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August 16, 2022
Household favourites…indoor succulents
August 16, 2022

Lilies of the field

By Matthew Woolford

For years I prayed and waited, and finally, Google TV made Lilies of the Field available for rental on its platform. It was the best TT$27 I had spent in a long time and well worth the wait to see the iconic, late-great Sidney Poitier in his one and only Oscar and Golden Globe winning role.
Amazingly, he was only nominated for a leading role one other time by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1958 for The Defiant Ones.

Lilies of the Field had long piqued my curiosity as a lover of motion pictures for the simple fact that this was the only of Poitier’s films, from an amazing catalogue, that ever earned him the nod for Best Actor in a Leading Role by the two most prestigious American film societies.
Interestingly, he did earn an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Best Foreign Actor for The Defiant Ones in 1959. And Poitier played some amazing and earth-shattering roles over the years. Blackboard Jungle alongside Glen Ford in 1955; In The Heat of the Night alongside Rod Steiger in 1967, which gave the world the famous line, “They call me Mister Tibbs!”; and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner in 1967 alongside Hollywood titans Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, are just some of my other favourites.

But Lilies of the Field was also special for its Catholic teachings on faith and stewardship. Homer Smith, played by Poitier, is a wandering tradesman who providentially comes across a small, rural community of Roman Catholic nuns who escaped East Germany during World War II.
Mother Maria sees this as a sign from God that her prayer for a chapel shall be built by this versatile, Baptist loner who is yet to realise that his talents, though in his possession, do not actually belong to him.
He stays overnight, assuming that he will be paid a day’s wage for a day’s work after deciding to help with some outdoor cleaning, inviting Mother Maria to read Luke 10:7, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the labourer deserves his wages.”
Mother Maria rebuts by inviting him to read aloud from Matthew 6:28, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they do not toil, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” And thus began his education on living faith!

Homer then becomes a labourer, carpenter, and chauffeur for the nuns. At a nearby diner, Juan shares with him the trials the nuns endured in flight over the Berlin Wall and their reward of poverty in the land of milk and honey.
Even Fr Murphy advises him to abandon the hard living that life with the nuns promises but hearing of Mother Maria’s perseverance only inspires in Homer the stick-to-itiveness that true faith requires.

He eventually decides to build the chapel with or without enough adobe bricks. Seeing faith and good work taking place, the poor Mexican-American community binds together to purchase the additional materials required.
Even the shrewd building contractor, Ashton, who long ignored the pleas of Mother Maria, somehow finds it within himself to deliver a truckload of rejected bricks from his factory that would be crushed and used to plaster the adobe walls.

This film so moved me that I cried as the final credits rolled, for this is the stuff of which heroes are made.
And Poitier was not only a hero on the screen but an inspiration to all familiar with his work. He did on film what Rosa Parks did on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955. They both lived for something greater than themselves!

Poitier’s life was not easy. Born three months prematurely, he was not expected to survive and yet he did. At 16, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting and failed his first audition with the American Negro Theatre because of sub-par reading skills. In fact, it was an elderly Jewish waiter who helped him build fluency in his reading. He was also tone deaf, making it difficult for him to sing. And yet, Poitier persevered.
In an era when Black people in America were fighting for equal rights and human dignity, he showed everyone how it’s done through his work on film. He never took roles that belittled him and always showed his character to be equal to the next man despite what society was saying at that time.

His life was a great study in standing up for oneself despite what the challenge may be. He was a gentleman and scholar, and I hope to learn many more lessons from continued viewing of his films, knowing I have no excuse for whatever God may send my way.

Thank you, Mr Poitier. May your legacy live on forever and may your work be always available for human edification and enjoyment.