Reflecting on Trespasses….

Viral Encroachment by Kira Skala
Abstract art can be tough for me. I tend to use my head over my heart, so the images are not easy to understand or rationalize. Yet this abstract watercolor by my dear friend Kira hit home at first glance. My heart grieves for the world we have left behind as this virus has encircled the globe. My head cannot begin to wrap around what we are going through or where we will end up. Kira calls her work ‘Viral Encroachment’ – a fit title to explain how this tiny organism has taken hold of our daily lives. Something we cannot see has changed everything we can see. An unseen force has taken over, very slowly then all at once. I pondered the sort of things that work that way, piling up over time until the burden is intolerable. Each incident is not that big of a deal until you get to the last straw that tips you over the edge.

We pray about those little indiscretions every Sunday as part of the service. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Other translations substitute debt or sin for trespass, but what are we really talking about? It was time to go back to the original text in Greek. It was time to ask our parish priest, Pete. In his words:

The Greek word is paraptoma: para = around or alongside; ptoma = slip, trip, or fall. Literally, it means to fall alongside of or more simply, to fall away from. Idiomatically, though, it gets tricky, especially for translators. It’s a verb, action, trying hard to be a noun, thing. Thus we get something like “slips” or “lapses.” For once, the King James translators weren’t that far off the mark when they came up with “debts,” in the sense of things worthy of grudges. Sadly, using the word “sin” really defeats the purpose, as it doesn’t look like what we think Jesus was trying to convey, but there it is.

The really interesting thing, at least to me, is that trespassing implies a moving forward into forbidden territory, whereas paraptoma suggests an accidental falling away from the good. It’s almost as if the translation is opposite Jesus’ intent: a paraptoma is, for all intents and purposes, an accident; a trespass is an intended wrongful act. – Reverend Doctor Peter R. Gustin

This virus cannot move on its own – people carry it from place to place, from person to person. You are contagious once you contract the virus, but symptoms may take a week or more to appear. Surfaces can hold the virus and be picked up by another person touching an affected area. All of this sounds a lot more like a series of little accidents, careless indiscretions, thoughtless actions. Each incident doesn’t seem like much but over time we end up with more than we could begin to imagine possible. It is easy to succumb to fear, to look for someone to blame. Yet are we really angry at any single individual, or are we simply furious at the whole situation?

Make time today to hold open space for grace. Consider each little act more like an accident. Forgive as you wish to be forgiven. Take precautions to safeguard yourself and others out of love instead of fear. Look for new ways to socially connect in the current climate of social distancing. Take time to check in with one another, especially folks we would normally see on a regular basis. Most of all, let each of us lean on God’s strength rather than our own. As Brother Lawrence would say ‘My only chance of success is with you, Lord, for alone I shall surely fail’.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Greek origin of ‘trepasses’, reflection by the Reverend Doctor Peter R. Gustin

Watercolor entitled ‘Viral Encroachment’ by Kira Skala©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Decisions….

Should I stay or should I go Ullenius
Decisions are part of everyday life, but not every decision is simple or straight forward. The toughest choices we all face in light of the Coronavirus involve when and if to venture from our homes. At this stage, we all understand we need to keep our distance, yet there are matters that seem to weigh more heavily as each day goes by. This photo by my friend Steve seems to capture the dilemma we all face. I grew up with streetlights like the one in this photo. There was one on the corner outside my bedroom window. I spent many a day at that window, home from school sick with everyone worried the common cold would escalate into bronchitis. I have asthma, so even a cold is far from common. This type of streetlight seems a bit bare bones to me, although the birds were always big fans. The birds ganged up on the pole, until there was no longer room for even one more to fit. Then they would all rustle their wings and at least one would take flight. As soon as that bird left, another bird would crowd into the makeshift flock. What was so great about this particular perch? Why did they all crowd in together? At first, I thought that it was a great place for the birds to spot insects, but it seemed the bird who was crowded out took off into the sky rather than toward the ground. Perhaps those lonely days I spent in my room as a young child were the beginning of these reflections. There is only so long you can read, and the only television was downstairs in the living room. So the view out that bedroom window became my television, for better or for worse. Now we all seem to be stuck inside and wanting to go out and play, or work, or to buy just a few more groceries. Perhaps there are more pressing matters, a sick and frail friend or family member you long to visit one last time. If decisions are already tough, then how difficult are they when the stakes are so high? In times like these, we must consider both our own interests and the common good, perhaps considerations in conflict with one another. The situation continues to evolve, so a decision we delay until tomorrow may no longer be an option. Like the refrain from this song by The Clash:

Darling, you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

We may leave, only to be stuck at that location for the foreseeable future. We risk a longer separation than we expect as restrictions tighten. So perhaps we need to simplify the whole decision process – are you willing to spend six to twelve weeks with the folks you are with at home? If you leave, are you willing to spend that long with your coworkers? Patients? Shoppers? Make time to consider what is truly important to your heart, not your head. Avoid overthinking the situation or getting ahead of yourself. Make decisions as needed, and once you make a decision, let it go. Enjoy the present and what it has to offer you. Cultivate beauty in your surroundings and be intentional in your actions and especially your words. Address concerns head on rather than belittling them or avoiding a tough conversation. Lean on God’s strength rather than your own, inviting the Holy Spirit into your midst to guide and guard you and those you hold dear, this day and always.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Lyrics from ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ by The Clash

Photo entitled ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by Steve Ullenius©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on the View….

Swaying Aspens by Adrienne O'Hara
Watercolor has always fascinated me. It requires patience and talent, or perhaps a cultivation of both. I love to linger over a beautiful view, yet my talents do not allow me to capture that scene through art. My dear friend Adrienne recently took up watercolor, and this is the result of one of her initial efforts. You can see she casually took a photo of her work, not worrying if the piece was exactly square. Perhaps that is really what art is all about – letting go of the need to be ever so tidy and neat. She abandoned her notion of what she saw and let the scene flow into her eyes and out through her hands onto the paper. I can almost see the aspens swaying in the wind. This watercolor reminds me of our time in England. My daughter started school there and I was fortunate to spend many lovely days on field trips with her class. Sometimes we would visit a small museum or a business, the sort of field trip we are used to here in the United States. Then one beautiful spring morning we took a walk in the woods with a picnic lunch. We walked for a long time until we came upon a bend in the creek. The forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers and the leaves and grass were that amazing bright green of new growth. The teacher asked the children to find a view they liked and to take out their sketchbooks. She had made similar requests at the museums we visited. Pick something you really like and sketch it. She believed we captured the essence of what we saw by lingering over it, by using our hands to secure it in our minds. There was serious learning in museum sketches but what was today about? Leave it to the English to fold serious learning into a walk in the woods. The other chaperone was an avid gardener, no, more than that, an amateur botanist. Soon I could see not only sketches, but also the Latin names for each plant at the bottom. Later the children were given the opportunity to watercolor their sketches. Quite an impressive request of second graders, with equally impressive results. My now 25 year old daughter has a degree in architecture and works with a construction company. She models the parts of the building design where there can be conflicts, such as plumbing and electrical. Her work literally helps the team see inside of the walls. I wonder if her career began with those field trips and her sketches. She may not paint, but every day she uses an eye trained to keenly observe the scene at hand. She can see details that elude the rest of us, but perhaps we all can learn to linger a little longer to breathe in the essence of now. Make time today to slow down and soak in your surroundings. Hold open space for the beauty around you, whether it is the whole scene or just a single blade of grass. Allow your prayers to be joined with the prayers of creation, as it is written:

“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in it” – Psalm 69:34

Most of all, let the same Creator who formed each of us in the womb guide us through the gift of His bountiful creation.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Watercolor entitled ’Swaying Aspens’ by Adrienne O’Hara©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Mystery….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Mystery in the Pines
I have had the great good fortune to live in many locations where words do not do justice to the surroundings. The first was southern New Jersey, in particular,The Pines. Before you get ahead of me, this is not the New Jersey you see from the turnpike, or in the congested areas along the Delaware River or the Atlantic Ocean. This is a wild and mysterious place where the scenery seems to shift from day to day. The area is a large bowl, with most of the land 10 to 12 feet below sea level. Water is everywhere – if not within sight then just a foot or two under the soil. As seasons change and weather does its worst, water forms and reforms the same scenery again and again. Small patches of vegetation crest the wetlands, and on good days the water mirrors the sky above. My new friend Julius caught an especially mysterious scene, one where the rushes have adapted to the flowing water while this tree appears to be struggling. I love this photo because I am not sure where the water ends and the sky begins. I am not even sure if the sun is rising or setting. All I know for sure is that Julius has captured that in between time, when it is not quite bright but definitely not dark. How often does this mortal life or ours feel like the moment caught in this image? We want to live in the light, yet never seem to make it beyond that in between place, not dark, not quite light. We begin the day facing the light, perhaps even taking time to pray, hoping those morning devotions last at least until our second cup of coffee. Then something annoys us, disrupts our routine, disappoints our meager expectations. We rush to react, turning a little each time from the light and peering back into the darkness. I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of my faith journey is simply allowing mystery to exist at all. I like simple answers, yes or no, black or white, good or bad. Yet once I take hold of that simple, straight forward view of life, I lose track of the divine source of that life, the mystery of creation. I fail to hold open a space for grace, to make room for the water of creation to flow through my life and into my veins. Rather than lean on the strength of the Almighty, I wear myself out insisting on the more defined, yet infinitely more difficult path. Then as if God knew I needed the reminder, this Sunday the New Testament reading included this passage:

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Make time today to embrace the uncertainty of this life, trusting in the power of the Holy of Holies to forge a path ahead much better than the one you can create alone. Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, trusting that each step has its own part in the final outcome. Start your day with a simple prayer, seeking to see the Creator in the everyday things of this life, to notice signs of hope and awe rather than doubt and doom. Slow down when you are tempted to speed up, respond rather than react. Most of all, let those sacred moments dwell in your heart and soul. Hold that majesty closer than the temptations of this life, and allow wonder to guide your thoughts, words and actions.

Text by Connie Chintall©2020

Photo entitled ’Majesty and Mystery in The Pines’ by Julius Akras©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

To see more of his work and The pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Conclusions….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Single Bloom Before the Storm by Mary Cristler Dec 2019
I know this stretch of beach well. My last assignment in the Air Force was at Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, CA. A few years later I returned there as a new bride. All tolled, I spent seven years living in the area. I frequently would bike to work, and on Fridays I would ride home along the beach. I loved seeing the sea and sand change with the seasons, although in LA there are only two seasons – wet and dry. It is the opposite of how I grew up. The landscape is green in the winter months when it is wet and brown in the summer months when it is dry. My friend Mary recently visited and took this amazing photo of the view in Redondo Beach, near Avenue E and the Esplanade. The ice plants you see in the foreground are very tenacious and very prolific. These hardy plants prevent erosion, and look like common cactus most of the time. Then the rains come and you are rewarded by such beautiful blooms, a pink and purple combination like that intense color encountered in orchids. I imagine Mary is walking along the beach just before the storm, taking in the view, perhaps drinking her second cup of coffee. She liked the view enough to preserve it with a photo. What do you notice first? The single bloom, the expanse of greenery, the sea, the sand? Perhaps you skip over all that and only see the impending storm? The first step of understanding our surroundings is to discern what is present. We can hone in on a single detail or take in the whole scene. Ideally, we do a little bit of both. The real trick is slowing down enough to be present to what is in front of us, to take in more than one perspective, and to weigh all that information. All too frequently these days, discernment equates with judgment. There is no pause, no time to ponder, no time to consider more than one way of looking at the situation. I am taken back to one of my favorite childhood books, my first chapter book. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher for third and fourth grade. Her name is Carol Tillinghast and she returned to our little town to care for her mother and teach school. She read us this book, a chapter at a time. The only gift I wanted that Christmas was that book – “The Phantom Toll Booth” written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Like Milo and his dog Tock, we all to often find ourselves ‘Jumping to Conclusions’.

