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Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Week Twenty Summary and Practice

Sunday, May 16—Friday, May 21, 2021

Sunday
The people who hold the contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviors of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness.

Monday
While evil may reside primarily in “corporate” form, the resistance to it begins with individuals who make a clear decision to fight evil and hatred with goodness and love, even at the risk of their lives.

Tuesday
Oh, Lord, let me feel at one with myself. Let me perform a thousand daily tasks with love, but let every one spring from a greater central core of devotion and love. —Etty Hillesum

Wednesday
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor Frankl

Thursday
The choice to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. To be useful, to be used up, to survive and to thrive so I can use every moment to make the world a better place. —Edith Eger

Friday
In the gospel we are shown that real power is not the power of domination but rather the power of love. And that looking at life from the vantage point of love, we see our being and our joy increase to an extent that we give it away. —Adam Bucko

 

The Dance of Freedom

One of the primary themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that of liberation. God frees the Jewish people from enslavement, exile, and suffering. In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus continues to do that work through his Gospel of love and forgiveness. Perhaps it’s not very surprising, then, that the therapeutic model Dr. Edith Eger developed over her four decades of practice is based on freedom. She calls it “Choice Therapy, as freedom is about CHOICE—about choosing compassion, humor, optimism, intuition, curiosity, and self-expression.” [1] In this practice, drawn from her Jewish faith and tradition, she encourages us to find freedom through conscious choice.

In the Haggadah, the Jewish text that tells the story of liberation from slavery in Egypt and teaches the prayers and rituals for seder, the special Passover feast, there are four questions that the youngest member of the family traditionally gets to ask—the questions it was my privilege to ask at my childhood seders, that I asked the last night I spent with my parents in our home. In my therapeutic practice I have my own version of the four questions . . . [so patients] could liberate themselves from their victimhood.

1. What do you want? This is a deceptively simple question. It can be much more difficult than we realize to give ourselves permission to know and listen to ourselves, to align ourselves with our desires. How often when we answer this question do we say what we want for someone else? . . .

2. Who wants it? This is our charge and our struggle: to understand our own expectations for ourselves versus trying to live up to others’ expectations of us. . . . It’s our responsibility to act in service of our authentic selves. Sometimes this means giving up the need to please others, giving up our need for others’ approval.

3. What are you going to do about it? I believe in the power of positive thinking—but change and freedom also require positive action. Anything we practice, we become better at. If we practice anger, we’ll have more anger. If we practice fear, we’ll have more fear. In many cases, we actually work very hard to ensure that we go nowhere. Change is about noticing what’s no longer working and stepping out of the familiar, imprisoning patterns.

4. When? In Gone with the Wind, my mother’s favorite book, Scarlett O’Hara, when confronted with a difficulty, says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow. . . . After all, tomorrow is another day.” If we are to evolve instead of revolve, it’s time to take action now. . . .

I’ve never met a person who would consciously choose to live in captivity. Yet I’ve witnessed again and again how willingly we hand over our spiritual and mental freedom, choosing to give another person or entity the responsibility of guiding our lives, of choosing for us. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Edith Eva Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (Scribner: 2017), 173.

[2] Eger, 242–243, 246.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
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Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

The Power of Love
Friday, May 21, 2021

Maximilian Kolbe (1894–1941) was a Polish Franciscan priest known for his leadership, his skill as a writer, and his passionate devotion to the Virgin Mary. A prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp, he chose to save the life of another inmate by offering his own. One of the eyewitnesses to this selfless exchange, a doctor, recounts:

It happened that at the end of July or the beginning of August, a prisoner escaped from the garden detail, I believe. This escapee not having been found, the camp authorities decided to choose ten prisoners from barrack 2. During roll call, I was separated from the Servant of God [as Kolbe was called during the process for canonization] by three or four persons. [The commander] chose ten prisoners, among them Francis Gajowniczek [1901‒1995]. When this man learned what was to happen to him, he began to cry with pain and despair that he had a wife and children, that he wanted to see them again, and that he was going to die.

