Archive for September, 2014

desert-sky-721487Bearer of curse and blessing,

I left home to stumble into the desert.

Exhausted and empty,

I watch fierce sun set over silent stones.

Stars ascend toward midnight.

The wind moans through desert canyons,

And clouds drift across a full moon like shimmering angels.

Broken and empty, I come to you, O Lord God.

In a desert midnight,

There is no smell of blessed fields

No grain

No wine

No fatness of earth

No sweet dew of heaven.

Archangel MichaelAlone, I sleep on holy stones,

Under stars that blaze fierce and countless as dust.

The wind moans high above me, through desert canyons.

Clouds veil the moon.

Strong, shining faces of angels appear.




Lean down to earth.

Their glittering swords carve stones into steps to heaven.

Angels descend in silence to gaze into my fact.

Angels ascend in silence to bear my deceit away.

Then in a shimmering, celestial dance

Of turning wings

Swirling wings

They sweep aside clouds.

I see a heavenly host as countless as dust.

I hear a heavenly host, their voices joined by joyous stars.

Glory to God in the highest.

And on earth. . .peace.

Their alleluias echoing high above desert canyons,

The Holy One descends from the gate of heaven

To stand beside my stone pillow.

To wrap my empty fears

In an eternal mantle of blessing.

To hallow the ground on which I sleep.

Michael veils the moon with his wings.

And the only light I see is God.

I left home, soul that raged with wild emptiness,

And in this desert wilderness,

Angels carve holy names for sleep.

They dance a path between me and You,

O Lord God.

You have found me, broken and empty,

On holy stones that ascend to the very gates of heaven.

And you have not cursed me.

In a desert midnight, I know

The smell of blessed fields



Fatness of earth

The sweet dew of heaven.

star-of-bethlehemI will tell of You, O Lord God,

To laughing children who bless my tent,

To strong children who become tribes as countless as dust.

I will tell them of desert midnights filled with blazing stars,

Of fierce angels who carve holy stones

And dance with glittering swords among clouds,

Of hymns sung by joyous stars over Bethel

And over Bethlehem.

(c)  ~ The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Published in the Anglican Theological Review

Winter 2000, Vol. 82, No. 1

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“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Washington is a power town. We hear the word “power” a lot. Senators and Representatives in the House move about “the halls of power” on Capitol Hill. The President, the Secretary of State and others hold power. This week, we have heard a lot about “air power.” Power. Authority. How are they used? How are they different?

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

In today’s gospel, Jesus stands in the Jerusalem Temple. For centuries, foreign powers have ruled Jerusalem. For centuries, the chief priests of the Jews have ruled the Temple, Israel’s “holiest shrine.”[1] But if we stand with Jesus in today’s gospel, we know that yesterday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. As Jesus rode into the city, people spread cloaks or palm branches on the road. They heralded Jesus as a king. Following this little parade, the country boy from Galilee walked up the steps to the Temple Mount. When he saw merchants selling and buying in the temple, he began to overturn tables, set doves free, and caused an uproar. According to Matthew, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”[2] [Note: the blind and the lame were considered unclean, so they could not legally come into the temple. But here they were.] Then children roaming around the Temple began to chant what they’d heard at the parade: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The chief priests and the scribes could not tolerate all this commotion and breaking of rules. You don’t charge into church and start tearing stuff up and disrupting the liturgy! And what do you mean, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”? Who is this man, and who gave him power? We’re in charge! The official power-holders were angry. They exchanged words with Jesus, who then left the Temple   and walked to Bethany, where he spent the night—probably at the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Now, the next morning, Jesus returns to the Temple. He resumes teaching. The priests and scribes surround him.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  In other words, “What we really want to know is ‘Are you the Messiah’ but we don’t dare ask that out loud, because you probably won’t say yes, and if you say no, we are not sure we will believe you. Instead, we will play word games and try to trap you politically. Then we’ll be able to charge you with heresy.”

