Christian Mindfulness

The present moment is all we have.

The past is gone, and unless someone invents a time machine, it is gone forever.

The future is yet to be.

So this present moment is really all we have.

Practising the presence of God is all about this. It is about finding God in the present, in the eternal now: Trying to find that still point where you can experience the presence of God – something that is only possible in this present moment.

I’m sure we’re all aware of the gift of someone’s presence. There is nothing so frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is visibly distracted. Yet the gift of full presence, the gift of someone’s full attention, is just that – a gift and a precious one. We all know what it feels like to have received someone’s full attention, what it feels like to be really listened to and it is a blessing.

God is present, and we can learn to be still and present to the presence of God.

Meditation, and in particular the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been in the news a lot lately.

Mindfulness can reportedly cure anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote better sleep. And, according to Lizzie Widdicombe, who experimented with mindfulness meditation when writing for the The New Yorker, “Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversations, ancient memories…As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration, the meditative grail, which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam.”

Stripped down to its essence, mindfulness meditation “is being aware of what is inside and around us in the present moment,” says Elli Weisbaum, a mindfulness teacher and a co-founder of Partners in Mindfulness. “Our mind can time travel into the future or the past—and we are doing that constantly. A goal of meditation is having our mind completely resting in the here and now.”

The thing that I’ve found is that our mind conspires against us, forever pulling us back into the past with regrets or into the future with worry. I wonder if this was what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Matthew 6:26-27

So live in the present.

Although ‘mindfulness’ is usually associated with more eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, I am keen that this should not deter Christians from finding the immense value it brings. Monastic Christianity has long had a tradition of meditation or ‘centring prayer’ as it is sometimes known.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

God it seems is ‘mindful’ of us.

Centring Prayer or Christian Meditation, like mindfulness, often begins with calling your attention to your breathing.

By focusing solely on your breathing for small chunks of time—things like the sound and feeling of air filling your lungs and flowing out of your nostrils—you are drawing your attention back into the present moment – back to God’s presence.

When thoughts arise during this practice of focusing on breathing, you are not ignoring them. Instead, you are acknowledging those thoughts and releasing from them by returning to your breathing.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same word as for breath – Ruach.

From a Christian perspective we are calling our attention back on the Spirit of God who is the very breath that sustains us moment by moment.

And interestingly this isn’t a practice that can only be done sitting cross legged on the floor, with a lighted scented candle.

I’m a keen endurance athlete. Endurance sports involve a lot of time spent focussing on breathing. Some of my most profound experiences of the presence of God have been while swimming, cycling or running. Calling my attention back to my breath, back to the Spirit of God, lifting my head up and observing the beauty of my surroundings, becoming aware of God’s presence with me, step after step, pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

If hours of running aren’t for you, you can practice this on a crowded commuter train early in the morning or in a few minutes through the day while you take a break from the day’s chores.



Draw your attention to your breath.

Breathe in God’s Spirit, breathe deeply.

Breathe out the stress and worry of the day.



Feel the cool air in your nostrils.


As your mind wanders back to the day’s tasks or yesterday’s mistakes (which it will), acknowledge the thought, then park it and return to the present moment.


In truth this present moment is all we have, and it is where we find God.

As always, I’m very happy to chat about this or any other Spiritual disciplines you may find helpful – please get in touch and we can find a time to chat and pray together.

Every blessing,


Photo: Paul Sanders (thanks Paul)


‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34



I guess like me, many of you saw this photo this week and were stopped in your tracks. Like someone hitting the pause button, followed by the internal dialogue: “is that what I think it is?”

Yes, it is, his name was Aylan, and that fact makes the horror harder to ignore. He’s no longer one of a ‘swarm’ (not my term) – he is a three-year-old boy. A boy fleeing war, literally running for his life, except this time he didn’t make it, he drowned and his body was washed ashore on a Greek island.

As one commentator observed this week: “No one puts their family in a boat unless it’s safer than the land.” If they’re right, then the land must be scary as hell.

The conversation in our house this week quickly threw up a whole lot of questions, among them – how should we respond? What is a Christian response?

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister has offered one “Christian” response. He insists this is not a refugee crisis but one of migration, therefore, the criteria used to decide a response need not be humanitarian alone, but political – even religious.

“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Mr Orban said this week. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.” This is relevant, apparently, because “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

Please God no! How is it possible for someone to get Christianity so wrong? It is difficult to know how Mr Orban understands Christianity but it doesn’t appear to be the way Jesus does.