Jumping to Conclusions
In the book, Conclusions is a tiny island, completely separate from the rest of the amazing land Milo and Tock have discovered. They remain stuck on the tiny island until they can make ‘sense out of nonsense’, more easily said than done. Milo learns that ‘if you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself’. Think about a time when you were judged unfairly or treated poorly, not because of what you had done but perhaps simply because of who you are or how you look. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. We all want and deserve dignity and respect. Yet it seems in short supply these days. We are so busy trying to decide if that single bloom is the first bloom or the last. We rush to create order where order is not needed, to offer our opinion as Gospel truth, even to solve a problem we do not yet understand. We jump ahead to what’s next, or impose a past we cannot escape onto the present. Our world quickly shrinks from an amazing land into a tiny island and we wonder why we feel so lost and alone. Make time today to be present to your surroundings. Look from one vantage point and then another. Enter into the scene and immerse yourself in what has been offered to you in the moment. Carefully consider those you meet along the way. Listen to the whole story, then pause to ponder what you heard. Ask clarifying questions, probe the matter further. Dig into the emotions, not just the facts. What may seem innocuous to you may be a matter of great gravity to another. Most of all, remember we pass this way only once. Keep your feet on the ground as your make sense out of nonsense. This amazing land is where you are meant to live – not that tiny island of Conclusions.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020

Photo entitled ’Single Bloom Before the Storm’ by Mary Cristler©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Drawing by Jules Feiffer, quotes by Norton Juster from their book ‘The Phantom Toll Booth’ (New York: Random House reissue, 1988; Knopf; 1961)

Reflecting on Infinity….

Beach and Beyond by Gillian Barr Nov 2019
As time goes by, I find the simplest things bring up more than one memory or association. The longer I live, the more I bring along with me, the more that can weigh me down or lift me up. This photo of the sunset on the beach near San Diego is a good example. I recall visiting my friend Gillian when she was ordained and probably walking on that same beach. I think back to work trips to San Diego, always a respite from the office in LA. Yet today one memory stands out more than the others. As a young officer and later as the wife of an officer, I spent almost eight years living near the beach in Los Angeles. I frequently ran or biked along the beach after work, passing the same scenery on the way out and the way back. This time of year, the sun was low in the sky, prompting me to be distracted by the scenery yet also cautious of delaying too long. The evening brought the homeless to their perches along the path. Some were friendly, others were at best benign. Either way, it was not the place to be as a young woman after dark. Yet while the sand harbored the lost, the sea and the sky stopped me in my tracks, like the lone bird in this photo. I would stand in awe of the majesty opening before me, too large to conceive of with my mind. The symphony of waves crashing along the beach drowned out the cares of the day and my heart and soul were renewed. Perhaps to open my heart I needed a scene larger than my imagination, a scene that continued beyond the horizon to distant shores on the other side of the world. I need a glimpse of the infinite to even begin to understand the Holy of Holies, to let go of my rational mind and to see and hear the Alpha and Omega with my heart. Make time today to ponder beauty and majesty in your surroundings. Perhaps there is a place to pause along your commute, or a short walk from home. Pluck a bloom or pick up a leaf, resting in the colors and intricacy of the tiniest thing. Consider taking a photo and folding a piece of creation into your daily work. Most of all, let yourself be surprised by what seeks you out – our Lord is waiting to enfold you at every turn.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo collage entitled ’Beyond the Sea and Shore’ by Gillian Barr©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Wildflowers….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

