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Archive for August, 2018

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Reflection by Steadman Crawford:

Lawrence Clifton Collins II

This past Monday when we were gathered at the hospital, Mother Sheila was there for Clif and comforting Clif’s loved ones. At one point, she and I were talking and she asked if I had planned on speaking at the funeral.  I told her Clif had asked me to speak for him back in early July and of course I said I would.  I’ve been putting off preparing for this with the hopes Clif would recover, although it was apparent that the Diffuse Scleroderma and Myositis was taking a serious toll on him.  In our discussion, Mother told me a good rule of thumb for a eulogy was three to five minutes.  Immediately, I reflected on how Clif would tease me about talking slow.  I figured I would be lucky to get ten to fifteen words out in that period of time, but I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

I became Clif and Eileen’s neighbor back in the 2002 when I moved in the house next door. Coming over to the fence, Clif introduced himself and I didn’t get much more out than my name when Clif asked where I was from.  He knew I wasn’t from around here and as it turns out we’re both from Georgia.  It didn’t take long for us to realize that this wasn’t just a transitory friendship and I had the good fortune of spending a great deal of time with Clif, most often on his side porch.   We would sit out there and chat for hours, and the angel that Eileen is, she would peek out the window with a little smile that politely suggested that I needed to get on home.  Clif and Eileen took me into their family as if I was one of their own. With the time that Clif and I spent together I was given the opportunity to know a brilliant and truly remarkable person.

Clif was an educator, not only as a professor but as a teacher to many of us that have shared the journey with him. Clif earned his BA in political science and an MA in English from Clemson University, where he taught full time from 1988 to 1990. Clif’s love for the Orioles Baseball Team brought him here to Maryland.  What many would consider a conventional decision process didn’t necessary align well with Clif’s wisdom of choosing your own path without the distractions of everyday life.  Many of us would like to believe we actually live that way, but Clif was one that truly did.  In his early years in Maryland, Clif taught part-time at the prison over here in Jessup. Clif has been a professor at Montgomery College for the past 25 years and it was apparent how much he loved his job.  He would often talk with me about the progression of his students. It’s not surprising that his students recognized his passion for teaching and I would like to share one of his reviews I found online.   This particular student seemed to get in touch with what Clif is all about.

“Professor Collins is a fun time. He will really get you to think about assigned readings and wants students to dig deeper into meanings. You MUST read to do well, he will pop quiz you. He likes analogies and jokes whenever possible. Southern charm? Check. Watch grammar when writing for him and don’t be afraid to draw your own conclusions from books”

Another student with a similar post added, “Cool, Cool guy really knows his music too.”  If you asked folks individually what type of music Clif likes, you probably would get a variety of answers because his taste in music as well as style, food, literature, theatre and pretty much the world in general was eclectic.  In many ways Clif’s approach to life was the definition of eclectic which comes from a Greek verb meaning “to select” and was originally applied to ancient philosophers who were not committed to any single system of philosophy; instead, these philosophers selected whichever doctrines pleased them from every school of thought.

Clif had a similar approach towards understanding people as well.  He wasn’t content with getting to know you from the surface. He wanted to know the person inside of you.  He liked to poke and prod around to get to that layer beneath.  He wanted to get to that area of a person that made them truly unique.  Not in a judgmental way, unless you’re a Yankees fan.  That was a primary character flaw Clif struggled with accepting.  Clif capitalized on humor and the art of shock therapy to psychoanalyze his subjects.  So, Clif’s brand of shock therapy was saying something that was oftentimes less than acceptable for the locker room, let alone mixed company.  Things that would get most guys slapped by a lady or punched by a husband or boyfriend was somehow allowed for Clif.  He loved that raw emotion he would uncover with his technique.  I think Clif’s interest in the psyche of humankind sparked his interest in the theater, movies and television.  Beyond knowing the actual names of pretty much any character you see on the screen, Clif would know the background and personal histories of many of the actors.

