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Theme:
Contemplative Activists

Contemplative Activists

Saturday, July 18, 2020
Summary: Sunday, July 12—Friday, July 17, 2020

In order to have the capacity to move the world, we need some “social distancing” and detachment from the diversions and delusions of mass culture and our false self. (Sunday)

Dorothy Day’s spirituality and her social witness were equally rooted in the radical implications of the Incarnation. In Christ God assumed our humanity. And we could not worship God without honoring God’s image in our fellow human beings. —Robert Ellsberg (Monday)

Fannie Lou Hamer was cloistered in an activist movement, finding her focus, restoration, and life in God in the midst of the beloved community already here and yet coming. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

Jesuit Pedro Arrupe identified the suffering endured by the victims of war and poverty with Christ’s Passion and taught that alleviating the one through justice was honoring the other in faith. —Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell (Wednesday)

Far from being withdrawn from the world or indifferent to the suffering that goes on in it, the mystic is uniquely motivated and qualified to respond to social and economic injustices. —Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell (Thursday)

I believe that there is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. (Friday)

 

Practice: Putting Flesh in the Game

Like the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the Black Lives Matter movement is working today to end the systemic injustices caused by white supremacy in the United States. At the same time, as scholar Walter Earl Fluker points out, there are real differences between the two movements and eras. Fluker writes:

The Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013 is a hopeful sign of this new moment to which we are called. As a grassroots movement it bears similarities with the prophetic cadence of an earlier era when young black activists, many of them college and university students, were able to produce a critical tension among the black leadership of the civil rights movement and the larger society. In doing so, they elevated the struggle for freedom and jobs to a cultural revolution of black consciousness and political awareness. This new movement . . . incorporates some of the same logic but within a very different historical context and therefore agenda—particularly evidenced in the leadership of youth, women, and LGBTQIA activists.

It struggles not so much with the ghostly apparition of Jim Crow . . . but with the ghost of contested post-racialism that has reconfigured the radical egalitarian hypothesis into an assertion that since all lives matter, slogans like “black lives matter” dismiss the many others in our society who also have legitimate claims to identity, difference, and equal justice. In doing so, the ghost disguises itself yet again by minimizing the particularity and the disproportionate vulnerability of black youth in American society over and against the majority of other youth. . . .

Most importantly, the youth of this movement have placed their bodies on the line—they have put some flesh in the game; “This is flesh we’re talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved.” Every church leader and scholar who is involved in the work of social and political transformation should follow the lead of these youth in being committed to placing his or her body on the line and putting some flesh in the game in new ways. In doing so, we will continue the legacies of those sainted martyrs whose broken bodies and dangerous memories rest just above our heads.

I resonate with Fluker’s call to those of us in leadership roles in the church and other organizations to join these young people in their mission. God put “flesh in the game” through the incarnation of Christ; we, too, are called to incarnate love with our own bodies in solidarity with those marginalized by unjust systems. Like Dorothy Day’s anti-Vietnam protests and Pedro Arrupe’s decision to allow his Jesuits to remain in El Salvador, our contemplation may very well lead us to action with unpopular and painful consequences. And yet, this too seems to be where the living flow of the Holy Spirit invites many of us.

Reference:
Walter Earl Fluker, The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-Racial America (New York University Press: 2016), 231‒232.

For Further Study:
Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings, ed. Kevin F. Burke (Orbis Books: 2004)

Maegan Parker Brooks, Fannie Lou Hamer: America’s Freedom Fighting Woman (Rowman and Littlefield: 2020)

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, illus. Fritz Eichenberg (Harper San Francisco: 1997, ©1952)

John Dear, “You Will Be My Witnesses”: Saints, Prophets, and Martyrs, icons by William Hart McNichols (Orbis Books: 2006)

Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008)

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017)

A Penny a Copy: Readings from the Catholic Worker, ed. Thomas C. Cornell, Robert Ellsberg, and Jim Forest (Orbis Books: 1995)

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014)

Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheldt (Fortress Press: 2001)

Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013)

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Two Revelations of Faith
Friday, July 17, 2020

Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics. —Charles Péguy

It seems to me that a regular practice of contemplation makes it almost inevitable that our politics are going to change. The way we spend our time is going to be called into question. Our snug socioeconomic perspective will slowly be taken away from us. When we practice prayer consistently, the things that we think of as our necessary ego boundaries fall away, little by little, as unnecessary and even unhelpful.

Whatever our calling on behalf of the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to God, to life, to Reality. Our necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence. Now our work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of our impure anger and agenda. We can feel the difference in people on both sides of any issue.