Of course the underlying issue is authority and power. As bishop and scholar Tom Wright has noted, Jesus walked into the Temple like he owned the place. “The only person who might conceivably have greater authority in the Temple than the high priest was God’s anointed king, the Messiah—if and when he showed up. Nobody knew when that would be. Other would-be messiahs had come and gone. Now here was Jesus behaving as though he had the right to do what only the Messiah could do. So, naturally, they ask him: by what right are you doing all this? And who gave you this right?”[3] The people with official, institutional power are nervous, because this country boy from Galilee has assumed power. If he is who they fear he is, Jesus will change the status quo.

In fact, Jesus already has. With every act of preaching, teaching and healing, Jesus has shown people a new way to hope, to believe, to live. God’s kingdom has come to life in a new way. The Kingdom is here. Right now. In the midst of their struggles to pay their bills and feed their families and take care of their elderly and sick. Jesus says, God is here. Not just in the Jerusalem Temple, in the Court of Priests, not just in the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest was allowed to be. God does not come among you just when you dress right and act right in church. God is with you every day. In the lilies of the field. In sparrows. In the laughter of children. In the breaking of bread at the dinner table.

More to the point, the Kingdom of God that has come to the people means that the officially powerful will have that power ripped from them. God will scatter the proud. Bring down the powerful from their thrones. Lift up the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things. Send the rich people away empty. Rich people are not used to being empty.

Where will that leave the Church elite? With no real power or authority. And they know it. Jesus tells them a little story about two brothers. The father asks one to go work in the vineyard and he rudely says no. But later, he changes his mind, repents, and does what he was asked to do. He goes to work in the vineyard. The other brother says “Sure, I’ll go,” but he never does. So his action—or non-action—says more than his words. The first brother represents the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the people whose daily lives “seemed to be saying ‘No’ to God,    but when they heard John [the Baptist] they changed their mind and their lifestyle.”[4]

The second brother represents the Temple elite—the priests and scribes who confront Jesus—because while they sound good and look good and go through the right motions, their actions do not match their words. They had refused to listen to John who challenged them to repent, to change. Now they refuse to see God’s kingdom brought to life in Jesus of Nazareth. The bottom line is that the church officials have power. Yet Jesus—who has no official power—claims his authority.

What is the difference? Some say that power is taken. Authority is given. Authority almost has to be discussed in the context of community, how that authority operates in a particular time and place. For example, as an Episcopal priest, I am under the authority of my bishop. +Marianne has been consecrated as a bishop. I am canonically resident in her diocese. So she has official power over me. Yet what I see is that she seems to know who she is, deep within herself, and that God has given her the authority she claims.   From my perspective, she uses that authority wisely. Therefore, I trust her as my bishop. That means that even when I disagree with her decisions, I trust her judgment and authority.

Jesus has power, but it is not official, institutional power, such as that claimed by the scribes and Pharisees. His power and authority come from deep within, because Jesus knows who he is. He knows from whence he really came. He knows the work God has given him authority to do in his time on earth. Further, Jesus trusts that he has done what God has asked him to do. He has done it in such a way that this work will continue after his earthly journey is over.

So do we continue to do God’s work? If so, how might we do this? Perhaps we need to look at the way we live every day. Do you claim the authority God has given you in your baptism? If so, how do you do that? Do you nurture your spiritual self with some prayer and Bible reading every day? Do you strengthen your soul by gathering regularly for worship or fellowship? We say we follow Jesus. Yet do our actions match our words where we are—not just in church, but in the places where we spend our days—in the office or classroom, on the baseball or football field, in the grocery store, at home with our families?

I believe that we Christians have not sufficiently claimed the authority given to us in Christ Jesus. However, that must not be authority in an “exterior” way. We must be careful not to be like the scribes and Pharisees—who cared more about buildings and power and rules than about people’s hearts, souls and spiritual hunger.

