Eulogy Virtues (FT July/August Column)

Carolyn Arends : August 6, 2018 3:24 pm : Writings [published articles]

I knew Ruth was an amazing cook. She was a fixture at Barnabas Family Ministries, the family camp on Keats Island we visit every summer – a steady, friendly presence who managed to feed an endless throng of campers wholesome, delectable meals without seeming to break a sweat. In recent years I noticed her roles were multiplying – among them developing an internship program and becoming the associate director of the camp. She seemed to be flourishing.

In fact when we saw Ruth a few months ago, she looked radiant. There was a glint in her eyes and a lightness to her steps that made us suspect she was holding a secret as delicious as her meals. Just as we were leaving the camp, she spilled the beans. She had fallen in love with a widower named Carson. Weeks later we heard Carson and Ruth, with the blessing of their children, were to be married in June.

Then in the middle of May Ruth suddenly became ill. A cancer that had been miraculously healed eight years earlier had returned. In eight days she was gone.

It wouldn’t be right for me to attempt to tell the story of Ruth’s precious life here. That story belongs to her kids, her fiancé, her siblings, coworkers and closest friends. Besides, even if the story were mine to tell, I didn’t know Ruth well enough to be able to tell it properly.

But what I can tell you is this. I suspect attending the service that celebrated Ruth’s life has genuinely changed mine.

At Ruth’s memorial, as person after person shared their stories – a lot of them young adults – it became clear she had enriched and altered the course of innumerable lives. Under Ruth’s unpresuming watch her kitchen had been, for many, a haven, a hospital, a chapel, a therapist’s couch, a training ground and a dance party. Her influence had gone deep and remarkably wide. Her love for Jesus had been contagious.

I hadn’t known any of that about Ruth. I had spent at least a week in her orbit every year for nearly a decade, and I had missed what was right in front of my eyes.

I have a good excuse. My husband and I attend that camp as the adult speakers. The job is delightful, but the teaching schedule demanding. Often we are still adjusting parts of our new curriculum onsite, and it’s all we can do to keep up. I guess that’s why I never got to know Ruth as much as I now desperately wish I would have.

And that’s why it wasn’t until her memorial service she was able to mentor me the way she had so many others. Ruth’s life confronts me with the reality that, while my work truly matters, camp is not the only place where my workload tends to eclipse my relationships. Her legacy asks me to assess my priorities. Her witness reminds me that practicing the presence of other people (much the way Jesus did) is the most important work God has given any of us to do.

In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks observes there are two sets of assets we can cultivate – resumé virtues and eulogy virtues. “The resumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace,” he explains. “The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral – whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

So, what to do? I’ve decided to sit down and write an aspirational eulogy – a list of the sorts of things I hope people will say about me when I’m gone. On that list, I’m going to include the two words I heard repeated most often in descriptions of Ruth – “present” and “available.”

Then I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit and the people closest to me to help me order my life in such a way that I begin to move more fully toward those eulogy virtues.

More present. More available. More like Ruth. More like Jesus.

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Close Quarters (Mother’s Day Reflections)

Carolyn Arends : May 13, 2018 2:16 pm : blogging

My mom, my little brother, and me, circa 1970.

This Mother’s Day, I find myself equally grateful for my own mom and for the blessing of being a mom. I wrote the following piece just a little over 20 years ago, when I was expecting my Ben. 

Close Quarters

The baby is so active tonight, dancing his fantastic little dance in my ballroom belly, my own heart beating time. I am suddenly sad at the thought of his birth, of his living anywhere but inside me. We are so close; the connection is so strong. He is so much a part of me.

I am picturing my mother, waking my father, pressing his hand to her tummy and me pressing back. I am remembering her brave, teary smiles on my first days of school (kindergarten, high school, college), and how she fussed with my hair the morning of my wedding day, overjoyed and heartbroken.

How does a mother ever let her baby go? I wonder. So I call mine and I ask her.

She laughs.