As many of us know, Clif was an actor himself.  He played all sorts of roles, he played a General in the military, a homicide victim and on one particular series pilot, Clif was the President of the United States. I especially enjoyed this one, not so much from the doomsday sci-fi theme, but seeing Clif in the Oval Office and imagining our nation with Clif at the helm. Here’s a few things that would take place immediately upon his inauguration:

For starters, the official business day would begin around 11ish maybe noon depending on how much coffee the president was able to consume upon wakening.

No work on Friday, Clif didn’t believe in working on Fridays.

Quite a few new national holidays would be added out of the gate, here are a few:

February 6th – Bob Marley’s birthday

August 18th– Roberto Clemente’s birthday

October 31st– Which marked the first Clemson game ever held in 1896 against Furman College

The nation would change for sure and I’m confident that Clif’s compassion for others, passion for education, integrity, dignity, and let’s not forget, humor, would guide this nation in its most challenging times.

Something personal I would like to share regarding my relationship with Clif:

Clif is the friend I’ve always had, it’s a shame we only met face to face only 17 years ago.  I look forward to the day we meet face to face again.

GO TIGERS FIGHT!

  • Steadman “Steady” Crawford

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Two poems read by Dr. Miller Newman, Clif’s colleague at Montgomery College

The Horn Player’s Verse

And a great sky descended,

And from it a voice spoke, asking,

‘Have you come to count yourself

among the prophets? For only

a prophet may walk here

empty-handed

and his head uncovered.’

I answered that I did not and had only

This body, swollen and worn,

To give for the taking of a life

Just lived, and again the voice asked,

‘Are you then numbered

among the people of the desert

who subsist only that

their song may be each night

lifted to heaven?’

And again I answered, truthfully,

‘I know only this body, broken and torn,

given to you for a life just lived,’

speaking then in a fear cold

as the winter cup though the stones

of this very road burned my feet.

Clif Collins, p. 55 in The Lives of the Apostles

 

Sustenance by Participle (unpublished)

Dad’s taking hospice

in the living room,

oxygen and feeding tubes,

motors and compressors grinding—

we’re on the screen porch,

soft summer night,

saying our grace

passing around the heaping bowls,

and always having loved

fried okra and fresh green beans,

he dreams

while low voices and clinking spoons

pass into a place

only he knows,

and no one is pretending.

Clif Collins   August 2018

Two Poems read by Scott Lilienthal

The Lost Prophet

And I will stand before you with words

You will not understand and so will first rebuke,

For you have been taught in ways unbefitting a believer,

Indeed have not been taught at all

But only told such as meets your pride

And will therefore one day be your own destruction.

I say to you now, Do not look outside for your enemy;

He is not there, nor does he dwell alone in your heart

So that you may renounce its iniquities

And the blindness to which they have led you,

Knowing therefore the wisdom of that which I ask:

To stay the hand that would strike in retribution,

And hold the tongue whose words are sown in lies.

For surely guilt is with you as it rests upon all men.

Therefore should you live always, in word and deed,

With humility as an expressing of your unknowing.

Clif Collins in Lives of the Apostles, p. 30

 

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Benediction

(overheard at Penn Station, Baltimore)

Wipe your face and quit crying,

You still got mustard on your chin.

We all on the same train, baby—we just gettin off at different places.

Clif Collins in Lives of the Apostles, p. 62

 

Homily preached by the Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Here we are. We all on the same train, baby. The one who got off the train on Monday evening is now at God’s Table. The prophet Isaiah had one description of God’s Table:  “A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. . .” A place where God swallows up death forever, where the fullness of God’s salvation and love is finally present and visible. Yet on Monday night, and this week, and in the weeks ahead, here we are. We are still on the train. We may not have mustard on our chins, but we sure do have tears in our eyes and tears running down our faces and deep grief in our hearts. We look at the track ahead—the track that, way down the line, curves out of sight into a grove of trees.