Power and authority. The truth is that in the twenty-first century, the institutional Church has virtually no authority in this culture. The number of Spiritual But Not Religious people has grown exponentially. W can you and I do about that? How can we claim our baptismal authority? How can we do what Jesus would do: to reach out in new ways to people whom we have not yet welcomed to this table—the people who are not here today? How might we envision worship in some new ways—possibly the kind of service that enables our children to do what Dr. April Vega noted this week: enable them not only to learn about Jesus, but to love Jesus? How might we shape a new worship service for people who are not familiar with our liturgy or traditions, our Episcopalian We’ve Always Done It That Way kind of service? What might that look like or sound like?

I do not know the answer to those questions. But I do know this: God gave authority to Jesus the Christ to teach, to preach, to heal, to make disciples to bring God’s realm to reality in this world, not in some sweet by and by. Through Jesus, God has given you and me the same authority. As your priest and pastor, I claim that authority today in new ways. As the people of God, baptized with water, anointed with oil, claimed by the Holy Spirit, I challenge you to claim your authority too.

Here is the question: Will you?

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila McJilton

[1] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part Two, (Louisville: SPCK/Westminster John Knox Press, 2002,2004), 75.

[2] Matthew 21:14.

[3] Ibid., 75.

[4] Ibid., 76.

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SONY DSCGod’s people are complaining. It is just the middle of the second month after their midnight escape out of Egypt. The Israelites have set up camp in the Wilderness of Sin. Miriam’s victorious song by the Red Sea has hardly faded before the joyous choir turns into a grumbling mob. The thrill of freedom has already evaporated into the hot desert air, and the people have formed a “Back To Egypt Committee.” Now, they whine and complain to Moses and Aaron. Remember the good old days in Egypt? We had plenty to eat then. We had meat to cook for our families. We had plenty of good bread. Now here we are, out in this hot desert, living in tents and starving to death. It’s your fault, Moses. It’s your fault, Aaron.

The members of the “Back to Egypt Committee” have selective memory. They have forgotten how a harsh Egyptian Pharoah and his taskmasters forced them to toil for long hours in the broiling sun.  Forced them to make bricks without straw, forced them to push and pull heavy equipment, to build whatever Pharoah demanded be built. Back in Egypt, they had no rest, no Sabbath. They had never had pots full of meat or unlimited bread. They scrounged for whatever food they did get. They were slaves to the Egyptian empire. As one writer has noted, “Prior to their liberation, the Israelites knew only life in Egypt, an empire where they constructed storehouses for food (Exodus 1:11), where they were exposed constantly to a hoarding, competitive ethos, and where human lives were abused and broken in order to fuel the hunger of the elite.”[1] In other words, the ten percent lived off the backs of the ninety percent.

Back in Egypt, the Israelites had cried out to God for deliverance, for mercy, for freedom. God heard their prayers. God promised to save them, and God did—through Moses, who led the people out of slavery to freedom. Now, as the people complain and blame, God intervenes again. God tells Moses that God is going to provide for the people—despite their lack of faithfulness. But it seems that God has a specific set of requirements for these whiny Israelite. God says to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”

God is doing more than just testing obedience. God wants the people to depend totally on God for their daily provision so God is going to send meat every evening and bread every morning. Moses and Aaron tell the Israelites how God wants them to gather the manna. But no one really knows why God is telling them to gather only enough food for one day except for the sixth day. It could have been so much easier if God had explained. “Okay, people, here’s the deal. Just gather as much as you’re going to eat that day. Trust me when I tell you that if you get greedy, gather more than you really need      and try to hoard your supplies, you’re going to wake up the next morning to find that the bread is full of worms and smells horrible. But on the sixth day. . .that’s different. That day, you can gather twice as much bread as on the other days. That’s because the seventh day is Sabbath. The day I want you to rest. To enjoy each others’ company. To thank Me for all I have provided.

