Tag Archives: fear

September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.

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At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 26: Fortitude III, Fortitude and Things that Threaten.

thursday-9-pansy-pavementSo, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.

Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.

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Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.

Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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September 9: Jesus Beyond Dogma VII. Hope and System

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Every aspect of life is monitored and controlled by systems and their norms which we know and try to observe. System is effective in how we think, act and comport ourselves. Hope emerges from within all this not as an escape from dead-end living, nor as the natural completion of what we are already doing but as an unexpected breakthrough, an open door where there seemed to be no way out – because it is not where we tend to look.

The common understanding of hell is the violent separation of the good from the bad – where we have lost the Good News. This is system – a story already told, and when based on the final redemption of all – through God’s mercy: a drama with a beginning and a happy ending. There is no need for hope! If the story is already known – there is no place for it. The Good News is that system is not essential, we can leave it and discover what hope really means.

Revelation shows us how hope was born for the women at the tomb – out of what made them run away in fear [how often do we hear Jesus say don’t be afraid?] Nothing could ever be the same again after Easter Day. There is no system that can show us how to experience life that survives death and actually includes death. Jesus did not die and then come back to life, he is at one and the same time dead and alive – which is why there is such emphasis on the five wounds. Death has been emptied of its power by love at its very best. This is how the women’s fear was transformed [not ignored] into hope. When Revelation concludes with Maranatha [come Lord Jesus] we are asking that the forgiving victim be present with us – do not be afraid, it’s only me and I love you.

Is not our deepest desire to be desired by another for who we are, just as we are? This may be true but there is much more. We grow into desiring in imitation of what he have seen in others. They have a nice car, I’d like something like that. We are recreated, not by someone desiring us, but by what that desiring brings about in us – the Resurrection urges us to love as we are being loved. It means having the freedom to accept God’s love. Love creates only lovely things, love created me so I can rejoice that I am lovely, lovable and able to love.

For this to happen I need to let go of all concerns about worthiness. How awkward this can be comes out when we reflect: if you give a friend a present and then you say thank-you, how much do I owe you? We would be taken aback – so why do we do it with God? He has given us to ourselves as gift – why do we ask what do we owe – keep the rules – go to Church? We need to become less concerned about our reputation to make room for being loved and wanting to love. This love will know nothing of revenge or needing to blame, and so embraces the persecutor as well as the persecuted [with God it is always all] no matter how late we turn up for work. No mortgage.

When we stand free of concern for reputation, and from the need to settle old scores through our minds now fixed on things above – then we are beginning to love our neighbour without discrimination [which is what things above means].

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The central theme of Easter is that Jesus was present to them as forgiveness – and more, it is resurrection in the flesh not just a purely spiritual happening. Jesus walked with them entirely imbued by the ever present love between Abba and the Son – the Spirit. Such living is totally removed from any shadow of death – death has no place in this way of life [as is the case with the life we know now].

The only reason there is Christianity is Easter. The Resurrection was not a miracle happening within our understanding of God, but the way God makes it possible for us to respond to the presence of God. This is the Resurrection, Jesus enjoying this way of living including his death. This is why he told the Sadducees: You are very much mistaken. Every reality from within the death culture cannot speak adequately of God. God’s love is totally unaffected by death, also death was not a necessary separation – love carries on being mutual and complete even through death.

With the Resurrection we receive the grace [gift] to experience the presence of God, not just know about it. Access to God’s way of revealing is not ours by nature but by grace. This is revealed through the Resurrection, not because it never existed before, but we cannot understand with minds clouded by death. This man who is dead is alive. It is the total immanence of God – God totally involved with us – that is God’s transcendence.

This has something to say about sin. The Resurrection reveals there is no divine necessity for death; death is present as something that is – but now we see it does not have to be. Not only is our understanding of God very much mistaken, but contrary to the understanding God desires us to have. Death is a human reality; and as such is sinful. Putting Jesus to death shows how we are actively involved in death-dealing. The necessity of human death is a necessity born of sin. For us death is not just passive to be endured, but also what we actively deal out.

