Riding Easy in the Harness

 

Thomas A. McClain, C.S.B., of Chicago, Illinois

Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts

 

A few years ago the American poet, Robert Frost, came through my home town and the newspaper reporters all hurried out to the airport to interview him. They questioned him on a wide range of topics. The discussion finally got around to the subject of individual freedoms, and what it means to be free. Someone asked, "What is freedom?" Without a moment's hesitation, the poet replied, "To me freedom means riding easy in the harness."

Now to me the freedom he had in mind is the freedom we all seek the freedom we find in fulfillment of ourselves, of what we really are, of what God created us to be. It's this true fulfillment that each of us needs to attain, and knows in his heart is his real purpose in being. This is the freedom that marks the end of our search for meaning in our lives.

Maybe some of you are bothered by this idea of being in a harness. We generally think of a harness as restrictive, binding, and limiting. I don't suppose any of us really wants to think of himself in this way. And it's difficult to feel that being in a harness can contribute in any way to our freedom, or well-being.

The natural thing is to think that the less harnessed we are the more freedom we enjoy. But, here's a man who says that freedom is riding easy in the harness. He doesn't seem to be concerned with the fact that we're harnessed. He's concerned with how we're taking the ride.

Right now some of you may feel that you're harnessed to the binding conditions of ill-health, unhappy homes, or limited opportunity in your work. You may feel you're being pulled by circumstances you don't understand through experiences you wouldn't choose. Can anyone hope to ride easy in such a harness?

But what is the harness? Is it made up of the things that bind us? This isn't the purpose of a harness. Its purpose is to guide, to control, and to protect. The real harness in which we ride is the harness of Truth the guiding, protecting presence of God, operating as divine law. As we understand this Truth and yield our lives to it, we are freed from the binding conditions of material existence.

The truth is man's link with God can never be broken. It's no mere play on words to say that in your true selfhood you are harnessed to God. Every right idea, every spiritual intuition you possess, is linked to the forces of divine law the harness of Truth. When you ride with these ideas, when you let God's law govern your everyday life, you ride easy in the harness. This brings a spiritual freedom that, essentially, is the freedom to be yourself your true self, that is.

 

Truth Brings Us Fulfillment

Christ Jesus said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). He might have said that the Truth would make us successful, that it would satisfy all right desires, heal all diseases, fill our every need. Truth, or God, does all these things. But this is not the main purpose of Truth. Truth frees us to express the divine nature, to fulfill in ourselves man's true relationship to God.

Does this mean that we should be free to do anything we want to do, go wherever we want to go, have whatever we want subject only to our own will or whim? We don't have to look very far to find that this concept of freedom is one of the most enslaving of all beliefs about man. It binds us in a false sense of self, that bears no relationship to God, or Truth.

Look at our prisons. They're full of people who were taken in by the deceptive suggestion that individual freedom means the freedom to do whatever one wants to do. The idea of being in prison may seem far removed from our own experience, but who of us can say he has never felt bound by the lawless elements of self-will, sensualism, of all that is mortal and material?

But, what's wrong with doing what we want to do, being wherever we want to be, and having the things we want? What's wrong is that such unbridled freedom overlooks a fundamental fact of being the fact that man lives in God, that we find full and enduring freedom only in a right relationship to God.

What it comes down to is this: the individual in search of meaning, of true freedom and fulfillment, finds the answer when he discovers his spiritual selfhood. When we find our life in God, the human yields to the divine. We ride easy in the harness of Truth.

We may feel at times that something is holding us back. But is something holding us back, or are we holding back something? Are we holding back the acknowledgment of man's relationship to God, and the response to this truth in our own lives? Are we reluctant to yield to God's purpose for us? We fulfill this purpose in the degree that the qualities of God are reflected in us.

This isn't a question of whether or not we want to be religious, or follow the teachings of a particular church. It's a question of being what God made man to be. There's no genuine fulfillment, no real meaning to life, outside of this spiritual purpose, this yielding to God's will.