God didn’t explain because God wanted the people to have faith. Do the people have faith? Do they trust in God? Of course not. They think they know better than God—just as God’s people have thought since that long-ago day in the Garden of Eden. Moses and Aaron deliver God’s instructions about the bread and meat. They also remind the people that it is the Lord who is providing bread and meat. That it is God’s glory they will see in this food. They say God “has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” In other words, “Stop shooting the messengers. This exodus was God’s idea. Your God.The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Sarah and Hagar.The God of Rebekah, Rachel and Leah. Remember that when you were slaves, working in the hot desert sun all day long, you cried out to God? God heard you. God freed you from Egyptian slavery. So stop complaining.The Lord your God will always provide all you need—even in the wilderness.”


God does provide for the people in the wilderness. God provides quails every evening and bread every morning. Of course the people have never seen this kind of bread—bread in frost-like wafers. But God has provided from the very desert itself.  You see, a special bush grows in parts of the Sinai Peninsula. When insects suck its sap, some is excreted “in the form of globules that crystallize in the sun and fall to the ground. This sticky substance is rich in carbohydrates and sugars and can support the life of a starving wanderer.”[2]   Why haven’t the people seen this manna? Perhaps they saw it but just didn’t know what it was or how to use it. Perhaps they just didn’t notice it. Perhaps they are spending too much energy whining, pointing fingers and blaming their leaders. They think they remember that in Egypt, at least they had plenty to eat. Yet they have forgotten how brutal their lives were in Egypt. All they see now is a harsh desert terrain where days are brutally hot, nights are cold and sand stings their eyes when the wind blows. Where a person can easily die from starvation, thirst, or exposure to the elements.

God’s people do not want to see God in the midst of difficult lives. They want the kind of life they think they had. God’s people do not want to rely on God. They think they can take matters into their own hands, make things right. But they cannot. Finally, when God’s people struggle beyond their own abilities and resources, then—and only then—does God provide meat and bread in the wilderness. It is theirs for the taking, even if the meat and bread look strange. “Man-hu?” or “What is it?” Moses explains about the “man-hu.” “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” The Lord’s bread. Given to us and for us. Given by God.

The whining, complaining and blaming did not end with the children of Israel. Throughout the millennia, God’s people have behaved this way. For example, today, we look back and remember “the good old days” when people could go out without having to lock their doors. When folks were more polite. When more people could think more reasonably, and were less hardened into extreme political viewpoints. We want to forget difficult economic times. We forget about the endless series of wars in this country and in the world—the wars that have been smoothly justified by the people in power—most of whom have not had to fight them. We want to forget the centuries that African Americans were treated like animals, not human beings.

In the Church, we also have selective memory. Back in the good old days, the pews were full and financial giving was strong. People in the culture cared more about faith.   Sunday School was full. The youth choir was strong. Yet I wonder how good our memories are. I wonder why we spend so much energy looking back than looking forward. The present and future always looks more daunting than the past. It’s easier to complain about the bread we don’t have now—or the bread we think we don’t have now—than to open our eyes and see God’s manna all around us. As one writer has noted, “I think the main reason we romanticize the past is that we know that we can get through the past whereas the present and future is still undecided. Kind of a “better the enemy you know” way of thinking; sure, it wasn’t perfect but at least we know we could get through it.”[3]

In every age, people have had difficult lives and difficult times. Challenges which are personal, local, national, global. Yet the important thing we must remember is that our God—our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer—is not just a God of the good old days. God is. God is not “I was. I used to be. I’m done now.” No. “I am who I am,” God told Moses out of a burning desert bush. “I will be who I will be.”  The God of your grandmothers and grandfathers. The God of your mothers and fathers. The God of your sons and daughters. The God of your grandchildren, your friends, your neighbors. Your God. The God who will be with you from the first breath you take to the last. The God who will walk with you beyond that last breath as you are born into Eternity.

God tells us this day to look around. God has provided for each one of us, and for this community of faith, in so many ways. Think about how much God has blessed us here at St. Philip’s. God blesses us with your gifts and talents, your generosity the support you offer each other, with your radical hospitality, with the smile and handshake of God’s peace to another.