Wait a minute. There was more to do. Clif had too much life in him, too much keen intellect still to use, for him to have descended the steps of this train. There was another book somewhere in his bones and heart. There were lots more jokes. There were baseball games and football games not attended, there were graduations and weddings to go to, there were days on the beach in Lewes, there were margaritas yet to be enjoyed. Yet this man who, even to the last, possessed one of the finest minds I have ever encountered, is gone—at least from our sight.

Several months ago, I visited Clif in the Laurel hospital. We had about an hour to talk—just the two of us—and at some point, our conversation went as follows:

“Padress, I’m not ready to die yet.”

“Not ready?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Do you still have another book in you?”

“I think I do. I think I do.”

“So you’re not ready yet.”

“No. . .(silence, then) “But you know something, Padress? If it’s my time, I’m not scared to die.”

“You aren’t?”

“Nope. When it’s my time, I know I have lived a life beyond imagining. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell my boy I love him and how proud of him I am. I found the love of my life. I’ll miss my family and I worry about them. But me? I’m not afraid to die. I’m good.”

And he was. On his final day on this earth—which arrived way too soon for all of us—Clif Collins squarely faced the door between this life and the next. He walked through that door on his own terms, the way he wanted. He made his own decisions about how he would leave us. He made that final, difficult journey with courage, and had peace at the last—then—finally—he knew pure joy and freedom.

For years, I have believed—with all my heart—that when we pray the “Our Father,” we should do that with fear and trembling. Why? Because when we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” I do not think of that kingdom or that heaven as “pie in the sky by and by.” I really do not think eternity is a place we have to earn or a place we won’t see until we take a step off the train we are riding now.

I think we walk in it now, and our responsibility as God’s people is to make eternity real now—with our words, and with our actions. We are to bring God’s kingdom to reality now, today, as it is in heaven now, today. With humility. With love. In other words, on some level, you and I are already walking in eternal time. We may not hear the beautiful music Clif now hears. We may not see the amazing sights he now sees. We may not smell aromas that he now smells. We are hampered mightily by our limited human senses. Yet we are in some measure of eternal life. I agree with the Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Yes. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. That means that regardless of our particular religious beliefs or our associations—or none—with a religious institution, we human beings aren’t so much human as we are spiritual. This, of course, explains our deep, spiritual hunger. Now it is true that we explore our questions about spirituality in many different ways, and Clif did that. He found God in this community of faith, within the Episcopal Church. He found God in words—in the words written by James Baldwin or Flannery O’Connor or Sherman Alexie. He understood that poetry is the finest of distilled language, because the structure and the sound of every syllable counts—double or even triple the usual value of a word.

I believe Clif found God in the acceptance of all kinds and sorts of folks, and he saw God, and experienced God, in the spiritual, everyday exchanges among people he met and partied with and loved.

Ultimately, of course, Clif found God in. . .football and baseball. (Please note, Clif, that this priest has used baseball in a sermon.)  A few years ago, I read a book by John Sexton, entitled Baseball as a Road to God. For years, Sexton taught a very popular class at New York University with the content of what became this book.

At some point, in a feature story, the PBS journalist Bill Moyers asked a student  to explain the content of the class. The student replied, “Is it about baseball? Not exactly. Is it about God? Not exactly. So what is it all about? If you want to know, you’ll have to come and experience it for yourself. It’s ineffable.’[2]

Ineffable is a word that tries to describe something that cannot be put into words. Yet Sexton contends that “poetry and music and art sometimes come close.” The ineffable is something that is beyond us, and we acknowledge that it is. In other words, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not, and so many things—including a death that has come too soon—are way beyond our comprehension. Yet we still ask questions. We still push back. We still ask Why. We still look at the final score with our mouths open—either in ecstasy or disbelief.

Sexton says, “Baseball evokes in the life of its faithful features we associate with the spiritual life: faith and doubt, conversion, blessings and curses, miracles, and so on. For some baseball really is a road to God.”[3]So the road to God looks different for each one of us. Yet on Monday night, as I prayed in an ICU room with grieving people, I knew one thing for sure. At the end of that road, there is love. Only love. And that love is spelled in capital letters.  It is the ultimate poem of God’s heart.