God did not raise Jesus simply to show his immunity from death, or to rescue him. Jesus is raised for us. The victim of our death-dealing ways is raised up as forgiveness:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him – John.3.16-17. Death is seen as a human reality infected with sin, but it is a human reality capable of being forgiven by exposure to love – greater love there is not than you die for another.

None of this happens for the benefit of God – it is all for us, when forgiveness enters into human death. Forgiveness, the fruit of the Resurrection is not about what we have done or failed to do, but what up until now we had believed what was natural for us. If death is something that can be forgiven, we are wrong, not just about God but also about ourselves.

If God can raise someone from the dead in human history what we thought as being inevitable [death austinas the end] is clearly not so. It is not just a biological reality but a cultural one – and so is capable of change. Sin as related to death need not be. God created us mortal – mortality means experiencing death – we need to ponder on how death would have been experienced if there had been no sin. This has implications for understanding Original Sin – what we are as human beings moving towards death – now seen as capable of forgiveness.

 AMcC

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September 3. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 1: What changed the disciples on Easter Day?

Easter Saturday

What changed the disciples on Easter Day? Their former understanding of God was gone, as was their awareness of what being human really meant. When disasters like the Tsunami strike – we don’t ask who is responsible; we ask what happened? We expect some kind of scientific answer rather than looking for someone to blame.

What happened to them on Easter Day was the same thing that made Jesus not be just another dead person, another victim of human violence – it was the Resurrection. An historical happening on the Sunday after his death – the same man they had buried is with them. What happened to this group of friends transformed them, took away fear and made them eager to share their experience. They had a change in perception of what being human means – but most especially, a revolution in their understanding of God. They shared their memories and wrote them down, from which we now have the New Testament. They talked of his life, living with him; his death and now this…

The Resurrection brought new insights – something Jesus had before his Passion and death; he had told them you do not understand now but you will… He spoke of God in an entirely new way, one which proved threatening to the Guardians of the Law, to Temple worship, to Sabbath observances and to ritual prescriptions. The last straw was calling God his father. The disciples were already unsympathetic to the authorities, but it is unlikely that when Jesus was executed that they dismissed the idea that maybe the priests were right after all, that Jesus was not from God; surely death is final, and puts an end to dissent?

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Two were walking to Emmaus with hopes shattered [we had hoped]. His death seemed to vindicate what authority was claiming. Jesus must have been a sinner for this to happen –he who hangs on a tree is cursed – Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13. When he rose from the dead and appeared to them the whole system leading to his death is called into question. Jesus had been right, God is the way Jesus spoke of God; nothing like the description offered by his accusers.

The reasons they produced for getting rid of him were not reasons, but part of a sinful mechanism for getting rid of troublesome people – with nothing whatever to do with God. This leads to questioning the Law as not reflecting the true God, or as distorted by human violence. The Resurrection did not simply reveal Jesus’ innocence, not only was he right about God; it exposed the mechanism by which innocent victims are created by those who believe that in doing so they are doing God’s will.

We can now imagine the innocence of the victim and see the complicity in violence of the perpetrators. If we see things as the disciples first did, feeling uncomfortable that Jesus may not have been up to what he promised – and then see him back, how would we talk about it? Our stories have beginnings and endings, and, so they thought, was Jesus’ story ended – but now: how do we tell a story that has no ending? They tried telling this story which had no room for death – death which happens to everyone – and they didn’t know how to do it.

Resurrection has now burst into our storytelling. They couldn’t tell the story in the old way, and the new way they were inspired with we call the New Testament. It was not a question of eliminating death, but how death has its part in the story, but not as the ending. Jesus did not appear as someone who had been dead and is now better – like Lazarus. The risen Jesus was at once dead and alive – as the five wounds testify – and is now showing death as empty of its power. He is at once dead and alive. His whole life including death is present in its fullness. He has conquered death, not just for himself, but for all who share common humanity with him; death and its whole system by which all were held in thrall, is not necessary. Whatever death is, and it happens to all of us, it is not what dictates or shapes the pattern of life. It is an empty shell, a bark without a bite. We will die, but death cannot separate us from the source of the fullness of life.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death – Hebrews 2.14.