And then she asks me if I’m getting any sleep, and if my leg cramps are better, and do I want to go shopping for a stroller tomorrow.

And I tell her that no, I’m not getting any sleep, and no, my legs aren’t better, and yes, I’d like to go shopping

My mom, my Beth, and me, circa 2017.

tomorrow.

We hang up and I realize she never answered my question.

How do mothers ever let their babies go?

Maybe they never do.

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A New Light on a Dark Friday Cry

Carolyn Arends : March 29, 2018 11:28 am : Writings [published articles]

Today’s Throwback Thursday is a piece I have revisited each holy week over the past few years. As we remember Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross, we are once again extended an invitation to delve a little deeper into the mystery of just what he might have meant.

CrownThornsPsalm 22, Good Friday, and The Princess Bride

My kids finally saw The Princess Bride, a movie their dad and I have loved since our college days. There is something wonderful about watching your favorite people watch one of your favorite films. In this case, the added bonus was observing the light come into their eyes as they discovered the origin of several quirky things their parents routinely say. “Hey!” they shouted with a shock of recognition when Westley first said, “As you wish”—a line they’ve heard their father utter hundreds of times. Vizzini’s “Inconceivable!” produced a similar response. By the time we got to the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size), our kids were grinning with the particular delight of cracking a previously mystifying code. They were in on the joke, and they liked it.

PrincessBrideLanguage is much more than grammar and syntax. It is layer upon layer of collective memory and shared meaning, so that simple phrases like, “Houston, we have a problem,” “Et tu, Brute?,” “Remember the Alamo,” or even “Yada, yada, yada” can carry worlds of meaning. You can’t master a dialect without also learning the culture in which it is embedded.

In my quest to learn the “Gospel Language,” I have often been oblivious to the shared experience assumed by the biblical writers. Jesus and his earliest followers were Jews; they held in their collective memory a particular story of a particular people, loaded with mutually understood points of reference. When I’ve read the New Testament only dimly aware of the symbolic world of the Old Testament, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of an ocean of meaning.

Certainly, I’ve grasped that Jesus’ choice of 12 disciples has something to do with Yahweh’s callingBible of the 12 tribes of Israel. But until recently, I remained oblivious to the way his baptism and desert temptation evoke the foundational story of the Israelite Exodus through Red Sea waters and into the wilderness. I’ve been duly impressed with the Lord’s ability to command the stormy waters to be still (Matt. 8:26-27), but I’ve missed the Israelite shock at this man from Nazareth doing something that, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, only Yahweh can do. And although I’ve understood some of the significance of Jesus’ transfiguration right before the eyes of Peter, James, and John, I’ve forgotten that the Israelites had been waiting since the Exile for the Shekinah—the visible glory of the Lord—to return.

Maybe the most significant reference I’ve missed has to do with Jesus’ final words on the cross. That awful cry—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?—has haunted my struggle to understand exactly what transpired (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). Was Jesus, for a devastating moment, utterly alone and without hope? How that cry is processed has all sorts of implications for theology—not least for the way we conceive of the Atonement and of the relationality of God’s triunity. More personally, it shapes the way I perceive my own experiences of abandonment.

I’ve known, in a vague way, that with his cry Jesus was quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, a passage so familiar to his friends that to utter the first line would have been tantamount to reciting the entire thing. Psalm 22 is an anguished prayer of David, spoken as a godly sufferer awaiting deliverance. It’s the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament. And its parallels to the Crucifixion are chilling:

A band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
And cast lots for my clothing. (vv. 16b-18, NIV 1984)

The psalm is so shot through with suffering, it’s hard to imagine any more appropriate reference Jesus could have made. But it’s essential to know that the only thing in Psalm 22 that runs as deeply and vividly as the speaker’s pain is his unshakable hope:

You who fear the Lord, praise him! …
For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help. (vv. 23a, 24, NIV 1984)

Both Matthew and Mark note that some of the onlookers misunderstood Jesus’ cry, mishearing the Aramaic word for “my God”—Eloi—as Elijah. I wonder if, in including that detail, they aren’t cautioning us to pay attention to exactly what Jesus is saying.