Today, we celebrate the life of a man who lived life large. He loved his wife and his family. He had strong opinions. He cherished his good friends. He didn’t talk much about his faith, yet he did live it. He had integrity and courage. He possessed a keen intellect and wit. And until the train came to a stop, he was still writing good poetry and listening to Steve Earle’s music.

In a little while, we will play a piece of music that Clif wanted, a song entitled “I’m Going Home” by Arlo Guthrie. I quote those words now:

“Like the tree that grows so tall
Leaves turn gold and then they fall
They’ve gone down, but now they’ve grown
They’re going home
Mountain streams may run and flow
Clean the sands on which they go
Stretching down like it had known
It’s going home
Sunrise early in the dawn
Slips away, and then it’s gone
Leaves the night to carry on
While it’s going home

Once a man he lived and died
What he said death could not hide
Even though it’s often tried
But he was going home

 

Now my friends it’s time to go
And this love will live to grow
And I want you all to know
I’m going home.”[4]

 

OkraMy brothers and sisters, we have all come from God. Someday the train will slow and stop again, and one by one, we will return Home—to God. Clif’s already there, waiting for us. May he rest in peace and great joy with the saints of God. And may he get not just bread and wine at God’s Table. . .I hope he is enjoying the best fried okra and sweet tea he has ever had.

Clif, we thank God that you were a blessing to us,your family and friends. We pray that we were blessings to you. We thank God that we could walk with you—even for a little while—on this spiritual journey in our human bodies. But please, please, will you remember what your mama Charlotte told you?  Please. . .please. . .Be sweet. Amen.

 

Note: Lives of the Apostles by Clif Collins can be ordered at one of the following: http://www.pagepublishing.com/books/?book+lives-of-the-apostles or at http://www.amazon.com

 

[1]Clif Collins, “Benediction” in Lives of the Apostles, (New York: Page Publishing, 2017), 62.

[2]John Sexton, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, (New York: Gotham Books, 2013), 7.

[3]Ibid., 7.

[4]Arlo Guthrie, “I’m Going Home.”

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A Life Worth Living

debby-hudson-589680-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Debby Hudson on Unsplash.com

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51.

These Sundays, John’s gospel focuses on bread. “The Bread Sundays,” is how clergy refer to them–and truth be told, we find these Sundays to be challenging. How much can you say about bread before you are left with no words that are new, fresh, inspiring?

On some level, I have been amused by some of the chatter on Facebook pages, or Instagram, or Twitter, about how some churches still use wafers for Holy Communion instead of “real” bread. I have spent no time entering into these conversations. I prefer the real bread like we use at St. Philip’s (522 Main Street, Laurel, MD), and I like being able to offer gluten-free options, or wafers, for those who need or prefer them.

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To me, real bread has more substance, and I imagine that real bread was what Jesus used. Of course the kinds of bread probably varied. What Jesus handed out among the five thousand out in the Galilean countryside was probably just whatever bread was in the boy’s basket. The kind of bread a mother would put on the table for dinner. For the final supper Jesus had with his disciples, that would have been unleavened bread, because it was Passover. More symbolic.

Bread is bread. On whatever level, bread nourishes, gives life. If well baked, you can dip bread in good olive oil, or spread butter or cheese on it. Maybe you tear it, and hand part to a friend at the table. Maybe you pour a glass of wine, or have a cold iced tea, and then you enjoy something that nourishes your body as good companionship nourishes your soul.

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Jesus talks to people about living bread. About living forever. Eternal life. We hear a lot about eternal life, and various denominations have varying perspectives on what “eternal life” means.