Because contemplation feels like dying and is, in fact, the experience of the death of our small self, we can only do this if Someone Else is holding us in in the process, taking away our fear. If we trust that Someone Else to do the knowing for us, we can go back to our lives of action with new vitality, but it will now be much smoother. It will be “no longer we” who act or contemplate, but the Life of the One who lives in us (Galatians 2:20), now acting for and with and as us!

Henceforth it does not even matter whether we act or contemplate, contemplate or act, because both articulations of our faith will be inside the One Flow, which is still and forever loving and healing the world. Christians would call it the very flow of life that is the Trinity. “We live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) inside of this one eternal life and love that never stops giving and receiving. This is how we “die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,” according to Thomas Merton. [1]

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. When we look at the world today, we may well ask whether it can be transformed on the global level; but I believe that there is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. We need only look at the lives of the contemplatives in action that we read about this week to know that it’s true. Our hope is that contemplation really can change us, and guide our actions for compassion and justice in the world.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window,” The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions: 1980), 47.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 4-5, 13-14, 17-18, 100.

Epigraph: Notre Jeunesse (Cahiers de la Quinzaine: 1910), 27. Original text: “Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique.”

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Mysticism and Nonviolence
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dorothee Soelle (19292003) is an example of a contemplative who finds she must take action. I met her once in Germany at the Kirchentag (an assembly sponsored by the German Evangelical Church) and was deeply impressed. She was a first-rate scholar and noted theological author. I’ve been especially influenced by her book The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. For today’s meditation, Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell describe this contemplative activist.

Society’s conventional image of a mystic is that of a person who withdraws from the world in order to journey inward. . . . The mystic is stereotyped as a guru sitting in splendid isolation on a mountaintop, utterly unconcerned with the world’s affairs.

But theologian Dorothee Soelle [Sölle], herself something of a mystic, argued that there’s actually little accuracy in this portrayal. Far from being withdrawn from the world or indifferent to the suffering that goes on in it, the mystic is uniquely motivated and qualified to respond to social and economic injustices. Genuine mystics, like Buddhist bodhisattvas, don’t renounce the world for the sake of a private spiritual illumination. Rather, they use the enlightenment they’ve achieved to do something about the world’s ills.

The reason for this, says Soelle, is that mystics have been liberated from the three powers that typically hold humans in bondage: ego, possession, and violence. They recognize that the standardly accepted division between I and not-I is an artificial one born from overvaluing oneself and competing with others for possessions . . . [which] in turn sets the stage for the “onset of violence.” But the genuine mystic understands that his or her connection with the divine is likewise a connection to all other humans and, indeed, to all of creation—a relationship, as Soelle said, that “borrows the eyes of God.” [1] Patterns of opposition and resistance bred by the division of I and not-I collapse to be replaced by ones of mutuality and community. Violence becomes obsolete, because the conditions necessary for its eruption disappear.

Soelle became interested in questions of religion and politics at an early age. She grew up under the Nazi regime and, like many Germans of her generation, never got over the shame of belonging to a nation that willingly collaborated with mass murderers. She was especially worried by the acquiescence of so many people who claimed to be Christian, and eventually concluded that part of the explanation was that they had compartmentalized their faith, transforming it into a private and “otherworldly” thing. Convinced that such privatization is a perversion of faith, Soelle worked as a theologian to demonstrate the social responsibility of religion and as an activist to put her theology into practice. She became one of the Cold War’s leading anti-nuclear voices, a dedicated opponent of both [U.S.] involvement in [the] Vietnam War and Soviet-style communism, and a proponent of liberation theology. The spiritual fuel of these activities was her conviction that the mystical worldview is revolutionary enough to resist “powerful but petrified institutions” that trade in oppression and violence. Consequently, her “most important concern” was to “democratize mysticism” so that society might be truly democratized as well.

References:
[1] Dorothee Soelle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheldt (Fortress Press: 2001), 293.

Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013), 117.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Defender of Liberation Theology
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Jesuit priest Pedro Arrupe (1907–1991) was a deeply spiritual man who was entirely committed to serving others, particularly the poor in whom he saw Christ. Authors Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell describe some of the pivotal events of his life:

He was three years into medical school in Madrid when a miraculous healing he witnessed at Lourdes sparked Pedro Arrupe’s call to the Society of Jesus. He entered the order at the age of nineteen and was ordained seventeen years later after studying in Holland and Belgium.