Hear this from Deuteronomy 10 (The Message translation).

14-18 Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.

19-21 You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.

Or from Jesus (Matthew 25):

“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

These are a million miles away from Mr Oban’s defensive and nationalistic interpretation of Christianity.

So what should a Christian response be?

My favourite response so far has come from Giles Fraser in the Guardian – you can read it here.

But in short, an unconditional, generous, warm hearted, welcome; one that is extended to both Muslims and Christians; to all refugees of any faith or none. #RefugeesWelcome.

So how can I be a part of it?

In truth, I’m still working that out personally, Sarah and I are trying to work out what we can actually do as a family. Some suggestions can be found here on the TearFund website – here.

Our Harvest offering on the 20th of September will be going to support the work of Tearfund including their work with refugees – please come prepared to give and give generously.

It’s a massively complex issue and we aren’t able to solve this ourselves, so let’s keep praying, seeking and trusting in a God who can turn even the darkest of situations around and use them for good.

  • Please pray for a swift, compassionate and more effective response to the refugee crisis in Europe.
  • Pray that those fleeing war and persecution will find safe havens where they can begin to put the traumas they have experienced behind them and lead lives free from fear.
  • Continue to pray for solutions to the root causes driving people to flee – the conflicts, poverty and inequality.

Aylan’s life may have been short, and we extend our deepest sympathy to his family, but it is starting to look as though his death has been a catalyst for change. It already looks as though the huge public outcry this week partly response to his image on the cover of every paper and Facebook wall, has begun to shift hearts and minds in Europe, in the UK, in Westminster, but also in me, how about you?

Omar and Amie…

I read this story on the train and it brought a tear to my eye…

Omar Al Shaikh and Amie Cresswell, two 16-year-olds from England, tied the knot just days before Omar’s death, fulfilling a last wish.
The pair started dating eight months ago, shortly after Omar had been undergoing treatment for leukemia and was in remission.
The couple’s bond was strong—they talked about spending their lives together—but the decision to marry came sooner as Omar’s health took a turn for the worst.
He was diagnosed with cancer again in March and was given three months to find a stem cell donor. Amie stuck by him through chemotherapy treatments and visited as much as she could.
“I knew I wanted to stand by him through it all…he is such a lovely soul—I wanted to spend as much time as I had with him as possible,” Amie told the Daily Mail.
By the time June came around, Omar was told that his cancer had spread to his bone marrow and Omar’s days were numbered. To fulfill his dying wish, he proposed to his teenage love with a daisy-chain ring as he laid in his hospital bed. She said yes.
“Omar wanted to get married before he died and when he proposed I just jumped at the chance,” Amie said.
Two days later, the couple married. Amie wore a flower crown and a pink strapless dress and secured their vows with makeshift flower bands.
Three days after the wedding, Omar died.
“As he put the ring on my finger he said wish he had more time with me,” Amie said. “I really wish we had too, but I’m just so glad we had the chance to make this happy memory.”

What a poignant, beautiful, yet tragic ending.

My twelve years at Bessels have come to an end. It hasn’t been tragic, I’m not beautiful but the ending has been poignant for me. Thank you to everyone in the Bessels family who has loved me and my family; who has encouraged me along the way and who have let me move on to new pastures so graciously.

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

Just 100 minutes…

In a news summary magazine this last week I read the following story:

‘A newborn baby who lived for just 100 minutes has become Britain’s youngest organ donor – and inspired a surge in the number of people registering as donors. One of a pair of twins, Teddy Houlston was born with anencephaly, a fatal condition that prevents the brain developing. His parents had been told he had the condition, but opted to carry on with the pregnancy because they wanted him to have his life, however brief it was. They also resolved that when he died, his organs should help other live. “He lived and died a hero,” said his father, Mike. “It’s impossible to explain how proud we are of him.” ‘