Several years ago, while on sabbatical, I enjoyed a week of writing at Kenyon College (Beyond Walls at Kenyon, now called Kenyon Review.) While there, a man named Tom Ehrich led a plenary one evening. I was impressed with him, and subsequently, I subscribed to his daily reflections. (Note: you should check his website out and see if you would like to get his daily e-mails. Here is the link: http://www.morningwalkmedia.com/about/

Photo above by Vitchakorn Koonyosying on Unsplash

One thing I like about Tom (he lives in the northeast–maybe Vermont or New Hampshire, I have forgotten which) is that he makes scriptural connections to real life. For example, he is learning how to be a volunteer firefighter. I know nothing about these things, so am appreciating more deeply the skills that sort of vocation requires. But he takes a piece of scripture–usually bits from the gospel for the following Sunday–and reflects on them. Helpful. Insightful. Good bread for my soul.

This week, Tom reflected on what “eternal life” means. Here is what he said: “‘Eternal life,’ it seems to me, doesn’t mean a physical existence that somehow never ends, a life’s journey that manages to escape the finality of the grave. ‘Eternal life’ means life with God and thus, life with purpose. The enemy isn’t the grave and whatever dying-time precedes it. The enemy is feeling useless, having no purpose of no value to anyone, not even to God. . .To me, that is what Jesus is promising: a life with God that happens now and extends to wherever God takes it.”

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Photo by McJilton on Isle of Iona in Scotland

So I invite you to reflect today on what “a life with God” looks like for you. What nourishes such a life? For me, community nourishes my life with God. Times of morning silence with a cup of hot coffee nourishes my life with God. A walk on a long path with my camera in hand nourishes my life with God. Breaking bread and drinking wine during the Eucharist with a community of faith nourishes my life with God.

For years, I have thought about “a life with God” on that eternal scale. I have moved far away from “pie in the sky by and by” concepts about life after death. I believe that you and I are already living eternal life. I believe that if God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, then it is up to you and me to make that happen. We are not to wait for some divine presence to override evil and corruption and the misuse of power in this realm. We are to do whatever we can on our human level, with our God-given skills and talents, to bring justice and peace to this earth. It is our responsibility to care for God’s creation that we have abused. It is our responsibility to love each other, to listen to each other, to make sacred space for “the other,” whomever that may be.

Today, when you break off a piece of bread, or enjoy a sandwich at lunch, I invite you to stop a moment. Give God thanks for physical nourishment. Ask how you might feed someone else in God’s name (hint: that might mean that you bring a can or package of food this next Sunday to church and put in the LARS basket for the local food pantry.) And then make a commitment to come to church this next Sunday to take holy bread and holy wine into yourself, to nourish your soul in the midst of community.

The Eucharistic Prayer we are using this summer at the Sunday 10:15 worship service is Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer. Part of that prayer includes this petition

“Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.  Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.” (BCP, 372)

Come to worship this Sunday and as you hear these words, pray them silently to yourself. Reach out and take God into yourself. Be strengthened. Be renewed. Know that you are part of a greater Body. Know that with God in you, you are already living forever. This, my friends, is eternal life: a life lived in the presence and love of God.

Drinking Wine BW

Photo taken by McJilton on Isle of Iona in Scotland

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

Most photos in this article accessed at www.unsplash.com

Last two photos taken by McJilton on the Isle of Iona in Scotland

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I am a lifelong musician. What that means is that on some level, music has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Ironically, I do not remember records or music on the radio being played in my childhood home. However, I remember my mother singing in the church choir (yes, I inherited her singing voice) and playing the church organ. I think Mama had some music lessons, but so much of her ability was God-given and self-taught. She could also play “by ear,” which I am not good at doing.

Both my sister and I had piano lessons for about four years, and our teacher taught us the practical aspects of a pianist, as well as some music history about various composers. Mrs. Houchins’ favorite composer was Brahms; mine has always been Bach. Always.

I studied voice, and a little organ (until I sprained my right ankle as I ran down a hill at college because I was late for a make-up call for a production I was in.) Even today, I can play a bit of piano, but only enough to decide that yes, this is a hymn I think will work for us at St. Philip’s or one I want to ask Saunders Allen about. I never loved piano. I loved other instruments more—the organ (the king of instruments, some would say) or a cello or bass or oboe.