McJilton 7 sMMy brothers and sisters, there is plenty of holy manna to go around. Do not—like our Israelite brothers and sisters—continue to look back at the past with selective memory. Instead, look around you. Now. This day. Here, you will find God’s holy manna. Here for the taking. The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. Given for you—and to you—by God—this very day. Amen.

 © The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] Amy Erickson, “Commentary on Alternate First Reading,” from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=9/18/2011&tab=2 . Accessed through http://www.textweek.com.

[2] Harper’s Bible Commentary, James L. Mays, Editor, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988), 147.

[3] Geoff McElroy, “Desert Scribblings: Exodus 16:2-15,” from http://gmcelroy.typepad.com/desertscribblings/2008/09/september-21-2008-nineteenth-sunday-after-pentecost.html. Accessed at http://www.textweek.com on Sept. 16, 2011.

Picture of manna from http://www.wellsbiblestudy.com/MANNA-005S.JPG

Picture of Wadi in Sinai Desert from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Wadi_with_Acacia_on_Sinai_Peninsula.jpg

Picture of McJilton taken by Susan Shillinglaw

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City, when we see you coming down,

Coming down from God

To be the new world’s crown:

How shall they sing, the fresh, unsalted seas

Hearing your harmonies!

For there is no more death,

No need to cure those waters, now, with any brine;

Their shores give them no dead,

Rivers no blood, no rot to stain them.

Because the cruel algebra of war

Is now no more.

And the steel circle of time, inexorable,

Bites like a padlock shut, forever,

In the smoke of the last bomb:

And in that trap the murderers and sorcerers and crooked leaders

Go rolling home to hell.

And history is done.

Shine with your lamb-light, shine upon the world:

You are the new creations sun.

And standing on their twelve foundations,

Lo, the twelve gates that are One Christ are wide as canticles:

And Oh! Begin to hear the thunder of the songs within the crystal Towers,

While all the saints rise from their earth with feet like like

And fly to tread the quick-gold of those streets,

Oh, City, when we see you sailing down,

Sailing down from God,

Dressed in the glory of the Trinity, and angel-crowned

In nine white diadems of liturgy.

~by Fr. Thomas Mertin in Selected Poems

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Robin_Williams_2011a_(2)I was on the Isle of Iona, Scotland several weeks ago when I heard the news about Robin Williams’ suicide and subsequently, his depression and the revelation that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

This death has had an unexpected and deep impact in my heart. I do not know why, I just know it is true. Since his death, I have found myself watching videos of his appearances on old Johnny Carson shows or David Letterman, or Williams’ stand-up routine on stages.  In addition, I have watched some clips from his movies–one from “Good Morning, Vietnam” that had me laughing so hard I was crying. Then I watched a most powerful and moving clip from Dead Poets’ Society, where the young men defy someone in power by standing on top of their desks as their former teacher leaves for the last time. “Captain, My Captain,” several say, as each climbs to stand tall and proud.  I watched this clip and wept as I thought of the loss of this brilliant, funny, deep man.  He also happened to be a Christian, and a fellow Episcopalian  [yes, Robin Williams is the one who gave us the Top Ten Reasons For Being an Episcopalian (on an HBO Special)–you may have seen computer mouse pads or t-shirts with these]:

“10. No snake handling.

 9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color-coded.

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt.

2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.”

I read somewhere that someone, upon hearing of Williams’ death, did what she admitted was illegal. She pulled many pictures of him from the internet, and looked at them all. She said that when she did, she could see that over time, the light in his eyes had dimmed, then seemed to go out completely. She noted that he still smiled, but that the smile no longer reached his eyes.