The Cross is a mystery, and no human should expect to understand it fully. But if we want to be conversant in the language of the gospel, we need to be able to say at least this: At Calvary, Jesus felt the deepest level of anguish ever known, and yet he could still, in his Psalm 22 declaration, point to the presence, faithfulness, and anticipated deliverance of his Father—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of our salvation.

(Excerpted from the book THEOLOGY IN AISLE SEVEN, by Carolyn Arends)

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A Persistent Problem (New FT Column)

Carolyn Arends : December 12, 2017 4:44 am : Writings [published articles]

Happy Second Week of Advent, Dear Friends. This season of waiting seems like an appropriate time to share my new Faith Today column – which asks How should we pray when God seems silent? Here it is …

I am the mother of two very persistent children. From extended bedtimes to Xboxes, they’ve always had a particular genius for requesting what they want with such frequency and intensity that, on occasion, their father and I have acquiesced just to make them stop.

While I have a grudging respect for their tenacity, I haven’t seen their petitionary persistence as a positive. So it has struck me odd that persistence is such a key theme in Jesus’ teaching on prayer.

In Luke 11, Jesus tells the story of a man who knocks on a door in the middle of the night until his grumpy neighbour provides food. In Luke 18, Jesus describes a widow who won’t stop calling upon a capricious judge until he grants her justice.

Both stories employ a classic rabbinical argument known as “from the lesser to the greater.” If a lazy, inhospitable neighbour and a jaded, corrupt judge will eventually fulfill the requests of a persistent petitioner, Jesus suggests, how much more will your Father in heaven, who is good?

The argument is not hard to follow. But is Jesus telling us we should nag God until we get what we want, the way my eight-year-old once wore down my defenses until he was the proud owner of glow-in-the-dark wheelie sneakers?

I don’t think so. After all, elsewhere Jesus warns against “babbling” in intercession or thinking our prayers are more likely heard if we use “many words” (Matthew 6:7).

So why does Jesus emphasize persistence?

Like so many others, I find my life forces my questions about Jesus’ teaching on prayer out of the abstract and into the urgent. For months my mom has been in the hospital. An out-of-the-blue heart attack set off a domino effect of complications – heart failure, kidney failure, internal bleeding, infection.

We are grateful she is still with us. And yet we are discouraged. Every time she’s survived another complication, we’ve praised God and made plans for her release – only to be told a day later she’s been hit with another setback.

As the weeks dragged on, I found myself growing increasingly tongue-tied when I tried to pray at her bedside. Requesting healing for the thousandth time, I felt foolish in the repetition. Why raise our hopes only to have them inevitably dashed again?

Things have grown a little quiet between God and me. I haven’t wanted to badger Him any longer about my mom, but her condition is so on my mind that it’s hard to talk about much else.

My conversation with God had dwindled until, a few days ago, my mom called and regretfully filled me in on yet another setback. I hung up the phone and found myself sinking to my knees. I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually, I was struck by two important things. The first was that my sobbing – wordless and wrenching – was prayer. And the second was that there was a palpable presence in the room with me. My prayer was being heard.

God offered no clear answers. I heard no promises. But after a few minutes, I was able to stand up again, tangibly reminded my Father in heaven is still involved, and still good.

It made me wonder if maybe Jesus taught us to persist in praying out of empathy for our condition. He was utterly convinced of the goodness and the efficacy of His Father. Yet He understood how silent the heavens can seem from an earthbound perspective. So He asked us to trust God now, based on His character, for the things that will only make sense later.

In the meantime, we have two choices – express what is really in our hearts or go mute. Given that nothing kills a relationship faster than the silent treatment, maybe what Jesus is saying with His persistence parables is this: Don’t go mute.

Jesus’ own prayer book was comprised of the psalms, almost half of which are raw, sometimes petulant, cries of lament. It turns out that “How long, O Lord?” is a much better prayer than “I’ll stop bothering you now.”

