My friend Beth texted me a picture of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus talking at the well that she found in her great-grandmother’s Bible. She knows how much I love this story and respect the woman’s courage to speak up for herself and for her people. This portrait, by Anton Laurids Johannes Dorph, depicts a conversation between two unlikely people and is one that I have not seen before. It is rich with meaning and begs to me to unpack some of the imagery surrounding this uncharacteristic meeting at the well.
"Float like a butterfly
Sting like a bee,
the hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see."*
This rhyme is known by most everyone in the world who has experienced the legend that is known as Mohammad Ali. This past Friday evening, surrounded by his family, he succumbed to the effects of Parkinson’s disease. His physical presence is gone but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of people worldwide.
As I have watched the different new clips about Ali this past weekend, I was reminded of the poetic words he used to describe himself with all of the confidence and arrogance of a great warrior. He claimed he was the “Greatest!” One of the news channels spoke with one of his competitors, George Foreman about their title fight. Foreman indicated that prior to the fight, he had no respect for Ali the fighter because he had already beaten all of the top contenders, so in his mind, the fight with Ali would be an easy match. Foreman admitted that during the first three rounds he had been in control of the fight even as both of the men took punches. He was convinced that he would beat Ali with a knock out punch. At the end of the third round, as they parted to go to their respective corners, Foreman said that Ali looked at him with eyes that said, “I made it.” Foreman realized at that time that Ali had made it thus far and that he had miss-judged his opponent greatly. In rounds 6-7, Ali started to whisper in Foreman’s ear, “Is this all you got George?”* Foreman confessed that the question scared him because it was all he had. Ali ended up winning by TKO and regained the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World.
So why does this matter to me? Of course Ali is part of my history growing up and he was quite a character but what resonates with me is the importance of his words. Words are what we use to voice what we know, think and feel. They can be used as instructive, complimentary, hurtful, loving or even to boast about being the “greatest” as Ali did repeatedly. Why did Ali’s words matter so much? He spoke with a cavalier attitude that was at times outrageous but engaging and believable. He also backed up his words with actions. He was the “greatest” and held the title of Heavyweight World Champion three times. Because of his actions, his words meant something. It didn’t take Foreman long to realize that Ali’s words were not just rhetoric but true.
It is no different with our regular lives and the words we speak. They can seem to be words of spoken in love, with authority, and with grace but soon identified as meaningless if they are not followed up with actions. I picture how we use our words as a garden of beautiful flowers. When my teenage daughter, Sara, decided to start a flower garden, she picked out the seeds of colorful flowers, she plowed the soil and planted the seeds of her choice. For the first few weeks, she diligently watered and weeded the garden without fail. As time went on, the summer days grew hot and dry, and the mosquitoes became larger and hungrier, so that the joy she felt at the start of this garden project waned considerably. Without the proper water and weeding, it soon became hard to differentiate between the weeds and the flowers in her garden. No amount of cajoling or hollering could get Sara into the garden to tend to the mess it had become. Without follow-through of weeding and watering, the garden project ended in neglect and disarray rather than the colorful flowers that were pictured on the seed packets. It is the same with words. This analogy can be used in our daily lives. In order for our word gardens to grow and prosper, we need to weed, water and tend to them so they develop into beautiful flowers. Recently, I read a Hallmark greeting card, which gave a thoughtful way of recognizing someone special with these words,
If life is measured by the way we live--
the way we serve, the way we give…
If life is measured by the words we say--
the love expressed along the way…
If life is measured by the smiles we share--
the kindnesses, that we care…
Then your life’s measure is clearly known,
for these are all of the things you’ve shown.
What an awesome sentiment for someone to give to a friend or family member who is being recognized as someone known by their actions to serve, give, love, and for their kindness. According to this sentiment, the recipient of this card has tended, watered and weeded their garden, which then developed into a beautiful flower garden. Their words were known as true and came to life for the people around them. Just like Ali, our words matter even if we are not known as “the greatest,” we are known by what we do, and say, which are made real by our actions. Ali was not questioned about his authentic words because he said it, meant it and lived it. Can people say the same about us?
Denise seeks to empower people to live into their true potential...