At that point, Father Maximilian Kolbe stepped out of line, lifted his cap, and declared to [the commander], pointing to Gajowniczek, that he wanted to sacrifice himself for that prisoner, as he had no wife and children. [The commander] asked him his profession. He replied: “I am a Catholic priest.” There followed a moment while the SS showed a certain surprise. Then [the commander] ordered Gajowniczek to get back in line and the Servant of God to take his place among those condemned to the bunker. [1]

In an Easter season 2021 sermon, contemplative priest and co-founder of the Center for Spiritual Imagination, Adam Bucko, reflected on Kolbe’s story and the meaning of the Gospel today:

Growing up in Poland, I was shaped by many stories of World War II that I heard over and over again as a kid. . . . I believe these stories [of Kolbe and others] offer us a way out. A way out of the logic that our world operates on. A logic that lives inside of us and governs so many of our basic drives. A logic that led to the war these stories described and, also, in some ways, is responsible for many of the heartbreaking things we are witnessing today. Personal things and societal things.

This logic can best be described by what philosopher Hegel [1770–1831] called the “master-slave dialectic.” Applied to our societal history, it tells us that, when left to ourselves, we often organize our lives according to the principle of domination. . . .

In the gospel [on Maundy Thursday] we are shown that real power is not the power of domination but rather the power of love. And that looking at life from the vantage point of love, we see that our being and our joy increase to an extent that we give it away. We see that the real significance of our lives grows the more we are willing to move beyond seeing others as threats and instead choose to delight “in their energy . . . [and] give away some of our own life to help resource their lives.” [3]

References:
[1] Andre Frossard, Forget Not Love: The Passion of Maximilian Kolbe, trans. Cedrine Fontan (Ignatius Press: 1991), 196–197.

[2] Adam Bucko, “Love in Times of Hate,” homily, April 5, 2021, Patheos.com,

[3] Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity (Image: 2017, 2014), 231.

Story from Our Community:
I invited Christ into my wounded places, tore down the walls, and opened my heart. He also showed me my parts in them. The anger, the control, the diminishment of others—a lot of my wounds were earned. Many of those events are in the past, and the wisdom is to not repeat those errors, to live the remainder of my life differently. I am learning that my actions need not be based on the actions of others, but on being a light to the world. I am a lamp; God’s love is the oil. —Bob L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
Read Full Entry

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

Forgiving Reality and Forgiving Ourselves
Thursday, May 20, 2021

Dr. Edith Eger was just 16 years old when she was taken to Auschwitz with her family. She lost her mother and father to the gas chambers the very day they arrived, and she survived with the help and companionship of her sister. Decades later, when she began a university education in the United States, a young man handed her a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. She reflects that: 

[Frankl] is speaking to me. He is speaking for me. . . . I read this, which is at the very heart of Frankl’s teaching: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. [1] Each moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating or boring or constraining or painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how we respond. And I finally begin to understand that I, too, have a choice. This realization will change my life.

In time Viktor Frankl and Edith Eger developed a friendship and he mentored her as she became a therapist, specializing in treating those suffering from PTSD. At one point, Dr. Eger was invited to return to teach in Germany, where she spent time at both a former mountain retreat of the Nazis, and the labor camp where she was held. Here she reflects on her choice to forgive Reality by forgiving herself:

The choice to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. And the choice to be responsible for my own happiness. To forgive my flaws and reclaim my innocence. To stop asking why I deserved to survive. To function as well as I can, to commit myself to serve others, to do everything in my power to honor my parents, to see to it that they did not die in vain. To do my best, in my limited capacity, so future generations don’t experience what I did. To be useful, to be used up, to survive and to thrive so I can use every moment to make the world a better place. And to finally, finally stop running from the past. To do everything possible to redeem it, and then let it go. I can make the choice that all of us can make. I can’t ever change the past. But there is a life I can save: It is mine. The one I am living right now, this precious moment. . . .

And to the vast campus of death that consumed my parents and so very many others, to the classroom of horror that still had something sacred to teach me about how to live—that I was victimized but I’m not a victim, that I was hurt but not broken, that the soul never dies, that meaning and purpose can come from deep in the heart of what hurts us the most—I utter my final words. Goodbye, I say. And, Thank you. Thank you for life, and for the ability to finally accept the life that is.

References:
[1] Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press: 1959, 2006), 66.

Edith Eva Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (Scribner: 2017), 155, 156, 232, 233.

Story from Our Community:
I invited Christ into my wounded places, tore down the walls, and opened my heart. He also showed me my parts in them. The anger, the control, the diminishment of others—a lot of my wounds were earned. Many of those events are in the past, and the wisdom is to not repeat those errors, to live the remainder of my life differently. I am learning that my actions need not be based on the actions of others, but on being a light to the world. I am a lamp; God’s love is the oil. —Bob L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
Read Full Entry

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

Making a Choice
Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor Frankl

The quote above sounds like something a teacher of contemplation would say! The practice of contemplation helps us to stand back from ourselves and take the view of what I and others call “the stable witness.” Then we are not attached to our thoughts or our knee-jerk reactions, and we can find the space we need to choose the way we want to act or the words that would be most helpful. While he is not known as a teacher of contemplation, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1905—1997) developed this wisdom during his time as an inmate in Auschwitz. He writes:

The experiences of camp life show that humanity does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Humanity can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the people who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. . . .

Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision [emphasis mine], and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any person can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of them—mentally and spiritually. They may retain their human dignity even in a concentration camp. . . . It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful. . . .

The way in which a person accepts their fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which they take up their cross, gives them ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to their life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation they may forget their human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a person either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford them. . . .

When we are no longer able to change a situation . . . we are challenged to change ourselves.

Reference:
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Beacon Press: 1959, 2006), 65–67, 112. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Story from Our Community:
How does a little girl make sense of her mother dying when she was 3? Or her father marrying a person who murdered him a few years later? For me, Fr. Richard’s words “If you don’t transform your pain, you transmit it” is a matter of life or death. Meeting Jesus again at 40 took the blinders off and unveiled the tapestry of my storyline—redemptive suffering, salvation, a loving Father, unconditional love, eternal perspective, a purpose, and new beginning. The truth will set you free. —Linda D.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.

Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?

Read Full Entry

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

Coming to Terms with Life and Love
Tuesday, May 18, 2021

I have been deeply moved by the wisdom of Etty Hillesum (1914–1943) for quite some time, and found myself returning to her journals many times over this past year. She died at Auschwitz at the age of 29, but her deepening relationship with God in the last two years of her life led her into great solidarity with those who suffered and to loving God even in her enemies. Living at the Westerbork transit camp, first as an employee of the Jewish Council and later as an inmate, Hillesum did everything in her power to help others. Here are excerpts of her wisdom:

I kneel once more on the rough coconut matting, my hands over my eyes, and pray: “Oh, Lord, let me feel at one with myself. Let me perform a thousand daily tasks with love, but let every one spring from a greater central core of devotion and love.” Then it won’t really matter what I do and where I am. . . .

We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it. . . .

Etty Hillesum knew that the banality of evil makes it harder to recognize, and easier to adapt ourselves to it. As the war continued, she fully accepted the “cruciform nature of reality” and chose to love ever more consciously:

By “coming to terms with life” I mean: the reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by my looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich [life]. . . .

We could fight war and all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live. . . .

All that matters now is to be kind to each other with all the goodness that is in us. . . .

And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts. . . .

I love people so terribly, because in every human being I love something of You [God]. . . .

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

Reference:
Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941–1943; and, Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 70, 96, 155, 95, 164, 185, 198, 218.

Story from Our Community:
How does a little girl make sense of her mother dying when she was 3? Or her father marrying a person who murdered him a few years later? For me, Fr. Richard’s words “If you don’t transform your pain, you transmit it” is a matter of life or death. Meeting Jesus again at 40 took the blinders off and unveiled the tapestry of my storyline—redemptive suffering, salvation, a loving Father, unconditional love, eternal perspective, a purpose, and new beginning. The truth will set you free. —Linda D.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
Read Full Entry

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

The Modern Disguise of Evil
Monday, May 17, 2021

Reporting on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) used the phrase “the banality of evil.” It is a shocking phrase to many because it flies in the face of our idea that evil is demonic, monstrous, and villainous, something that everybody immediately recognizes as grotesque and terrible. Arendt’s phrase actually helps explain how the Holocaust or Shoah (catastrophe) could happen. Somehow evil became commonplace.

In his introduction to Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Israeli journalist Amos Elon writes:

[Arendt] concluded that Eichmann’s inability to speak coherently in court was connected with his incapacity to think, or to think from another person’s point of view. . . . He personified neither hatred or madness nor an insatiable thirst for blood, but something far worse, the faceless nature of Nazi evil itself . . . aimed at dismantling the human personality of its victims. The Nazis had succeeded in turning the legal order on its head, making the wrong and the malevolent the foundation of a new “righteousness.” In the Third Reich evil lost its distinctive characteristic by which most people had until then recognized it. The Nazis redefined it as a civil norm. . . . Within this upside-down world Eichmann . . . seemed not to have been aware of having done evil. [1]

As both Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis taught, for evil to succeed, it must disguise itself as good, which is apparently much easier to do than we imagine. [2] What previous generations called “the devil” is still quite active, though disguised in the banality of evil. The devil isn’t going to appear in red with horns and a tail and entice us to follow him. When Paul talks about the devil, he uses words like “powers,” “principalities,” and “thrones” (see Colossians 1:16). These are almost certainly his premodern words for what we would now call corporations, institutions, nation-states, ideologies of supremacy, and organizations that demand our full allegiance and thus become idolatrous—not just “too big to fail,” but even too big to be criticized. Suddenly, the medieval notion of devils comes very close to home.