I used to think of God as someone we called on if we found we couldn't make it on our own. I learned through Christian Science that God could be relied upon to heal our ills, or free us from our difficulties. But I was convinced that happiness and success were personal achievements, set apart from God. I wasn't yielding, I was holding back. I was holding back from a full commitment to God.

 

A New View of Success

I wonder how many of you have reached a point at sometime in your life when you felt that everything you had worked for had come to naught. This is a time when all the forces of spiritual intuition and discernment we can muster are focused on the need to understand ourselves. When the light of Truth comes, it can be bright and compelling. It can change the course of our lives.

It happened to me some years ago. The problem of trying to get established in business was the immediate cause. I was working very hard to gain a foothold in a certain profession for which I had studied to prepare myself. The opportunities were there, and I was diligent in employing all the accepted means for getting ahead. Yet, nothing seemed to work out as it should. After nearly two years of conscientious effort, I was no further along than when I started.

Finally, at what seemed like the end of the line, I suddenly got a completely new idea. It was so unexpected and came in such an unusual way that, at first, I couldn't see where it had any real connection with my problem. I was desperately asking myself, "What's wrong with me that I can't succeed in this work?" Then, as if someone were speaking to me, the thought came, "You're not living the teachings of Christian Science."

Now, this idea might come in different terms to someone else. The point was, I wasn't living what I believed. I was trying to live my life apart from God, although I professed to believe in Him. I don't think it had ever occurred to me that for the average individual religion should be anything more than an accessory to a good life.


Besides, I could point to many successful and apparently happy people, doing the very work I wanted to do, who gave no indication of being religious. Why couldn't I be as one of them? Why should it be imperative to my success and happiness that my spiritual convictions become the mainstream of my life?

Once again, as if it were spoken aloud, the answer came. "No one, no matter who he is, can be happy or truly successful unless he lives in accord with his highest sense of Principle." Christian Science had taught me that God is Principle, the divine Principle of all that really exists. Living in accord with Principle could only mean living in God, yielding to His purpose for me, to the highest understanding 1 had of Him.

And so I came to learn something of what it means to ride easy in the harness of Truth. It involves more than the mere exercise of a religious faith that turns us to God in times of need. It demands an acknowledgement of God as Life, as man's only Life, the actual center and circumference of our being. It gives us a new view of man in relation to God, and a new basis for all human endeavors.

We don't need to lose ourselves in religious fervor. We need to find our true selves in the living God. We need to live each day in active response to God. The thing that was such a revelation to me was the idea that human success and happiness are actually joined to God's purpose for us. Only as we move forward in fulfillment of this divine purpose, can we reach these goals in human experience.

Don't let me leave you with the impression that I've never faltered or fumbled in this effort, but I can assure you I never again wondered why I should be a Christian Scientist. When this question was finally put to rest, my business career began to move forward. I learned in some degree that the only real success we can know is success in relation to God.

The Psalmist must have glimpsed this when he wrote of man, "His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper" (Ps. 1:2,3).

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gives us in her writings many enlightening statements on what it means to live in accord with divine Principle, to live in God. This one from her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" summarizes all we've said here: "All that really exists is the divine Mind and its idea, and in this Mind the entire being is found harmonious and eternal" (p. 151).

This statement enthrones divine Mind as All-in-all and shows man to be God's spiritual idea, the image, or reflection, of Mind. But it doesn't stop there. Mrs. Eddy goes on to say, "The straight and narrow way is to see and acknowledge this fact, yield to this power, and follow the leadings of truth." This is the way we put it into practice, by acknowledging God, yielding to His power, and following where He leads.

 

Yielding to God Brings Healing

We're going to examine this practice more closely, but let's make certain we have a clear sense of the underlying idea before we go on. The whole purpose of this discussion is simply to show that life in God is the central fact of man's being. Our freedom and fulfillment lie in submission to the divine will. The only way to freedom, to the discovery of meaning in our lives, is to understand man's relationship to God and yield to the divine purpose growing out of this relationship.