I found this true story moving on a number of levels:
o The bravery of Teddy’s parents to continue with the pregnancy knowing how it would end. I meet so many folk (and so do you I imagine) who are shaped by the death of a child. There is bruising and brokenness with all but in some situations something beautiful comes out of the darkness of that death. I think of close friends who lost a young lad and have a deep desire to suck the marrow out of life. The have loved and lost and have decided to love life once again.
o Teddy’s dad said he died a hero. When I think “hero” I imagine a Fireman running up the stairs of the Twin Towers as flames engulf and weaken the floors above. I think of the single-parent who has been wronged by their partner and yet balances the bills, puts good food on the table and shows their children love.
o Teddy’s twin will live on with his/her brother close to them. Will this be a positive or debilitating experience I wonder? Will the surviving twin be proud of their sibling?
o I was reminded of the film “Jesus of Montreal”; a provocative film about the life of Jesus where some actors put on the Passion play in a contemporary way. When the church powers realise it is a traditional play they try to stop it and the actor who plays Jesus dies. His resurrection? You see his organs being placed in boxes of ice to be given to others so that they may have new life. In some way Teddy reflects the life-giving power that Christians see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
o The quality of life is at the forefront of this story. As a church at Bessels we are spending a few years on Sundays looking at the life of Jesus in the gospel of John. The series title is: “Life in all its fullness.” This phrase is taken from John 10:10 where Jesus says this is what he has come to give humanity. The Greek word for life used here is “zoe” and it is used 134 times in the New Testament. It refers to eternal life and that should definitely encourage us to think of life with God after this one ends, a life that Teddy is currently enjoying I believe. But it also refers to a depth of life that we can experience here before we die. It is a life of depth where we know God’s presence with us in the ups and downs of life.
o Finally, I was grabbed by the length of this young lad’s life – 100 minutes. Little more than a football match or average Hollywood rom-com. And yet what a difference! How could I use 100 minutes of my life to bring “zoe” life to those around me and around the world?

Did anything grab you as you read the story?

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

Shark: Fear and beauty.

It was my birthday a few weeks back.

Thank you for remembering.

One of my presents was a fantastic photographic book by Jean-Marie Ghislain entitled: “Shark: Fear and beauty.” In the introduction he talks about swimming with two Great White Sharks, a feisty small male and then a five metre female that he played with for over an hour, patting her on the nose as she followed him towards the surface and back down again (see the picture)!

The following paragraph grabbed me and could apply to us in these final few key matches of the season:

“Did I need courage? I don’t think so. You can dive up to certain limits without risking your personal safety. But a solo journey imposes tough demands: you have to have the capacity to live your own life without crutches. My solitude taught me how to live, to understand how much we are part of a whole, and to perceive the ties that bind us to creatures that are so different from us. These ties are fragile, indefinable, yet we can begin to perceive them by swimming with them. Sharks are capable of teaching us vital lessons. In the cruel world of the sea, there is no room for pride; only survival counts. If you have to lose a power struggle, then so be it – you just have to leave the arena. If you are not totally focused on the immediate task at hand, or if you are not completely relaxed when you enter the water, then these encounters can become very dangerous.”

“There is no room for pride.”

In our personal lives…

In the church…

In our communities…

If we “stay in the arena” because of pride “these encounters can become very dangerous”.

Are you facing a situation at work, home, church or socially where pride is warping your vision of what is really happening.

Maybe it is best to walk away.

In Philippians 4:5 Paul wrote to the early church: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

If we are aware of God’s present nearness to us we will walk away when tempted by pride and instead be gentle.

After all, who wants to be eaten by a shark?

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

Take me to church

I firmly believe that Christians need to engage with culture; the good, the bad and the ugly; “the bible in one hand and the newspaper/radio/tv in the other”. [1]

There is one particular popular song at the moment that has been causing me trouble and it is everywhere. Nominated for a Grammy, a Brit award, endless airtime on the radio, YouTube hits in the millions, it even turned up in my son’s guitar lesson, where it had been requested by another student.

Anthony Hozier-Byrne is 24 years old and writes and performs under the name Hozier, his debut single ‘Take me to Church’ is a remarkable song. The Guardian described it as “a vibrant, lusty composition that showcases not only the hue of Hozier’s voice but also the heft of his song writing”. The Telegraph review described “a big, soulful voice capable of plunging to dark, doomy depths and swooping up into wild, lupine howls”.

It’s a great tune and well performed, but I guess it was the religious imagery that drew me in, not least the mention of the church in the title and chorus. I am, after all a minister, a church-man and on closer listening this is not a comfortable lyric for someone like me. Not since ‘church of the poison mind’ by Culture Club in the mid 80’s has a top ten hit been quite so outspokenly critical of religion. Hozier himself describes it as “a bit of a losing your religion song”.