We must first convict evil in its glorified organizational form. When we idolize and refuse to hold such collective realities accountable, they usually become demonic in some way. We normally cannot see it until it is too late. [3]

Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.” [4] While evil may reside primarily in “corporate” form, the resistance to it begins with us as individuals. The rest of this week is dedicated to the stories and wisdom of individuals who made a clear decision to confront evil and hatred with goodness and love, even at the risk of their own lives.

References:
[1] Amos Elon, introduction to Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, by Hannah Arendt (Penguin Books: 1963, 2006), xiii.

[2] Aquinas describes the devil’s deception through evil “that has a semblance of good” in his meditation on the Lord’s Prayer. See The Three Greatest Prayers: Commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed, based on trans. by Laurence Shapcote (Sophia Institute Press: 1990), 152. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942) offers numerous examples of the ways evil presents itself as desirable.

[3] Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC Publishing: 2019), 50, 51.

[4] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, vol. 1: Thinking (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1977), 180.

Story from Our Community:
Coming face-to-face with natural evil has caused me to feel at the mercy of an unfriendly universe—one out of control and without any center of gravity. I regained my spiritual wings by praying in total acceptance and surrender. Instead of striving for proper feelings or greater faith, I simply abide with Jesus on the Cross. Likewise, when I meditate on Jesus’ anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane, I forget my own. Like the Christian mystics who emphasized unknowing, this can lead to a deeper faith, perhaps more ambiguous and mysterious, but ultimately more sustaining. —Gail B. A.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
Read Full Entry

Choosing Love in a Time of Evil

How Do We “Save” the World?
Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole.

In so doing, Jesus demonstrated that Reality is not meaningless and absurd, even if it isn’t always perfectly logical or consistent. Reality is filled with contradictions, what St. Bonaventure and others (such as Alan of Lille and Nicholas of Cusa) called the “coincidence of opposites.”

Jesus the Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection, “recapitulated all things in himself, everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This one verse is the summary of Franciscan Christology. Jesus agreed to carry the mystery of universal suffering. He allowed it to change him (resurrection) and—it is to be hoped—us, too. Christ frees us from the endless cycle of projecting our pain elsewhere or remaining trapped inside of it.

This is the fully resurrected life, the only way to be happy, free, loving, and therefore “saved.” In effect, Jesus was saying, “If I can trust it, you can too.” We are indeed saved by the cross—more than we realize. The people who hold the contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviors of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness.

These “saviors” exist in every period of time and in every faith tradition. At times they exist even with no “faith” at all, beyond a consciously held belief that solidarity with all of life is, in fact, the meaning of life. For whatever reason, such people agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now. These people feel called and agree to not hide from the shadow side of things or the rejected group, but in fact draw close to the pain of the world and allow it to radically change their perspective. They agree to embrace the imperfection and even the injustices of our world, allowing these situations to change them from the inside out, which is the only way things are changed anyway.

The Gospel is simply the wisdom of those who agree to carry their part of the infinite suffering of God. It must be recognized that many non-Christians fully accept this vocation with greater freedom than many Christians. This week, we will be focusing on people, both Jewish and Christian, who chose to act out of solidarity and compassion during the genocidal evil of the Holocaust, what many Jewish people refer to as the “Shoah” or “catastrophe.”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2021, 2019), 147–148.

Story from Our Community:
Coming face-to-face with natural evil has caused me to feel at the mercy of an unfriendly universe—one out of control and without any center of gravity. I regained my spiritual wings by praying in total acceptance and surrender. Instead of striving for proper feelings or greater faith, I simply abide with Jesus on the Cross. Likewise, when I meditate on Jesus’ anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane, I forget my own. Like the Christian mystics who emphasized unknowing, this can lead to a deeper faith, perhaps more ambiguous and mysterious, but ultimately more sustaining. —Gail B. A.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, The creatures dream 生灵之梦 (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A single deer under gray skies stands in a seemingly hopeless position. And yet . . . it is grounded, positioned to face what is before it, leaning forward into the wind. How have contemplatives who have come before us remained grounded and active in the face of oppressive systemic evils? How do we?
Read Full Entry
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