3_featheredneststudio_notesThe Value of Notes

I remember the counting of notes. Time signatures of pieces mean something: the number of beats in a measure (the space between the bars) and the value of each note in that measure. The notation of “adagio” or “allegretto” or “largo” or “moderato” tell the musician what pace to keep. Then there are the rests. A rest tells you it is time to pause. Time not to play or sing music. And there are values for these symbols as well.

Funny, isn’t it, how some of the things you learned as a child are never forgotten. I remember that the “half rest” sat lightly on top of a line of music and the “whole rest” was heavier, so it hung below the rest. A “fermata,” which is a pause of unspecified length, was termed as “a bird’s eye” by Mrs. Houchins.

The Rest in Vivaldi’s Gloria

Not long ago, Pat and I leaned up against a wall in Trinity Cathedral in Easton (it was Standing Room Only, and we got there too late to get a seat!), listening to a volunteer choir and small orchestra sing/play Vivaldi’s Gloria. It was stunningly beautiful, and that beauty was made even more exquisite in the short pauses, the rests, between the movements. I found myself grateful that the gathered knew their music etiquette (you don’t applaud between movements of a musical work.) The pauses were as much a part of the music as the notes.

The Rest in our Lives

I think life is like music. You and I so easily forget that deliberate rest, pause, taking a good, deep breath in the midst of our busy lives is as important as the busyness. We think that the more we do, the faster we can accomplish something. Yet a few years ago, while I was on sabbatical, I began to learn that often, if I slow down and become more intentional and mindful, I actually accomplish more. This makes no logical sense. Yet it is true.

While I have come to some peace in my own heart that I will never really live a “balanced” life on some level, I have learned to decide what is essential for me to do and what is just busy work that will please someone else. That meant that I had to take some time to figure out where my own gifts and strengths were, and what others could do better than I. And that did not necessarily mean that another person with a collar, either—that meant that one of my gifts—helping lay people live more fully into your gifts and skills—would be better utilized than I had done before.

il_340x270.1617660849_mt8nThe Fermata: An Unspecified Pause

The rest between music notes also reminds me that we all need to see that “bird’s eye.” That fermata. That unspecified pause. Sometimes it is critical for our well-being (and the well-being of people we love) to stop. To say no to something we have been doing. To re-evaluate. To rest. To breathe deeply and be in a moment where we watch a bald eagle rest in a tall pine tree. To enjoy the sight of a trio of loons swimming nearby in a tranquil Canadian lake. To read a series of novels. To sit down to a leisurely meal with dear friends.

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The Rest between our Notes

Many of us are getting a chance to “rest between the notes” this summer. It may be in a cabin near a lake. It may be feeling sand and surf between your toes. It may be a trip to someplace in the Caribbean, or to Europe. You may be enjoying blueberry pancakes and hikes in Acadia in Maine. Or maybe you are just “resting between the notes” at home, doing some “honey-do” chores.  I also know that because of personal challenges, some of us are just putting one foot in front of the other and struggling to take a deep breath. If this is the case for you, I suggest that you steal some time for your own “rest,” even if it is a tiny one. Call a friend and go to the movies—and yes, splurge on the big container of buttered popcorn. Go to a baseball game or a concert with a friend. Get a 90-minute massage–good for your body and your soul. At the very least, take a refreshing, cold drink or a morning cup of hot coffee, go over to St. Philip’s and just sit—without your phone!—in the Memorial Garden. Then just BE. Breathe in the summer air. Look up and imagine animals in the cloud formations. Even fifteen or thirty minutes may be the rest you need.

God’s Rest. . .and Yours

Remember that when God created the heavens and the earth, God took a day off. The Seventh Day. Sabbath. A day of rest. Are we better than our Creator? No. So take a lesson. Rest between the notes of your life. You will be glad you did.

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

Images accessed through Google except for the first one of the pianist, which was taken by austin-pacheco-703798-unsplash.jpg. 

The last one? I took that.

#sabbath #rest #music

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