A young Navy veteran walked into the office of a Christian Science practitioner one afternoon. One hand and arm, which he carried in a sling, were swollen to about twice their normal size. The condition had been diagnosed as a nervous disorder connected with the strain and hardships of foreign service. The swelling was recurrent. It had come and gone a number of times over the years since his discharge. Medical treatment seemed to help only temporarily.

It was quickly apparent that it hadn't been easy for this man to resort to Christian Science treatment. His parents were Christian Scientists, but he hadn't followed its teachings. He seemed to be fighting the idea that God could heal him. Yet, here he was turning to God for healing.

Isn't it possible that this very resistance to God was at the root of his nervous disorder? His life was oriented to all the human elements of well-being; a good position, a happy marriage, and two lovely children. Still, there was an unyielding tenseness in his manner, a hardness of thought, that showed itself when he talked about God and about religion.

To say that over the weeks that followed there was a complete change in his attitude would be overstating the case. Yet as he studied Christian Science and worked with the practitioner, the change was there all right. It was a subtle but perceptible yielding of human will that resulted in healing. The swelling went down, all evidences of the problem disappeared. And in the eight years since there's been no recurrence.

My reason for telling you this is to illustrate that yielding to God, for any one of us, is a gradual experience. It's a gradual rejection of the concept of an ego or selfhood apart from God, accompanied by the awakening to spiritual individuality.

This is a demand from which no one is excluded, but it requires no more of us at any moment than we're able and ready to give. Human will may hold fast to the mortal concept but it cannot forever resist the demand of spiritual growth. The vital point, the point at which the struggle ceases and healing occurs, is our acknowledgement of God, divine Principle, as the moving force in our lives.

Whatever the need, whatever the demand, every individual has within him the spiritual strength and resources to lift human thought to the standpoint of dominion. This comes from the unbreakable link between God and man. But this link, this relationship to Truth, must be understood; it must be seen and acknowledged in human thought before it can be demonstrated.

We may borrow the poet's metaphor and say this means riding easy in the harness. We should remember, however, that the harness isn't the binding conditions of material sense, or the pseudo structure of matter. There's no genuine ease, no freedom, in the forms of matter to which mortal and material thinking would consign us. Our acknowledgment that we live in God necessarily requires the total rejection of the mortal material concept of man.

This often means working in an entirely different way than we have previously done. I found this in my own experience and so did the young Navy veteran. It means a change of base in which the human yields to the divine and spiritual intuitions come alive.

 

Importance of Spiritual Intuitions

Now, here's an important question to consider. How does this change of base come about? What is it that triggers the spiritual intuitions that otherwise lie dormant in human thought? Wouldn't you agree that it's a spiritual awakening a kind of discovery, or revelation of Truth that each individual must experience for himself?

By its very nature, whatever is true is eternal; but have you noticed how you can suddenly become aware that a certain idea is important to you? You may not know why it's important, but you sense that it is. It holds for you the promise of meaning. This is the stir of intuition that awakens human thought.

God speaks to us through spiritual intuition. Spiritual intuition represents the hunger for meaning in our lives. It feeds on the unfolding ideas of Truth. These ideas aren't new. They've been known for centuries. But, they come to us with new meaning, because the pioneers of spiritual progress have marked out the way to their discovery. They've broken through mental barriers that will never again seem impenetrable to awakened human thought.

This can be seen by tracing the effects on human history of a single idea of truth. Take the idea that the earth is round. This had been known to men long before Columbus sailed to America. Some 1800 years before, astronomers had calculated its size and shape quite accurately. But this had no meaning to most men. They were perfectly content to believe that the earth was flat.

What happened to shake them out of this false concept? Columbus discovered America. He demonstrated that the earth is round in a way that caused men suddenly to wake up to its meaning for them. Few could then grasp the full significance of a round earth; yet in the relatively brief period since this discovery, the evidences of its global aspects have grown tremendously. Today, we're not startled by the fact that man made satellites are in continuous orbit around the earth. Moreover, we sense that this has meaning in our lives. It fits into the continuity of our own being.