So, like the psalmists, like a persistent neighbour, like a tenacious widow or maybe even like a child with a burning request, I’m back to asking.*

(*update: After a 131-day stay, my mom is finally out of the hospital and recovering beyond the doctors’ expectations at home. I am grateful.)

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A Bonafide Life Hack – Join me in the Book Club

Carolyn Arends : October 26, 2017 8:03 pm : Renovare

Generally, I don’t believe in “life hacks” – I figure all the things that really matter take good-old-fashioned effort and diligence. I have, however, found one “life hack” that really works …

If you wish you could find a way to make room in your life for meaningful reading, you should totally join the Renovaré Book Club.

Now, in my case, it helps that I’m the coordinator of the Book Club. But even if I wasn’t, I would join, because the weekly reading reminders, bonus resources (from the authors and facilitators), and community connections help me move the reading I want to do from “aspirational” to “scheduled.” It’s like magic!

(OK, sure, it still takes old-fashioned effort and diligence, but it helps me make that happen.)

The Club runs this year from the end of October until mid-June. Here are the books:

Book One: God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality, written by Benedictine Anglican Priest Chris Webb. Chris himself will be facilitating.

Book Two: The Hiding Place, the contemporary classic by Corrie Ten Boom. The facilitator will be Marti Ensign, a long-time missionary to Africa who enjoyed a close friendship with Corrie.

Book Three: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Inklings scholar Dr. Robert Moore-Jumonville will be leading us through this lively classic.

Book Four: Living Wisely with the Church Fathers written by Renovaré president and Early Church scholar Chris Hall. Chris will facilitate this one for us.

And here’s a new twist for the Club this year – in addition to our online community, we’ve got 83 (and counting) volunteers coordinating in-person groups that will meet once a month for some caffeine and conversation. When you join the Club, you can check our map to see if there is someone heading up a group in your area. If there’s not, you can stick with the online community – or you can actually volunteer to head a group in your area yourself!

So … consider yourself invited. We begin on Monday (don’t worry, we can send you some PDFs of the opening chapters of the first book to tide you over until you have a copy.)

Hope to see you in the Club! (Learn more HERE.)

Pax Christi,

Carolyn

PS – If you happen to live in the lower mainland of British Columbia – come to my group! Beginning in November, we’ll be meeting the 2nd or 3rd Tuesday of the month at a coffee shop in Cloverdale. Simply join the Club and then look me up on the map and send me an email.

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When dear old friends do cool new things

Carolyn Arends : September 16, 2017 12:05 pm : Uncategorized

A quick post to share a couple of very cool news items with you.

First, a chance to back Rose Capanna’s book. 

My dear friend Rose has been my webmaster since I knew what the “web” was. In fact, those of you who have known me for a long time will remember getting regular email updates about my goings on from Rose (or “Rowzee” as she is sometimes known).

But my history with Rose is not why you should back her book project. You should back her book project because she’s a great writer with a really fascinating true story to tell, and backing her book is a chance to help usher something interesting, valuable, and beautiful into the world. Check it out!

PS – Just in case knowing that you are a literary patron is not enough motivation, Rose’s Kickstarter backer rewards are really cool!

Second, a new book about Rich Mullins.

September 19, 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins, a man whose music (and life) meant so very much to many of us. Andrew Greer and Randy Cox have gathered up a series of short essays, conversations, and memories that give a uniquely delightful glimpse into Rich and the dent he made for the Kingdom.

Contributors include: Amy Grant, Cindy Morgan, Brennan Manning, David McCracken, Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Dan Haseltine, Sara Groves, Mitch McVicker, Ashely Cleveland, Shane Claiborne, Third Day, Jimmy Abegg, Jonathan Martin, and many more – including yours truly.

You can order the book from all the usual retailers, and find out lots more at this pretty nifty website.

Ok, that’s all the news for this post. I don’t stand to gain anything personally from these offerings – other than knowing I helped spread a little good in the world!