Depression is a terrible disease.  Many people suffer from depression, or bi-polar disorder or other mental illnesses.  Many of us (yes, I, too am affected in some way) experience varying degrees of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), especially in January, February and March, when the days are very short, and we have lots of gray days. In such long stretches of winter darkness, I am grateful for having purchased what I call “Happy Lights,” portable full-spectrum lighting lamps that I use in the morning, that truly do help me.
This week, Bishop Scott Benhase, the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, posted his response to Robin Williams’ suicide.  A flurry of responses followed, many of them unhappy ones. One of my clergy colleagues in the Alexandria, VA area responded.  Joan was diagnosed some years ago with bi-polar disorder. Thanks to good therapy, a good physician, the correct “cocktail” of meds, and a regimen of taking care of herself with diet and exercise, Joan is now living what she calls a “balanced” life. She has a blog, where she journals (quite powerfully, I might add) about her mental illness and how she has learned to cope.

 If you would like to read Bishop Scott Benhase’s letter and Joanie’s response, use this link to her website: http://celticjlp.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/a-response-to-the-bishop-of-georgias-e-crozier-post-on-the-death-of-robin-williams-from-an-openly-bipolar-cleric/

The 16th century poet John Donne wrote Meditation 17.  The final line of this poem reads thus: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. . . .

  From Meditation 17 by John Donne

Although we would now use such patriarchal language today, the meaning is still the same. What diminishes one of us, diminishes all of us. This is true whether it is in our society at large, or in the church community. A butterfly flutters its wings somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, and eventually, climate is changed in the Northern Hemisphere, hundreds of thousands of miles away.  One person’s joy radiates. Likewise, that person’s despair affects others. Truly, we are one for all and all for one. 

Too many people suffering from depression give up. The light goes out for them, and they believe–whether rightly or wrongly–that suicide stops being a question and becomes an answer. Unfortunately, that particular answer leaves families with unanswered questions, inevitable “what if’s” and deep, lasting grief. 

If you are deeply depressed and you have thought about ending your life, please know that a) you are not alone and b) you can get the help you need to keep suicide a question and not an answer.  Please know that there are many professional resources, some of which are available 24/7. 

You could use this link: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  

 There are mental health professionals available to help you–whether that is a physician, therapist, Twelve Step group or other support group. It really is okay to ask for what you need! 

If you are a veteran, you can also use this link:


Teenagers could use http://www.help4mdyouth.org/ 

Many people live with depression and other issues. If I can help prevent one death, I promise, as your priest and pastor, to help in any way I can.  There are many mental health professionals available to help you–whether that is a physician, Physician’s Assistant, therapist, Twelve Step group or other support group. It really is okay to ask for the help you need—and yes, you–beautiful child of  God–you are worth it. 

If you have not seen this beautiful, one-minute tribute to Robin Williams, take sixty seconds and watch it:   


I hope you will give thanks to God for, and celebrate, his life. I also hope you will give thanks to God for, and celebrate, your own life.

Faithfully, Sheila+  

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En Route

She sits, solitary dinner guest at a small, candle-lit table.

Looks out of the window at a gray sea.

Reads a newspaper.

Eats her dinner.

Then the young man arrives

And pulls up a chair.

She puts the paper down.

He leans over and

Gives her an awkward hug.


I sense, more than see, that he has Downs.

Looks like he is in early twenties (yes, shaving)

Or maybe he’s an older teenager.

The boy hands her three postcards

With careful, child-like printing on them.

While she reads them,

He pulls out his I-Phone and texts someone.


He leans over and hugs her again.

They talk quietly.

He stands up.

For a third time, a hug.

He leaves, and the woman watches him go.


The owner of the hotel comes over

And the woman at the table asks,

“Is he having a good time at the Abbey?”

Ah yes, the young people on pilgrimage

Who lead worship at the Abbey every evening.

I listen, hoping he has found community

In this sacred place.

The response is affirmative.


Satisfied, the mother asks for a pot of tea

To enjoy after her dinner.

As she waits, she picks up her newspaper,

Then puts it down to

Look out of the window

At the gray sea



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