P1020886Every so often my husband and I make a list of places we want to visit. We learned while living overseas that if we only travel to places we both want to go then we will travel much less often. I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, the roof of the world. I wasn’t interested in conquering a mountain or pushing myself to the limit physically. I wanted to visit a place where faith is woven into everyday life. Since I was traveling on my own, I joined a tour by Road Scholar to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This photo best captures what Tibet felt like to me. For the past 60 years, Tibet has been part of China. I expected to see and feel deep faith in this part of the world, but I also felt a great sorrow. We left the city of Lhasa to visit a family with a small farm and a nunnery in the hills. This photo is taken on a bathroom stop on the side of the road. We had driven past groups of tall buildings that looked like they were made out of Legos. While we were staying in the old part of Lhasa on one side of the river, these high rises centered around the new train station on the other side of the river. Han Chinese are settling there, creating their own city and culture. Yet despite the relentless influx of new settlers, the wildflower of faith will not be contained. It seems as if the sturdy fence is the old city, helping to prop up the wildflowers, while the Lego buildings are the chicken wire fence, hoping to keep out the wildflowers. Yet no matter what fence you add to the landscape, their ancient faith will not be contained. Like the wildflowers, faith finds its own way, stopping you in your tracks. Not long after we left this spot we arrived at a small nunnery. We found the nuns chanting to celebrate Buddha Descending, a holy day commemorating when Buddha appeared to his mother after his death. She is revered as the mother of all Buddhas, the shining example of wisdom married to compassion. As I listened to the nuns chant, my heart burst open until it seemed as though the whole world fit inside it. All at once my heart knew that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Me as an individual is just as much of an illusion as borders on a map or faiths by different names. We are all one in the eyes of the Divine. Make time today to break down the fences that seek to contain the wildflowers of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone different from you on the outside, while so much the same on the inside. Stop to look and listen with your heart rather than your mind. And don’t be surprised if the one image that sticks with you afterward also happens to be the most mundane.

Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2019, used with permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Doubt….

Stairway to Heaven by Rick MartinEaster has come and gone and we are working our way through the Gospels concerning Christ’s appearances after the resurrection. I have always had trouble with the scripture in John 20. We find the disciples huddled together in an upper room with the door bolted out of fear. I wonder how far out of the way they went to find a place to hide. Was the staircase to that room like the one in this photo? Were they in an old, abandoned home? Did they seek out the last place anyone would look? Did they dare to climb up old and rickety stairs rather than risk being found out? And where was Thomas that day? Out for a pack of smokes? What if Thomas was the only one who was not afraid, not hiding away? What if Thomas was continuing the ministry? After all, Christ wasn’t there anymore and someone had to do it. He was a hands-on sort of guy. He needed to be in the middle of things, so see and hear what was going on for himself. We all know that Thomas, the one who either doesn’t show up for the committee meeting or can’t sit still while the rest of the folks try to work through the details. The Thomas who says ‘We need to get going, we can figure it out as we go along, why bother planning when everything will change anyway?’. Then one week, something truly eye opening happens at the meeting. The rest of us are excited and try to explain it, but all we hear is doubt. Are you sure it was really that spectacular? Thomas voices his doubts and asks the burning questions that no one wants to hear but must be shouted out. Without that lone voice, the rest of us remain closed off and nothing changes. Thomas spoke out, Thomas got it. That next week he remained with his friends. He saw the risen Lord. Is the end of that Gospel a rebuke or simply a reminder of how Thomas was created? Christ meets Thomas, just as he is, gently reaching out to say your service is great, may your worship be just as great. None of us can root that service in the Risen Lord in isolation. We must root ourselves in community to deepen our faith and fuel our work. Thomas was the man God called him to be. He was the hands and feet of the kingdom. He needed to see and touch to know the Risen Lord. Christ sends him out to be present to those who do not need to see and feel, because those of great faith and less action are no less Christ’s own. Make time today to live into who God made you to be. Spend time with those like you and those least like you, meeting each one where they are. Embrace each and every soul for who God made them to be. And always remember to refrain from judging those who rub you the wrong way, trusting God is teaching you both where you fit into His Kingdom. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ’Stairway to Heaven’ by Rick Martin ©2018-2019, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/