The discovery of Christian Science by Mary Baker Eddy was a major event in Christian history. It brought to the world the Comforter, that full revelation of Truth promised by Christ Jesus. Spiritual intuitions in human thought were stirred with new vigor; and in the brief period since this discovery, demonstrations of the power and effectiveness of this Truth have steadily grown. All around the globe men are awakening to its meaning in their own lives.

 

Mrs. Eddy's Revelation

Mrs. Eddy's preparation to receive this revelation extended over most of the years of her early life. It combined a deep yearning to understand God with experiences that would seem to many far removed from His love and care. It was the way Mrs. Eddy met these experiences sometimes overcoming, sometimes patiently standing until needed lessons were learned that gave greatness and spiritual meaning to those early years.

The progress of events leading up to her discovery coincided with a growing readiness of humanity for the coming of the Comforter. But Mrs. Eddy abode in the spirit of this healing Truth many years before she discovered the divine laws for its demonstration. The moment of her discovery might be likened to Jesus' experience in coming to John to be baptized.

Matthew writes of this moment, "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him" (Matt. 3:16). The spirit of God that came to Mrs. Eddy's uplifted thought brought her immediate release from the results of an accident and impending death. The heavens were opened, and a life's work lay before her. As the revelation unfolded to her waiting thought, she understood her mission and fulfilled its every demand. What this woman accomplished over the next forty-five years of her life couldn't have been possible were it not God-ordained. She gave to the world the revelation of the Science of Christ.

In the preface to Science and Health, we read, "It is the task of the sturdy pioneer to hew the tall oak and to cut the rough granite. Future ages must declare what the pioneer has accomplished" (p. vii). What Mrs. Eddy accomplished as the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science declares her right to be known as the revelator of Truth to this age. She has revealed the true relationship of God and man and what this means to each individual. Whoever is awake to mankind's spiritual progress in this century must acknowledge with deepening gratitude what this pioneer has done.

 

Understanding Our Relationship to God

It's a prominent tendency among many thinkers today to reduce all the difficulties individuals struggle with to a question of relationships. Any human discord, we're told, may be the result of a faulty relationship of the individual to certain aspects of his environment. Some diseases, even chronic ill-health, are often attributed to an individual's response to his environment or his inability to cope with it.

Everyone seems to be subject at times to the suggestion that discordant elements can enter his experience and rob him of his harmony or health. This is a leading theory in the field of allergies. Did you know for example, that according to current medical findings, a person can be allergic even to himself? This was reported some years ago by Time magazine.

The opening paragraph of this report states: "Though men and women suffer misery-making allergic reactions to countless things. . . medical researchers are confident that no one person can be allergic to another. But now there is a fast-growing body of evidence that something much more insidious and harder to understand may cause some of man's most common disorders. People, it seems, can become allergic to parts of themselves."

Now, Christian Science shows that the relationship we most need to understand is not the relationship of one human element to another. It's the relationship of man to God. We need to understand the changeless unity which exists between the spiritual ideas that belong to man and the divine Principle of these ideas.

Man's relationship to God isn't human, it's divine. Understanding this relationship involves the recognition of spiritual ideas as the essence of our being and individuality. It demands the admission that there's more to life than the material conditions, which the physical senses are aware of.

Man's true being is spiritual. His individuality is the expression of the divine Ego, the reflection of God, of Life, Truth, and Love. This spiritual individuality is the true selfhood of each one of us. Nothing can be gained from the belief that we live in matter and are material. This false belief breeds all the discords of mortal existence. It's when we give up this belief and claim our spiritual selfhood to Truth that healing comes.

Now, as we come into agreement with this view of man, we may still be bothered by this question: If we actually accept the spiritual fact that man lives in God that he is spiritual, not material what about the world we live in? Are we ruling ourselves out of the realm which seems most real and substantial to our present human sense of things?

Perhaps it's this very dilemma that gives the idea of riding easy in the harness its appeal. Riding easy in the harness implies a willingness to abide in Truth, regardless of the opposition of the material senses. It means living in accord with divine Principle to the best of our present understanding. Yielding to God's will, human thought is gently but firmly lifted into higher, more spiritual realms, where we discover what is real and substantial. In this discovery of our relationship to God we gain the status and freedom of spiritual manhood.

