If you’ve ever wondered what a miracle looks like, go see The Lilies of the Field playing at the Open Window Theatre and you’ll see the answer: it looks like Homer Smith.
The downtown Minneapolis theater is presenting a stage adaptation of the William Barrett novel and 1963 movie with Sidney Poitier through May 25. Artistic Director Jeremy Stanbary and director Joy Donley make the most of a minimalist set to create a wonderful night of music and story-telling.
Smith, an African-American Baptist wondering about the country taking day jobs where he pleases, finds himself in the Arizona desert where a group of East German immigrant nuns have set up shop. There is lots of work to be done and Smith agrees to help repair their roof. Mother Maria Marthe, the mother superior, convinces Smith to build the sisters a chapel. Smith agrees, not knowing how the job will ever get done given their lack of resources. Over the course of the play, people in surrounding villages donate the needed supplies and labor, and the chapel gets built. Smith leaves and everyone calls the construction of the chapel a miracle. In the closing scenes, some of the people we meet in the play tell us with great pride about their connections to the saint – Homer Smith – who made this happen.
I like this play for a lot of reasons. First the acting is marvelous: Lamar Jefferson does a great job as Homer Smith. Second, there is some really delightful music by Christopher Erickson. And third, the play’s message really gives the audience something to think about.
The story shows us that one person can do a lot – in this case, a lot more than the person initially himself thinks he can do. It shows us the power of encouragement from someone else. Smith persevered because Mother Maria Marthe believed in him. She is the person who identified Smith as the answer to her prayers, and although Smith resisted that description early on, he eventually accented to that role.
Lilies of the Field shows us that if we are truly being called by God to build something, we should move forward even if we don’t have every detail figured out in advance. This doesn’t mean it will be easy. The nuns in the play lived an austere life, worked hard and prayed hard. There was a little friction at times between Smith and the nuns, and at one point Smith abandoned them and the project. Smith was stubborn and thought he needed to follow his own will. The beauty of the play is the way in which he came around to doing God’s will, at least as the nuns saw it.
Furthermore, I love what came out of that miraculous construction project. The narrator of the play tells us the chapel became the centerpiece of a haven for troubled children who came to the nun’s encampment for rejuvenation. Many other buildings eventually were constructed around the chapel as others took interest in what was going on there. Smith himself moved on so he didn’t see all the good his work led to, but he did what he was called to do. The first phase in any project is often the most difficult.
Lilies of the Field is an encouraging and inspiring story. Watch closely. God may be calling you to be the next Homer Smith.