Reflecting on Fret….

without a care by june loving oct 2018It’s a windy Sunday afternoon and I am looking forward to doing little or nothing. I know I am safe from the wind, curled up on the sofa next to a nice, warm fire. Yet as a child I feared that wild sound of the wind. I would wake in the night from strange dreams, nightmares about yelling for help that no one could hear. Fret describes my old reaction to the wind. I worried myself into a state over that wind, not grasping the notion that the wind was outside and I was safe inside. The word fret means more than just worry. To fret means to remain in a constant state of worry, gnawing away at something. A harness can fret the skin of a horse, wearing away the hair and even tearing open a wound. Fret can constrict us, making small problems seem insurmountable. Even victories can slip from our grasp as we fret over the minor details that were less than ideal. In time we may not even venture out of our comfort zone, and even that may shrink in time. I love this amazing photo by my good friend June Loving of the view from her home on the Chesapeake Bay. Before we lived in England, a view like this would lead me to cancel plans. I would fret over the possibility of rain or the choppy surf. In England, that would mean we never left the house. We learned that there really wasn’t bad weather; there was only inappropriate clothing. You simply dressed for the weather and hoped for the best. The weather certainly did not keep you from showing up. Since then, we do not cancel plans based on the weather. Often a day that starts out with ominous clouds ends with blue skies. Either way we had a good day. What if fret is like these clouds or that choppy surf? What if fret is a call to forge ahead, a call to prayer, an invitation into the presence of the holy? If it is, then that fret will remain until we answer the Holy of Holies. God will persist as long as we resist, drawing us again and again into communion. To let go and let God is an invitation into a greater good we cannot even begin to enter under our own power. Make time today to step out of your comfort zone. Consider that uncomfortable emotion a call to prayer rather than a call to retreat. Allow God to show you a new and better way ahead. Most of all, look for beauty and grace in this less than perfect world as you hold open space for God’s grace. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ‘Without a Care’ by June Loving ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Grace….

Frosty View by Kira Skala Dec 18
Grace is a struggle for me. I am not talking about being clumsy, although I am that. I am talking about making room for something I rarely comprehend let alone allow in. Some folks talk about feeling unworthy. Others are uncomfortable giving up control. I probably fall into the second group, but honestly, the real issue is I am simply too caught up in my own little world to make room for God’s grace. I am content in my own little bubble, and it is quite lovely there if I do say so myself. I think I can see clearly, but then I begin to miss things. Like this lovely photo by my friend Kira, my view has frosted over. I can’t really see beyond the glass. At times like these, the world seems cold, even dangerous, and God feels far away. Without room for God’s grace, hope is illusive and fleeting.

Things began to shift for me during a two-year spiritual direction program at Richmond Hill. I spent a weekend a month in retreat with a group of twenty fellow seekers. We learned about all sorts of things, but the most enduring lesson I learned was about holding open a space for God’s grace. So wait – I not only had to make room, I had to hold the space open? At first it seemed silly and frustrating. I was going to end up at the same place anyway so why bother? Then with practice I found things fell into place in a way I never thought possible, as if divinely ordered. Rather than insisting and arguing, I simply asked and waited, often much longer than I felt comfortable waiting. Instead of one of us losing so the other could win, options presented themselves where we both won. I still cannot say I am comfortable – I like to have an answer now if not sooner. Yet with practice I am finding my answer falls far short of the answer God has waiting for me. In engineering terms, my best is a local maximum; God’s best is a global maximum. Make time to let go of a struggle that is wearing you down. Refrain from judging the actions of others or yourself. Climb out of that safe little bubble and open your eyes and ears to the vastness of creation. Let go of what you thought the answer would be or what it would look like and let God pour down His grace to create an answer for all of us. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, photo entitled ‘Winter Glass’ by Kira Skala©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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