Following doctoral studies in the United States, Arrupe was sent as a missionary to Japan. He was serving in a Hiroshima suburb on the day the atomic bomb fell and later described the horror as “a permanent experience outside of history, engraved on my memory.” Calling on the skills he had acquired years earlier as a medical student, he quickly converted a damaged chapel into a makeshift hospital for the bomb blast’s victims. Arrupe remained in Japan after the war years and was named Jesuit provincial there in 1958. Seven years later, fellow Jesuits elected him Father General of the entire order.

During his leadership of the Jesuits, Arrupe was particularly supportive of his brethren who worked with the poor in Central and South America. These Jesuits combined spiritual ministry with social activism, convinced as they were that the poor were oppressed by wealthy landowners who acted with the tacit approval of the Church. The Roman hierarchy condemned this political involvement as well as the liberation theology, or gospel-based privileging of the poor, that justified it. . . . Arrupe disagreed, and he vigorously defended his priests, even after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith officially condemned liberation theology. He also refused to withdraw Jesuits serving in El Salvador, despite persistent death threats against them, insisting that the people of that war-torn and oppressed nation needed them. Six Jesuits who remained, including noted theologian Ignacio Ellacuría, were murdered [along with their housekeeper and her daughter] in 1989.

Described by one of his friends as “a second Ignatius” who “refounded” the Jesuit Order “in the light of Vatican II,” Arrupe focused the Jesuits during his term as Father General on both renewed spirituality—as a result of his years in Japan, Arrupe himself practiced Zen meditation daily—and social justice advocacy. Along with other proponents of liberation theology, he identified the suffering endured by the victims of war and poverty with Christ’s Passion and taught that alleviating the one through justice was honoring the other in faith.

Arrupe’s leadership of the Jesuits and his quiet but persistent defense of their involvement in liberation theology came to an end in 1981 when a massive stroke left him paralyzed and mute. In resigning as Father General, he offered this prayer: “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”

Reference:
Kerry Walters and Robin Jarrell, Blessed Peacemakers: 365 Extraordinary People Who Changed the World (Cascade Books: 2013), 318.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Civil Rights Contemplative
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) is remembered for her strength and courage in the face of an oppressive system. During the Civil Rights Movement, she inspired others to reclaim their God-given dignity and demand full citizenship in the United States. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes writes:

[Fannie Lou Hamer is] a contemplative exemplar because of her spiritual focus and resolve. Her practices spoke to the depth of her contemplative spirit. In the face of catastrophic suffering, Hamer worked, loved, sang, and resisted the powers that be. She was jailed, beaten, and hunted by the enforcers of the social order after registering to vote. The treatment was so brutal that [civil rights leader] Andrew Young was sent to get her out of jail. Yet, she was kind to jailers who had been beating her for a week. . . .

Hamer was centered; she drew power from the example of her parents in their struggle to transcend the impossible situation of their lives. She faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson. This designation of non-personhood did not deter her, for her contemplative entry into a deeper “knowing” came through her commitment to nonviolence. Adherence to the spiritual disciplines of civil rights activism required that she love the crucifier, bless the torturer, embrace the jailer, and pray for his or her salvation. . . .

According to her friend Virginia Gray Adams, “her back hurt and her spirit waged war without proper food or medicine. So when the movement came, there was rest”—not the rest that pervades the lives of most contemplatives [or what many imagine of monks and mystics], but rest nonetheless. Rest as you tell Congress to let your people go. Rest as you testify and lead a delegation off the floor of the Democratic Convention. Rest comes as rest comes—sometimes in the great feather beds of the wealthy and sometimes just a step away from hard labor. When it comes, it is balm to the spirit and solace to the soul. This is a rest that wafts from a wellspring of intentional justice seeking as spiritual practice. These practices allow one to live in and out of the body and to inhabit hope as an ethereal but more permanent enfleshment. Fannie Lou Hamer was cloistered in an activist movement, finding her focus, restoration, and life in God in the midst of the beloved community already here and yet coming. . . .

Once upon a time there was a contemplative mother, a brave and wise woman of few words who entered the Civil Rights Movement as a [novice] enters a convent—not for retreat but for the restorative love of the community and the space to fight for justice.

Reference:
Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 125‒126, 127, 128.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Peace and Advocacy for the Poor
Monday, July 13, 2020

Dorothy Day (18971980) gives us a clear example of a contemplative activist. In her case, she began with activism, converted to Catholicism around age 30, and eventually lived out her two callings in a powerful and effective way. My friend John Dear, himself a contemplative activist, writes this about Dorothy Day:

An activist and journalist living in New York City’s Greenwich Village, [Dorothy Day] fought for labor rights, women’s rights, and an end to World War I. In 1927, after her daughter Tamar was born, she was filled with gratitude and received the gift of faith. She decided that the two of them should be baptized in the [Catholic] Church. In response, her partner promptly left her.