We need to ponder those empty marks of death [5 wounds] within the splendour of his risen life, which enables them to be seen in new light. His life did not cancel death, but includes it, letting it be seen so that they be not afraid. All human history including violence has been taken up in his risen life. God does not require us to deny the violence all around in order to give praise – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus.

The presence of the crucified and risen victim says the divine story is related to the human story. God becoming man creates the real human story – a story that knows nothing of violence or the structures that seek to foster it. For this divine story to make sense to us it has to start from the story we know how to tell. The divine story is not just at a different level, and replacing the human story, it includes all that is capable of being transformed – such as violence and victimising.

AMcC

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August 7: Francis Thompson VI. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: V

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My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity,
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again;
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With grooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

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August 4, Francis Thompson III: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN II.

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THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: II

I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

I return to ‘unperturbèd pace, / Deliberate speed’ as an image of God at work which makes sense to one who would be his ‘servitor’. Thompson did like his words!

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August 3, Francis Thompson II: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN I.

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The story of  Francis Thompson’s struggle with his demons which led to drug addiction and homelessness after leaving Ushaw College is perhaps better known than his poetry. Some of it needs much work on the part of a reader not versed in the Classics of Greece and Rome, but not The Hound of Heaven. We invite you to read the whole poem in short extracts.

THE HOUND OF HEAVEN:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followéd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their changèd bars;
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.
I said to dawn: Be sudden—to eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!

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10 May : From Fear to Love

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In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear [1 John 4.18]

Fear is disabling. It makes us shrink from the risk of trust. It closes us off from relationship. Fear binds us in a narrow life. The work of God’s Spirit is to lead us from fear to love. But how can we co-operate with the Spirit and overcome those fears that hold us back from wideness of heart?

Name your fear

When I was a small child I was afraid of the dark. I couldn’t sleep. I imagined I could make out the shadowy outline of a gorilla in the darkest corner of the bedroom – not the best inducement to sleep! Then one night inspiration came: I named my gorilla ‘Charlie’. Somehow I wasn’t afraid of ‘Charlie’ in the same way as my looming, nameless gorilla- shaped terror. Sleep came more easily, and in time Charlie no longer seemed to be around. It helps to pin down just what it is you fear so that you can see it for what it is. For example, ‘if I try something new I will inevitably fail’. Naming your fear helps in beginning to address it: ‘I own I am afraid of this, but I don’t have to be held by this fear’.

Share your fear: Fear becomes magnified in size when we seek to hide it from others. Share your fear with someone you trust.

Look at where your actions take you

The inner voice of fear bids us be ‘safe’ but this safety is often illusory. Choosing the safe can lead us to be more trapped than ever. The pattern often repeats itself – so be aware of it. There are other responses we can make that will help us in the longer run to be happier, less constrained and more confident in our ability.

Don’t listen to discouragement:

In his advice to spiritual guides Ignatius Loyola notes how when we seek to overcome our fears and move to a greater trust in God, what is damaged and closed to the Spirit within us will ‘harass, afflict with anxieties’ and ‘put up false obstacles’. On the other hand the voice of the Spirit within is heard in ‘every interior joy that calls and attracts’ us towards wholeness, freedom and generous self-gift. Fear drives us, whilst the Love that is God invites.

One exercise that may be helpful is to divide a piece of paper into two columns. In the left column write down what the inner ‘voice’ of fear says. In the right column write down in answer what, in better moments, you have sensed God saying to you…’you are worthy, capable…there is a future for you…’

Act your way into a new way of thinking

If we wait until we feel total trust and freedom before we step out of a fearful pattern of behaviour we may wait a long time! But if we dare to step out when Love calls, ignoring the voice of fear, then trust and self-belief will grow.

Stay in the moment, for ‘now’ is where God is.

The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today’

[The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s: Through the Looking Glass]

Fear usually concerns what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. All our capacity to be gratefully present to the gift of ‘now’ and to work creatively within it is stripped away. Yet ‘now’ is where God is. Even if the worst we can imagine did happen, God would be within that ‘now’. Jesus invites his worrying disciples to ‘consider the ravens…consider the lilies, how they grow’. It’s impossible to ‘consider’ what is before us if we’re somewhere in the past or future. Jesus advises: be present to what is. Spend a minute or two giving all your attention to the sounds you can hear – voices in the street, rain against the window – listen to the texture of these sounds rather than getting tangled up in what they might signify. Or, absorb yourself in what you can see – the lines on the desk in front of you, the movement of clouds in the sky. Slowly you will find your heartbeat slowing. In this breathing space, God ‘is’.