This is no disposable pop song Hozier-Bryne is a thoughtful man and a gifted lyricist and deserves to be taken seriously. In a recent interview with Gigwise he explained why the lyrics took three years to write “I’m very meticulous about making sure every word is right. I can defend any idea by the time someone hears it, because I’ve put it through a strainer seven times.”

So, where have his critical words come from? Born and raised in Ireland as a Quaker after his parents rejected their own Catholic upbringing, there was an element of bleakness to the singer’s childhood. His father was a drummer on the Dublin blues scene turned bank worker who was forced to retire when Hozier was six after an operation to correct a spinal problem left him with nerve damage in a wheelchair. “It was a tough old time — no money. Mum kept us together in a big way.”

Hozier went to a Catholic secondary school. “I went on Catholic retreats, stuff like that. There was a lot of pilgrimage-type stuff to holy places in Ireland. At the time I was very open to trying things, trying to get my head around it.”

But it appears to be the numerous scandals that have recently come to light in Ireland involving the Catholic Church that lies behind his lyrics.

“The damage done by the Church to the people of Ireland is completely irreparable, and the reparations are all too few. There’s still a lack of will to turn around and say, ‘This is not OK’. There are still things like regular news segments where they ask the local priest what he thinks. Why is it an organisation that is considered to have any moral standing at all? The track record is just appalling.”

And with that he walks away from the church and replaces religious feelings and ideas with the solace found in “transformative power of romantic love”.

So how, as Christians, should we respond to a song like ‘Take me to church”? There are plenty of evangelical Christian websites quick to condemn him and his lyrics, placing him in a group of reprobates along with likes of Marylyn Manson and Black Sabbath, but that response is too easy and doesn’t do him (or the others) justice.

Here is a thoughtful young man, looking at a corrupt church and choosing to walk way. This makes me sad. Especially when he chooses to contrast this experience with love. I thought the church was supposed to be all about love? God’s love demonstrated to us through Jesus. I for one am deeply sorry and ashamed of the hurt caused by some parts of the church. Places where grace has all but vanished and been replaced by judgement, exclusion and arrogant self-righteousness.

Ultimately romantic love (eros) and divine love (agape) are two different things, one does not replace the other, so I hope and pray that Hozier and others like him who have chosen to reject a broken church might still be able to find God’s grace and love, after all God is much bigger than our fragile institutions.

As for those of us who choose the attend church each Sunday let’s make sure that the experience is one that reflects our values of love, justice, inclusion, forgiveness and humility. So that our children, aged 24, might be writing ‘Take me to church” because it is a place where they encounter the grace of God.


[1] quote variously attributed to Spurgeon, Barth, Rowan Williams and others.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I remember walking along Hastings sea-front in 1987 singing and a dolphin thought it was a mating call. She ended up beached near the Penny Arcades. It didn’t end well…

Romance can be a messy affair can’t it? It doesn’t always turn out how we’d hoped…

I, as you will all understand, am inundated with cards on Valentine’s Day. Jo and I don’t celebrate the day (it’s not really a day for lovers; it’s more for Hallmarks benefit). However, my favourite Valentine’s Day was a few years back. You will notice my beard and that it finishes on one of my chins in a stylish point. I decided to grow it a little longer. Some folk at Bessels began to comment on it, in an unsupportive manner, and a few older ladies dared to touch it! This happened a few weeks on the trot so I announced to my family one Sunday, whilst tucking into roast dolphin, that for every Sunday someone at church commented on or touched my beard the pointed part would remain uncut.

Six months later… It was quite long. My oldest daughter was able to plat it.

Jo found it repulsive…

Enter Valentine’s Day stage left! This is kind of how the conversation went, starting with me:

“What d’you wanna to do tonight?”

“Do you know what I’d really like to do?”


“I’d like you to trim your beard.”

A pause as I think…

“Ok, I’ll trim my beard if you let me watch Jaws.”

A pause as Jo thinks…

“Ok, I’m going to bed to read then.”


It was a magical evening… The shark got blown up by the way.

I like the romantic ballad “All of me” by John Legend in which the chorus has these magical lines:
‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you,
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections.
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you.
You’re my end and my beginning,
Even when I lose I’m winning.
Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you.

Please put the romance to one side and don’t we have a picture of God and humanity? That God longs for us to come to him as we are and when we do we hopefully realise that God is our end and our beginning and that even in the tough times (when we’re losing) God is with us (we’re winning).

