Last night, I was watching Will Smith’s movie Collateral Beauty, about a man who loses his only child, a daughter who was only six years old, and the pain that he grows through in order to return to himself. The movie raises the question what is “collateral beauty”? We always talk about collateral damage, the negative secondary or by-product of an accident, catastrophe or tragedy that brings additional pain, hurt, injury, and suffering. But we never talk about collateral “beauty,” which is, to me, the ability to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty, the ability to see the presence of God, even in the midst of messiness, turmoil and strife.
The movie Collateral Beauty focuses on three attributes, which in many respects reflect mind, body and soul: death, time and love.
Paul would say that we die daily, that in each breath we are given the opportunity to be renewed, to leave the old and begin again. No matter what we experience, we have the ability to re-invent ourselves. Even if we have made some transgressions, we can forgive ourselves and start all over again. Spirit is unconditional love. That Divine Mind of Absolute Good that we call God is the pure energy of forgiveness, of unconditional grace. Every breath that we breathe allows us to embrace a new existence.
The collateral beauty of our challenges is that they allow us to re-start, to re-invent, to re-create, to re-establish who we are – to get rid of the old so that the new can emerge. In John 8:51, Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” Nothing and no one can destroy the pure presence of Spirit expressing as us. So we get up from our mats and walk. We rise like a phoenix from the ashes. In three days, we find our temples restored.
It doesn’t matter what or who we are confronted with in the world, nothing or no one is too great for God. Even what others mean for evil, God means for good. As the scripture teaches us, the battle is not ours, it is God’s. No weapon formed against us shall prosper.
Similarly, time is a construct created to attempt to contain our spiritual experiences or physical realities, but they are really without limitation. Our bodies are more Spirit than flesh. The collateral by-product of our challenges is that we realize time is only the appearance of limitation. Proverbs 17:17 says “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Our true friend is the timelessness and limitlessness of God. In God’s time, we are ageless. In God’s time, we are at the beginning and end of creation. In God’s time, we are eternally beautiful, and the right time is wherever we are.
The collateral beauty of disaster or difficulty is that we can experience the fullness of the perfect divine order of life, realizing that despite appearances, we are in our right space at our right time.
I see God in my life, despite the appearances of difficulties. I rise above the fray to position myself in the divine flow of Spirit expressing through me. The collateral beauty is the strength that Spirit expresses in this lift above pain, above disappointment, above betrayal, above fear into the realm of absolute good.
Collateral beauty is more difficult to see because we are distracted from seeing the good everywhere present, the birth of Spirit all around us, the widow’s oil that keeps pouring, the baskets of fish and bread left over. The Psalmist says (27:4) “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
Collateral beauty is our first step to finding the temple within. The temple is love.
The letters of John leave a prophetic message: love is God.
So even when we are blinded by the events and transgressions of the world, through their impact, we are given a new vision: one that allows us to see God in every word, every breath, every event, and every circumstance.
I can complain forever. I can fear without ceasing. I can stop creating. I can worry about what others say. I can cross over into a boundary of unhappiness so restrictive that I can stop living, like Will Smith’s character did. He retreated into a world of pain and misery.
Or I can step out into the sunlight of a new day, a day that I have never seen before. I can release the baggage of yesterday. I can climb a new mountain and cross the waters of new faith, realizing that this, too, shall pass, but more importantly, that this – whatever this is, is the blessing of collateral beauty: a small crack in the universe, where I can see God.