It was 1932, and Dorothy didn’t know what to do or how to be a radical Catholic Christian. While attending a march against hunger in Washington, D.C., she prayed that God would open up a way for her to practice her radical politics as a devout Catholic. Her prayer was answered in the person of Peter Maurin, a French peasant intellectual who was waiting for her back in New York. Within a few months, they founded the Catholic Worker Movement [on May 1, 1933]. [1]

The Catholic Worker Movement is alive and well today, with over 200 active communities. Catholic Workers commit to voluntary poverty, prayer, nonviolence, and hospitality to those in need. They also protest and take action against systems of injustice, war, racism, and all forms of violence. [2] Robert Ellsberg, who worked with Dorothy Day in New York, continues:

[Dorothy Day’s] spirituality and her social witness were equally rooted in the radical implications of the Incarnation. In Christ God assumed our humanity. And we could not worship God without honoring God’s image in our fellow human beings. We should feed them when they were hungry; shelter them when they were homeless. We should not torture them; we should not kill them.

In the 1950s Day and the Catholic Worker took on a more activist profile. She was repeatedly jailed for refusing to take shelter during compulsory civil defense drills in New York City. In the 1960s her activities reflected the turbulence of the times—protesting the Vietnam War, fasting in Rome during the Second Vatican Council to advance the cause of peace. She was last arrested while picketing with the United Farm Workers in 1973 at the age of seventy-five.

By this time she was widely honored as the radical conscience of the American Catholic church. But her life was not primarily occupied by activism or protest. She was a woman of prayer, beginning each day with meditation on scripture, attending daily Mass, and reciting the breviary [daily psalms, scripture readings, and prayers]. By and large, her life was spent in very ordinary ways, her sanctity expressed not just in heroic deeds but in the mundane duties of everyday life. Her “spirituality” was rooted in a constant effort to be more charitable toward those closest at hand. [3]

References:
[1] John Dear, “You Will Be My Witnesses”: Saints, Prophets, and Martyrs, icons by William Hart McNichols (Orbis Books: 2006), 125.

[2] https://www.catholicworker.org

[3] Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008), 163.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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Contemplative Activists

Contemplation: A Life’s Journey
Sunday, July 12, 2020

I believe that the combination of human action from a contemplative center is the greatest art form, one that takes our whole lives to master. When action and contemplation are united, we have beauty, symmetry, and transformation—lives and actions that heal the world by their very presence. Jesus is the perfect example of this, but we can also point to the lives of many saints, mystics, teachers, and even people we know who share this gift.

For most people, the process begins on the side of action. We learn, we experiment, we do, we stumble, we fall, we break, and we find. Gradually, our thoughts and actions become more mature, but it is only when we begin to question our own viewing “platform” that we begin to move into the realm of contemplation. The contemplative side of the soul will reveal itself when we begin to ask, “How can I listen for God and learn God’s voice? How can I use my words and actions to expand and not to contract? How can I keep my heart, mind, and soul open, even ‘in hell’?”

Contemplation is a way to bring heaven to earth, but it begins with a series of losses, largely of our illusions. If we do not enter the learning process deeply, with curiosity and openness, we will use our words and actions to defend ourselves. We will seek to protect ourselves from our shadow, and build a leaden cover over our soul and our unconscious. We will settle for being right instead of being whole and holy, for saying prayers instead of being prayer.

True contemplation is really quite down to earth and practical. It does not require life in a monastery. It is, however, an utterly different way of receiving the moment, and therefore all of life. In order to have the capacity to move the world, we need some “social distancing” and detachment from the diversions and delusions of mass culture and our false self. Contemplation builds on the hard bottom of reality—as it is—without ideology, denial, the contemporary mood, or fantasy.

The reason why the true contemplative-in-action is still somewhat rare is that most of us are experts in dualistic thinking. And then we try to use this limited thinking tool for prayer, problems, and relationships. It cannot get us very far. We cannot grow in the great art form of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This is how we allow and encounter Mystery.

This week the Daily Meditations feature contemplative activists who encountered Mystery and felt called to live out Jesus’s prayer that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Their lives embody the beautiful struggle that is revealed when we seek to hold heaven and earth together through our love and faithfulness to God, humanity, and creation.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014) 1, 2, 3.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
Read Full Entry
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