Blessings,

Carolyn

 

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The Music – raw video of a new tune

Carolyn Arends : August 4, 2017 9:30 am : blogging, music

I shared this “footage from the wild” of the debut of a new tune over on Facebook, and realized it would only right to share here on carolynarends.com. This moment was captured Thursday, July 27, 2017, during a concert at the end of our week teaching and singing at Camp Barnabas on Keats Island, BC, Canada. Not a bad view out the window, eh?

It was a blessed week, but also a tough week (part of a tough month) as we were boating back and forth to visit my mom in the hospital (she is battling hard as she endures complications from a serious heart attack.) So what you see here is not only the debut of a new song, but some ongoing soul work on the part of the singer.

I hope the song speaks peace to you in some way.

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Happy Birthday, Dear Church! (new CTW article about Pentecost Sunday)

Carolyn Arends : May 31, 2017 7:57 am : Writings [published articles]

Here’s the introduction from a new piece that just went up at CTW, in which I reveal the secrets of my family’s Trinity Handshakeand (more importantly) share what I’ve been learning about some of the hows and whys of observing Pentecost Sunday …

Why Pentecost Sunday is worth celebrating.

When my nephew Walker was little, I passed on to him a sacred ritual we call “The Trinity Handshake.” It involves greeting one another in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, while clasping hands in a manner corresponding to each member of the Godhead. For the Father, we employ a straightforward handshake. For the Son, we merge into an informal “hand hug.” And for the Spirit, we keep our thumbs interlocked while fluttering our fingers to the side like wings, raising our arms to launch our “dove.” Trust me, it’s cool.

For months, we faithfully observed our handshake every time we met. Then, one sleepy Saturday, I forgot to extend my hand. “Do the spooky thing!” he said.

“The spooky thing?” I asked, confused. “You know,” he glared, exasperated. “We need to do the ghost!”

Apparently, my attempts to catechize Walker had him picturing the third member of the Trinity more like Casper than the Spirit of the Living Christ. We needed help.

A Holy Ghost day

If you attend a church that observes the liturgical calendar, you know that there’s a day—Pentecost Sunday—set aside to remember a moment in history when it became clear that the Holy Ghost isn’t so much spooky as wildly powerful, creative, and unpredictable. However, if you attend a non-liturgical church, you may have no idea when Pentecost Sunday occurs. (Spoiler alert: This year, Pentecost Sunday falls on June 4.)

I’ve been attending non-liturgical churches my entire life. Even though many of these churches have begun to embrace many of the gifts of the liturgical calendar (Advent, Ash Wednesday, and Lent come to mind), I don’t recall observing Pentecost Sunday even once. So, I decided to do some digging.

The first thing I’ve discovered in my research is that …

CONTINUED HERE

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An Earthy God (New FT column)

Carolyn Arends : March 13, 2017 8:48 am : Writings [published articles]

 

 

 

Long ago, when I was a senior in the psychology program at Trinity Western University, I took a course called “Physiology of Religion.” I remember how troubled my fellow students and I (most of us Christians) became when we saw the link between an individual’s reported religious experiences and his physical state. Was a sense of Divine Presence really just the consequence of an elevated heartrate and a flood of stress hormones? Could the hearing of a “still small voice” be explained away as the firing of overactive neurons?

I remember lying in my campus apartment with my psychology textbook on my chest, my heart, ironically, racing as I thrust treasured spiritual experience into a harsh, clinical light. And then, I heard a voice. And, though it was exactly the sort of voice that could be easily dismissed on physiological and psychological grounds, I listened.

I wired you. I made your heart, your brain, your nervous system, and your hormones. Why wouldn’t I involve all of those things in my relationship with you?

In that moment, God was asking me to be as earthy as he is—to reject a gnostic distrust of the material and see that of course his interactions with me would have physical implications. Certainly, tragically, mental illness could produce delusions of a seemingly religious nature. But it did not follow that genuine, healthy religious experience would not be embodied. In fact, if I was serious about following an incarnated Saviour, I did not have the option of leaving my body out of it.