Here’s a question for you? Do you know in your mind and heart that God loves you for being you?

The theologian Paul Tillich once said: “We need to accept our acceptance.”

God has accepted you and I because God loves us.

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

New beginnings or old endings?

“Happy New Year!” she says,
Champagne glass and smile both lopsided…

“Have a good one!” he slurs,
The unseen pressure of work throbs in his mind…

We stand in crowds, or sit with friends,
Some stay on their own to make amends.
The clock strikes twelve
And it starts again.

Happy New Year!

What does this phrase try and capture,
In its bucket filled with liquid letters?
Should it finish with an exclamation mark!
A question mark? Or full STOP.

And is it happy?
For some to be sure! They can’t wait for 2015.
They have weddings to plan, baby rooms to paint,
New jobs to begin, adventures to embrace.

But for others…
The thought lingers…
Will it be like last year?
Will it be like most of them?

It’s all Greek to me!
We live in the “chronos” of time where everything is sequential.
Groceries are bought,
And vests are washed.

And God?
Maybe God is more interested in the “kairos” moments.
“Kairos” moments…
The right instance, the opportune second, the supreme occasion.

God walks with us every step of “chronos” time,
Whether bright or dark.
And God pauses and watches us in those “kairos” breaths.
Whether they are on 1st January or 5th June.

Happy New Year?
If you like…
Happy “chronos” with soapy hands.
And happy “kairos” occasions that stay in the memory.

Walking out onto the pitch…

I confess to emotions of pride and joy as the Tonbridge Angels captain, Jerrome Sobers (all 6’ 4” of him), walked out onto the pitch with my boys at the cup game against Bromley.

He did wonder aloud to me beforehand how he was going to stoop down and hold Amos’ two year old hand.

I watched the filming of it a few days later and noticed that as they walked on to the pitch the referee and his assistants strode ahead with the Bromley captain and team keeping with them, pace for pace. Then, all of a sudden, they stopped and waited for Tonbridge Angels to catch up with them! We were miles behind (unlike in the game where we matched them man for man) because Amos’ little legs struggled to keep up and Jerrome had slowed down to his pace.

At Christmas Christians celebrate the fact that God accommodated himself to our pace. God held humanity’s hand, as it were, and became like us through his son Jesus so that we could understand a little more clearly who God is and what God is like.

Let’s be honest, there are many troubling and distasteful passages in the Bible. Sadly, I think they are often taken out of context and sequence. For me, the Bible is a gradual revealing of God to humanity. The flashy theological phrase for this is “progressive revelation”. It’s the idea that God comes closer to us as the Bible story unfolds. Interestingly, the closer God comes to us and the more humanity understands God the less violent the Bible becomes… It seems that as humanity understands God we begin to understand that we have a God of love, peace and justice, but not revenge (that is massively different to justice).

And this closeness comes to its culmination in the person of Jesus. When Jesus is in his thirties one of his disciples and best mates, Philip, asks him to show them God the Father as that will be enough to satisfy them. Jesus says: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

If we want to know what God is like we should look first and foremost at the Jesus of the gospels. There we find the Son of God who is on the side of the poor and oppressed, hates religious obstacles, elevates women, welcomes the outcast, breaks down racial barriers and places children at the centre of God’s kingdom.

I’m so glad God slowed down to our pace and accommodated himself to our level of understanding aren’t you?

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

The story of wabi-sabi.

I read this a few months ago in “Leadership Journal” and haven’t been able to shake it…

According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no RikyD sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the “Way of Tea”.

He went to tea master Takeno JDD, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the garden.

RikyD cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, and the garden immaculate. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to fall onto the ground.

To this day, the Japanese revere RickyD as one who understood to his very core wabi-sabi. Emerging in the fifteenth century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, or revering authenticity above all.

When a white pottery bowl breaks, for example, one might glue it back together with white lacquer to disguise the breaks, making it look as new and complete as possible. But in the East the bowl might be glued back together with lacquer sprinkled with gold to highlight the cracks and imperfections.

Japanese culture sees the aesthetic value of imperfection in wabi-sabi just as much as the Greeks valued perfection in their art. Wabi-sabi is seen as beautiful because it is imperfect and broken. The gospel is like spiritual wabi-sabi. It is the story of how God redeems imperfect, broken people and uses them to bless and fractured world.

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

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