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Good and Bad Power

Good and Bad Power

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Week Thirty-Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 8—Friday, August 13, 2021

Sunday
Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, our Inner Source, we become living icons of true, humble, and confident power.

Monday
When we haven’t experienced or don’t trust our God-given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power-over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way.

Tuesday
The theme that I believe is basic to many of our political ills is domination. . . . Domination is a relation that does not work the same in both directions. One commands, the other obeys. One shows respect, the other accepts it but does not return it. One gains privileges from which the other is excluded. —Beatrice Bruteau

Wednesday
God does not play favorites. God loves all equally. Children of God are supremely safe in this love (but not protected in the world), and children of God are themselves capable of this kind of loving. —Beatrice Bruteau

Thursday
When you take something you possess—your bread and power, your abilities and identities, your comfort and control, your treasured structures and even life itself—and release your attachment to it and make it useful to God’s movement, you are practicing kenosis. —Stephanie Spellers

Friday
What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top-down and outside-in—would utterly change.

 

Learning to Let Go

Centering Prayer is a devotional practice, placing ourselves in God’s presence and quieting our minds and hearts, but as Cynthia Bourgeault explains, it doesn’t only work on that level. What the desert abbas and ammas, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and even Thomas Keating could not have known when he formally started teaching the practice five decades ago, was that it works on a physiological level as well, strengthening neural pathways, and making “letting go” that much easier. When it comes to releasing our strong preferences, especially our desire for power and control, it seems safe to say that some practice of kenosis is necessary for any movement forward.

The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice. . . .

The gospels themselves make clear that [Jesus] is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchstone throughout all his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32). And it’s this same core gesture we practice in Centering Prayer: thought by thought by thought. You could really summarize Centering Prayer as kenosis in meditation form. . . .

Fascinating confirmation that kenosis is indeed an evolutionary human pathway is emerging from—of all places—recent discoveries in neuroscience. From fMRI data collected primarily by the California-based HeartMath Institute, you can now verify chapter and verse that how you respond to a stimulus in the outer world determines which neural pathways will be activated in your brain, and between your brain and your heart. If you respond with any form of initial negativity (which translates physiologically as constriction)—freezing, bracing, clinging, clenching, and so on—the pathway illumined leads to your amygdala (or “reptilian brain,” as it’s familiarly known) . . . which controls a repertory of highly energized fight-or-flight responses. If you can relax into a stimulus—opening, softening, yielding, releasing—the neural pathway leads through the more evolutionarily advanced parts of your forebrain and, surprisingly, brings brain and heart rhythms into entrainment. . . .

Every time we manage to let go of a thought in Centering Prayer, “consenting to the presence and action of God within,” the gesture is actually physically embodied. It’s not just an attitude; something actually “drops and releases” in the solar plexus region of your body, a subtle but distinct form of interior relaxation. . . . And in time, this gentle and persistent “inner aerobics,” undertaken under the specific banner of Centering Prayer and in solidarity with Jesus’s own kenotic path, will gradually establish that “mind of Christ” within you as your own authentic self.

We invite you to spend some time today practicing “letting go” through Centering Prayer or another practice of kenosis.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 33, 34, 35–36.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
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Good and Bad Power

No Domination in God
Friday, August 13, 2021

Jesus seems to recognize that it’s either a world of domination or it’s a world of love. To understand Jesus’ paradigm of love, though, we must first understand the Trinity in whose image God says “Let us create” (Genesis 1:26)! The Trinitarian God is the loving, relational flow who flows through everything since the beginning. We will continually misinterpret and misuse Jesus if we don’t first participate in the circle dance of mutuality and communion within which he participated. We, instead, make Jesus into “Christ the King,” a title he rejected in his lifetime (see John 18:37). He never sought that kind of power.

People are more comfortable with a divine monarch at the top of pyramidal reality. So we quickly made the one who described himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) into an imperial God, both in the West (Rome) and in the East (Constantinople). This isn’t the naked, self-emptying Jesus on the cross. This isn’t a vulnerable, relational one who knows how to be a brother to all creation. The Greek Zeus became the Latin Deus—and then we no longer knew Jesus in any meaningful sense that the soul could naturally relate to (which was the main point of the Incarnation!).

Circles are much more threatening than pyramids are, at least to empires, the wealthy, or any patriarchal system. What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top-down and outside-in—would utterly change. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:13) should be our circular and all-inclusive ecology for everything, including love, power, mercy, and justice.

The Trinity shows that God’s power is not domination, threat, or coercion. If the Father does not dominate the Son, and the Son does not dominate the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not dominate the Father or the Son, then there’s no domination in God. All divine power is shared power and the letting go of autonomous and self-serving power.