A couple of Sundays ago, sitting in church preparing to take communion, I found myself thinking about God’s earthiness once again.

Over the past few months, my husband and I have begun attending a new-to-us evangelical church. It’s similar to many other churches we’ve experienced in the past, but with one key difference.

At this church, we take communion every Sunday.

We’ve never been dissatisfied with the monthly communion rhythm of our previous congregations. So it has surprised us how much we look forward to the Lord’s Supper at every service. We have, in fact, come to feel like seven days is about as long as we want to go without it.

This new, more frequent Eucharistic pattern has made me increasingly grateful for the tangibility of the communion elements. Of all the things Jesus could have asked us to do to help us remember him, eating and drinking are perhaps the most concrete, ordinary, embodied, and, well, elemental. The Lord’s Table has always been the place I most profoundly celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice. But these days, I also approach it in increasing awe of his creativity, his empathy, and his accessibility.

I am slowly coming to see that, in eating the bread and drinking the wine (or juice), I’m not only doing something in remembrance of Jesus, but he’s doing something active and essential inside of me—heart, mind, soul and digestive tract! The bread is nourishing every part of me, and the communion cup is offering a blood transfusion—a weekly dose of vital, essential life. I have no idea how this works. I only know I need it.

A few weeks ago, a guest speaker came to our new church. His name was Daniel Whitehead, and he’s the executive director of Sanctuary Ministries—an organization that helps churches support mental health recovery in their communities. Working through Psalm 130, Daniel explored some ways congregations can care for members contending with depression who find themselves in “the depths.” His prescription was subversively simple: We can respect a cry from the depths, we can wait with those who suffer, and we can listen.

We don’t rush another’s healing, Daniel cautioned us, but we can watch for the morning together. We can collectively offer signs of hope. And, importantly, we can do tangible, visible things—like taking communion together. “If a person can’t feel God’s grace right now,” Daniel said, “let them take it, and hold it and taste it.”

When Daniel was done, we went, nearly all of us, to the front, stretching out our hands to the folks holding the bread and the juice.

“Eat and drink ye all of it,” they said.

So we did.

And next week, we’ll do it again.

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I Was an Ash Wednesday Rookie (new CTW article)

Carolyn Arends : March 1, 2017 9:31 am : Writings [published articles]

Here’s an excerpt from a new piece that just went up at CTW, in which I document my first Ash Wednesday service (observed last year) and it’s connection to The Hunger Games 

My First Ash Wednesday

We’ve observed the 40-day (plus Sundays) season of Lent for a few years now, embracing various mild-yet-disruptive restrictions (giving up coffee or soda or sweets) in order to destabilize ourselves and expose the toxic little ways we rely on creature comforts instead of the Creator. Our sacrifices in this season are so miniscule as to be laughable, except that our Father seems only too willing to use our tiny offerings as portals for his grace. Every hunger pang or caffeine craving becomes a holy prompt—pray, trust, surrender. The whole season becomes a bit delicious with anticipation: Easter is coming!

Still, for all our blossoming enthusiasm for the gifts of the Lenten season, Mark and I haven’t known much about the observance of Ash Wednesday. If we had once distrusted Lent as a little macabre, Ash Wednesday—the first day of Lent, which some churches observe with a liturgy of penitence and a ritual of ashen crosses—seemed to be the darkest of all possible holidays. And yet, last year, we found ourselves searching web listings for a church in our area with an Ash Wednesday service. I guess we figured that if we were going to do Lent, we might as well show up for the opening ceremonies.

We read about a church offering an evening service in a neighboring town and set about trying to find it on a night both dark and rainy. We got lost, we argued, we considered just heading home and watching the hockey game instead. But, somehow, we managed to persevere, and, wet and grumpy, we snuck into the service 20 minutes late …

CONTINUED HERE 

Blessings on your Lenten season, friends – and find an Ash Wednesday service if you can!

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