauty of life-in animal, insect, flower-or human.

I exhort you to see and appreciate the universe in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower. To be astonished at the smallness as well as the greatness of the universe. To be caring and respectful towards the tiny, the vulnerable, the insignificant, the marginalized. And if you do nothing else after this service is over, go outside and take in the little explosions of growth and beauty, the radiant colours, the scents, the sheer energy of life, which is at its maximum right now.

In the story I referred to earlier, when the sky-gazing father and the ground-observant little child return home, mum gives them sandwiches and hot chocolate. And then she asks the usual mum sort of question: 'How was the universe?' asked my mother. 'It was beautiful', I said, 'and funny.'

Colin Gibson