Brené Brown writes wisely about vulnerability and power. She observes that “The phrase power over is typically enough to send chills down spines: When someone holds power over us, the human spirit’s instinct is to rise, resist, and rebel. As a construct it feels wrong; in the wider geopolitical context it can mean death and despotism.” [1]

There’s no seeking of power over in the Trinity, but only power with—a giving away, a sharing, a letting go, and thus an infinite flow of trust and mutuality. This should have changed all Christian relationships: in marriage, in culture, and even in international relations. Instead, we continue to prefer kings, wars, and empires to a world leveled by love.

References:
[1] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (Random House: 2018), 96.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 40–41.

Story from Our Community:
How fortunate I have been to find Fr. Rohr’s meditations. For too many years I felt alone in my belief system, only to find I was one of many! Rohr and the CAC provide the words necessary for my continuing journey. Without fear, I express these deep beliefs with others in a nonconfrontational manner. I am finding so many of my fellow Baby Boomers open to new thoughts—millennials are even more willing to hear and learn. God’s great inner peace to all. —Pamela W.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry

Good and Bad Power

Letting Go of Power
Thursday, August 12, 2021

In her book The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault describes how Jesus modeled the path of kenosis. Taken from the Greek word in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5–9­), it means to “let go” or “to empty oneself.” In Jesus, this self-emptying pattern revealed itself as “not love stored up but love utterly poured out.” [1] Episcopal priest and author Stephanie Spellers writes about how Christians in the United States can practice “kenosis” for the common good.

Jesus’s life on earth was a purely kenotic, downwardly mobile path. . . . Jesus could have been a prince on a throne, holding power, riches, and every kind of privilege. Instead, he denied it. He let it go. . . . He consciously chose a path that assured suffering, humiliation, desolation, and finally death on a cross. In response, God lifted him up and gave him glory.

None of this was an accident or coincidence. Jesus entered as he did, where he did, doing what he did, because God needed us to finally comprehend the truth: God is not a sky king who heads an empire; God is the love that gives itself away for the sake of more love. Jesus could only communicate that point by standing outside the power structures and inviting disciples to join him and discover new life with him on the margins. . . .

In Jesus, God shows us what it looks like to be this vulnerable, humble, and self-giving. In him, we see one who did not run from the things that broke his heart, nor did he first calculate what he could gain from a situation. Jesus sought instead to give away his life, so he and others might flourish as God intends. . . .

God invites us into a covenant, where by the power of the Spirit we can choose to allow our hearts to break, and then take the pieces—our lives, our goods, our love, and our privileges—and share it all like a broken loaf of communion bread.

Granted, this is a very non-American way of being. Think of the phrases that shape our national identity. We assert our “right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”  which means we are free—and even expected—to organize our lives around our own individual desires. So much of our American story consists of groups of people protecting themselves and what’s theirs, with a gun or a flag or the cloak of racial, class, or gender privilege.

Jesus’s story is exactly the opposite. In this moment, as we reckon with the limits and consequences of self-centrism, domination systems, and the church’s capitulation to empire, we could lean into the Jesus way. We could reclaim kenosis, or perhaps claim it for the first time. . . . When you take something you possess—your bread and power, your abilities and identities, your comfort and control, your treasured structures and even life itself—and release your attachment to it and make it useful to God’s movement, you are practicing kenosis.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 70.

Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (Church Publishing Incorporated: 2021), 91, 93, 94–95, 93.

Story from Our Community:
How fortunate I have been to find Fr. Rohr’s meditations. For too many years I felt alone in my belief system, only to find I was one of many! Rohr and the CAC provide the words necessary for my continuing journey. Without fear, I express these deep beliefs with others in a nonconfrontational manner. I am finding so many of my fellow Baby Boomers open to new thoughts—millennials are even more willing to hear and learn. God’s great inner peace to all. —Pamela W.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry

Good and Bad Power

A Communion Paradigm
Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The contemplative theologian Beatrice Bruteau explores how Jesus took his intimate experience of Trinitarian love and empowerment into his ministry. Of course, when we read the Gospels and the New Testament, we see how difficult it was for even Jesus’ earliest followers to follow his example in their treatment of others. However, that doesn’t mean we give up! Rather, I hope we are encouraged to keep thinking in circles rather than pyramids. Beatrice Bruteau writes:

Under the Domination Paradigm, people are encouraged to think of themselves as identified by their descriptions and to see themselves as real insofar as they are distinct from others. . . . “I am I by virtue of being not-you.” So defined, people feel the insufficiency of their being, which is always vulnerable, always at risk. Consequently, people are insecure and anxious. Strongly pressed to preserve and enhance what being they have, people are easily tempted to believe that helping others may hurt themselves and that hurting others may be the best way to help themselves. After all, the others are “others,” and our first priority is ourselves. “My” well-being has to take precedence over “yours.”