Go with the flow

The movement from fear into love is a movement of the Spirit. It is like a stream we launch our boat into and then the current takes it along. It takes effort and courage and persistence to go with this flow. But the flow is love, and this love is life.

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9 May: Letting go and letting God

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Whether we are seeking to grow in prayer, or become free of what we have come to recognise as life-diminishing ways of acting or thinking, or to know what it is God wants us to do, it is in letting go that we make room for God. It is the Spirit that roots and grounds us in God, draws us into wholeness and guides us along the way that leads to life. If we try too hard, believing that it is only through the sheer force of our will and effort that change can happen, we leave little room for God. Everything is gift.

However ‘letting go’ is in itself a work, for our natural inclination tends towards keeping life in our minute control, depending entirely on our own resources rather than being open to another’s help, and bringing about change by the strength of our will and endeavour. To go against this instinct for self-sufficiency and self-definition can feel daunting; yet we let go not into nothingness but to ‘let God’ be active in our lives. In doing so we find that we too are alive in a way we have never been before.

  • Put a stone in your hand to represent what you desire to let go to God.
  • Place a candle or cross nearby to symbolize the place of letting go.
  • Use the reflection below may help you to identify what you want to put in God’s hands:

We let go to God our regrets about the past – the choices we have made however we now feel about them, whatever has happened to us for good and for harm. God is in the place where we are, however we got there.

We let go to God our anxiety about the future. We cannot control what is in essence beyond our control – instead of torturing ourselves with fears that begin ‘what if…’ we let go to God who will always be alongside us in ‘what is’.

We let go to God what hurts. True we cannot switch off our painful feelings; they flow into our lives, but if we do not cling to them they will flow from us again, carried in the stream of God’s presence and care.

We let go to God our resentment. Even though the anger may not die down in our hearts we consent not to hold on to our need to get even; we give to God to heal what we cannot heal by ourselves

We let go to God our need to be good enough. God gives freely what we can never earn. We are valued, loved and believed in as we are.

We let go to God our desire for growth. It is God who continues to create us and who works to make us whole.

We let go to God the choices we face today. Though we do not know what to do, as we choose to listen, God will lead us along the unseen way.

We let go into God’s working: We consent to be drawn this day into the stream of God’s life: to become the activity of Love in that part of the world that is ours.

  • As you sense something you want to let go to let God, put down your stone by the candle or cross.
  • There may be feelings you need to share with God before you feel ready to let go: fears, hopes, doubts, desires or pains. You may sense you are not ready yet to let go and let God in this area of your life. If so, let go at whatever level you are able to today, with your ambivalent feelings and doubts.
  • You will probably find that on another day you will need to let go in this area all over again. Letting go is rarely a ‘done deal’; it is a process where little by little we allow God to become the source of our life.

 

CC.

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6 May: Confidence in God’s Mercy.

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The beach at Rye Harbour.

The writer Radclyffe Hall was a parishioner at the Franciscan parish of St Anthony, Rye and donated its great crucifix. Let her short verses contemplating God’s Mercy be our introduction to tomorrow’s Good Shepherd Sunday.

Confidence

The faintness of my heart
When strife and evil rose,
The worse and lesser part
Which it for ever chose,
God knows.

The passions that have bound
My soul with chains of earth.
The sorrows that have found
Their home with me since birth.
The dearth

Of all these nobler things
That make existence fair,
The stain of sin that clings
Until we cease to caremercy.carving. (328x640)

For prayer,

All this must I atone:

And though eternal woes
My banished soul alone
Must bear without repose,
Yet I am not afraid
To know God knows. 

This is the prayer of a lost sheep who knows she is lost but wants to be found. The tension building towards the last couplet is resolved in the person of the child of Bethlehem, the crucified, risen Lord; the God who knows our humanity from the inside. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us and is ready to carry us home.

MMB

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