In the Jesus Movement, several things happen that undercut these views and feelings. First, Jesus offers people unconditional positive regard. He gives full attention, sympathetic support, respect, and something else. The something else is that he does not interact on the basis of one’s social description. In by-passing the description, he is going to something deeper and more real in the person. When he turns his unconditional positive regard on this deeper self beyond the descriptions, that self has the opportunity to wake up, to experience itself. When it does, it discovers itself as full of being; it no longer feels deficient. . . .

Second, Jesus explains to people that each person is a child of God. . . . God does not play favorites. God loves all equally. Children of God are supremely safe in this love (but not protected in the world), and children of God are themselves capable of this kind of loving. . . .

Third, Jesus gathers people into communities in which . . . each person does the same thing that Jesus originally did: loving another person on the level beyond any description, beaming full attention (with all one’s heart, soul, mind, strength) of positive regard. This can awaken the sense of selfhood in one who has not yet known it, and in this way the community expands. . . . [In the community] all people are absolutely equal and each is absolutely unique. The sharing within the community is thus richly textured and very creative. Being unified, loving, and creative, the community is the “outreach” of God, the very Presence of God as world.

We now have what we may call a Communion Paradigm. . . . Here I am I by virtue of being in-you/with-you/for-you, not outside and not against—not even separate.

Reference:
Beatrice Bruteau, The Holy Thursday Revolution (Orbis Books: 2005), 69, 70.

Story from Our Community:
I am looking for a way to exist that is driven by Love. Both my “conservative” childhood and my “liberal” young adulthood felt steeped in what to be against. In reading Father Richard’s words, as well as the many voices he includes in the Daily Meditations, I am more able to see and center on the Love that is God—both in myself and the world around me. —Jenna F.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry

Good and Bad Power

Dominating Power
Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Contemplative teacher Beatrice Bruteau (19302014) understood domination, what I’ve referred to as “power over” others, as the cause of much of the world’s suffering. Jesus by contrast models a loving, self-giving alternative to domination power. Here is Bruteau’s description of domination:

The theme that I believe is basic to many of our political ills is domination. We are all familiar with domination. We see it in the way decisions are made in our families; in the way orders are given at work; in the way social life is structured in our city by gender, race, and wealth; in the way our industry or profession relates to its competitors or its market or its clientele; in the way governmental agencies function. . . . Domination is a relation that does not work the same in both directions. One commands, the other obeys. One shows respect, the other accepts it but does not return it. One gains privileges from which the other is excluded. [1]

In the CAC podcast Love. Period., my friend and host Jacqui Lewis interviewed Native American activist and author Mark Charles. They talked about the long-lasting effects of racial domination in the United States and how it might be possible to choose love, even with the painful histories of the abuse of power: 

Mark: Race, whether you like it or not, is defined or centered by whiteness. . . . It’s technically the white, landowning Christian male that’s at the center. And then every other group is kind of defined in these circles beyond that. . . . The Black race was constructed through the one drop rule. If you have a single drop of African blood, you’re Black. Blacks were the enslaved. Having that population grow and expand was beneficial to whiteness because that was the labor pool.

The American Indian race was constructed through the blood quantum rule—you’re full, you’re half, you’re an eighth, [then] you’re bred out of existence. This was because, well, the myth was [that] America was discovered. [That] there were no people here. There are treaty obligations to Native peoples, and so they want as few of those as possible. So they construct the Black race to multiply and they construct the American Indian race to eventually be bred out of existence.

Jacqui: This idea of the erasure of a people is kind of a heartbreaking truth around our nation. I write in my [forthcoming] book Fierce Love, “What happens to the children of the people who were disappeared?” . . . What happens to the children of the Indigenous [people] who watched their families burned, pillaged, raped; who were snatched, kidnapped out of their homes, who were trying to have the Indigenousness, the Indianness of them cultured out? I’m thinking about that in terms of love, and I’m thinking how do we love ourselves? How do we love ourselves, stay in love with ourselves, remain in love with ourselves when those are the stories in our psyches? [2]

References:
[1] Beatrice Bruteau, The Holy Thursday Revolution (Orbis Books: 2005), 7, 8.

[2] Jacqui Lewis with Mark Charles, July 7, 2021, in Love. Period., season 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

Story from Our Community:
I am looking for a way to exist that is driven by Love. Both my “conservative” childhood and my “liberal” young adulthood felt steeped in what to be against. In reading Father Richard’s words, as well as the many voices he includes in the Daily Meditations, I am more able to see and center on the Love that is God—both in myself and the world around me. —Jenna F.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry

Good and Bad Power

Growing in Power
Monday, August 9, 2021

It is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones. (1 Corinthians 12:22)

How ingeniously you get around the commandment of God in order to preserve your own traditions! (Mark 7:9) 

The epigraphs above are two subtle scriptures that I hope illustrate both good power and bad power. In the first, Paul encourages his community to protect and honor those without power. In the second, Jesus critiques the religious leaders for misusing tradition to enhance their own power.

If we watch the news, work on a committee, or observe some marriages, we see that issues of power have not been well-addressed by most people. When we haven’t experienced or don’t trust our God-given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way. Only very gradually does human consciousness come to a selfless use of power, the sharing of power, or even a benevolent use of power—in church, politics, or families.

Good power is revealed in what Ken Wilber calls “growth hierarchies,” [1] which are needed to protect children, the poor, the entire natural world, and all those without power. Bad power consists of “domination hierarchies” in which power is used merely to protect, maintain, and promote oneself and one’s group at the expense of others. Hierarchies in and of themselves are not inherently bad, but they are very dangerous for ourselves and others if we have not done our spiritual work. Martin Luther King Jr. defined power simply as “the ability to achieve purpose” and insisted that it be used towards the growth of love and justice. He wrote, “It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice.” [2]

A prime idea of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is its very straightforward critique of misuses of power. From the very beginning, the Bible undercuts the power of domination and teaches us another kind of power: powerlessness itself. God is able to use unlikely figures who in one way or another are always inept, unprepared, and incapable—powerless in some way. In the Bible, the bottom, the edge, or the outside is the privileged spiritual position. This is why biblical revelation is revolutionary and even subversive. The so-called “little ones” (Matthew 18:6) or the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), as Jesus calls them, are the only teachable and “growable” ones according to him. Powerlessness seems to be God’s starting place, as in Twelve-Step programs. Until we admit that “we are powerless,” Real Power will not be recognized, accepted, or even sought.

References:
[1] Ken Wilber, The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction (Shambhala: 2018), 68.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Harper and Row: 1967), 37.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 85–87, 91.

Story from Our Community:
Martin Luther King Jr. answered the call of his heart to speak out against injustice. I am channeling my inner MLK, for I feel we’re being called to be part of a new Reformation. We have the power to choose to stand in the face of injustice. These injustices are exactly what Jesus came to reform. When will we choose to unite and stop thinking the power to change is outside of ourselves? When will we stop seeing ourselves as helpless and subject to the status quo? Together we can be the God/Spirit/Universe’s Light and Love. We are being invited to shine and be the beacon of Light of Living Love in the harbor. — Kelly G.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry

Good and Bad Power

Good Power
Sunday, August 8, 2021

Despite the many abuses of power documented throughout history, power itself cannot be inherently bad. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is described as dynamis, which means power (Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 2:5). Jesus tells his disciples before his Ascension that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses . . . to the very ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, our Inner Source, we become living icons of true, humble, and confident power. We no longer need to seek “power over” others, because we have discovered the “power within” and know it is a dignity shared with all of life. [1] This is ultimately what it means to be a well-grounded person.

Paul states the divine strategy well in Romans 8:16: “God’s Spirit and our spirit bear common witness that we are indeed children of God.” The goal is a shared knowing and a common power, which is initiated and given from God’s side, as we see dramatized in the Pentecost event (Acts 2:1–13). To span the infinite gap between the divine and the human, God’s agenda is to plant a little bit of God, the Holy Spirit, right inside of us (John 14:16–17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Yet, as many have said, the Holy Spirit is still the “lost” or undiscovered person of the Trinity. If we have not made contact with our true power, the Indwelling Spirit, we will seek power in all the wrong places.

I want to repeat that power, in and of itself, is not bad. It simply needs to be redefined as something larger than domination or force. If the Holy Spirit is power, then power has to be good, loving, and empowering, not something that is the result of ambition or greed. In fact, a truly spiritual woman, a truly whole man, is a very powerful person. If we do not name the good meaning of power, we will be content with the bad, or we will avoid claiming our own powerful vocations. What is needed, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.” [2]

King further wrote, “If we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new humanity afoot, we must begin to turn humankind away from the long and desolate night of violence [caused by domination and power over others]. May it not be that the new humanity the world needs is the nonviolent human? . . . This not only will make us new people, but will give us a new kind of power. . . . It will be power infused with love and justice, that will change dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope.” [3]

References:
[1] For a helpful exploration of different kinds of power, see Making Change Happen: Power from Just Associates, an organization dedicated to creating a sustainable, just world for all.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (Harper and Row: 1967), 37.

[3] King, 66. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 97–98.

Story from Our Community:
Martin Luther King Jr. answered the call of his heart to speak out against injustice. I am channeling my inner MLK, for I feel we’re being called to be part of a new Reformation. We have the power to choose to stand in the face of injustice. These injustices are exactly what Jesus came to reform. When will we choose to unite and stop thinking the power to change is outside of ourselves? When will we stop seeing ourselves as helpless and subject to the status quo? Together we can be the God/Spirit/Universe’s Light and Love. We are being invited to shine and be the beacon of Light of Living Love in the harbor. —Kelly G.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
Read Full Entry
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