 

True Individuality Shown in Christ Jesus

Christ Jesus illustrated throughout his career the progressive yielding to God's will that we must achieve. It's the transformation of human thought from a material to a spiritual basis. In order to experience this transformation, we must make the distinction Jesus made between the mortal, or material, and the immortal, or spiritual, sense of existence.

Jesus taught and exemplified the nature of the Christ, as the true idea of God. Christ constitutes the spiritual selfhood and individuality of each one of us. This is why, as the Bible tells us, man can never be separated from God.

But this can't be said of a mortal. A mortal constitutes the false material concept of man. He can never be joined to God, because error cannot abide in Truth. If man were mortal, he would be doomed to a life apart from God. The light of Christ, Truth, dispels the mortal concept and reveals man's eternal unity with the Father. Right now you and I can claim this unity of our spiritual selfhood with God.

It was this declaration of spiritual unity with God, in Jesus' teachings, that so enraged the Pharisees. Their thinking was based on a human concept of God and man. They held that freedom from bondage came from being Abraham's seed, from being able to trace their ancestry down from Abraham. This was the theology of those times.

Is there a present-day counterpart of this theology of the Pharisees? Are we putting our freedom at the mercy of mere human relationships and conditions? We are when we rely on matter to give us health and happiness. We are when we look to human will and materiality to outline our lives. We're subscribing to the theology of the Pharisees when we deny man's identity as the child of God.

The Master's reply to the Pharisees was, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:68). The "I" he referred to is not a mortal. It's the Christ, the spiritual idea of God. Jesus wanted us to understand that the Christ, or divine idea, exists before the material senses conceive of man as a mortal. This is a vital truth for us today. It means that before mortal thinking ever named you, or claimed to have put you into a mortal body and saddled you with mortal existence, God called you His own.

This is your true and eternal existence as God's spiritual idea. It nullifies the testimony of the material senses. Christ is the Truth that lays bare the deceptions of mortal mind, releases the divine energies of true manhood, and elevates even human existence above the impositions of discord and disease.

Jesus so consistently lived this truth that he was known as Jesus the Christ. He showed that the relationship, or coexistence, of God and the real man has never been interrupted or set aside by mortality. And he proved the practical effects of this understanding by healing the sick and raising the dead.

Now, it's just as important for you and me to actively identify ourselves with the Christ-idea as it was for Jesus to do so. It's just as important for us to recognize the existence of our true selfhood in Christ as it was for Jesus to do so. Why? Because this is the way the human yields to the divine. This is the way we discover genuine happiness and success and bring them into our experience.

 

The Strength of Spiritual Qualities

This certainly doesn't mean we're ruling the solid verities of Truth out of our lives; it's the only way we can lay hold on them. All we let go of are the shallow, meaningless impositions of the material senses. The acknowledgment that in reality we live in God and yielding to this truth in our daily lives is the scientific basis for solving all the problems of mortal existence.

But, you know, there's a subtle feeling many of us have had that being spiritually-minded and that's what this amounts to, isn't it? that being spiritually-minded takes something from us, that it somehow diminishes the vitality of our individualism. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But I've noticed in lecturing that, when I talk about yielding ourselves to God, people often become restless. Some get downright fidgety.

It reminds me of a story a friend of mine likes to tell about a small boy and his dog; a bulldog, it was. The boy was very proud of the dog, and he was a fine animal. He had one bad habit, though. He bit people. Every kind of discipline was tried but nothing seemed to persuade him to give up his hostile attitude toward people.

The boy's mother recognized that this was false imposition on the dog's real nature. She told the boy that if he would know the truth about the dog, it would heal the problem. She pointed out that in reality the dog was an idea of God; and, in his true nature, he couldn't, be governed by ungodlike instincts of animality and viciousness. She tried to encourage the boy to pray in this way to heal the dog.

But, the boy wasn't so sure about this. He complained, "Shucks, Mom, if I do that it'll take all the fight out of him!"

Christian Science doesn't want to take the fight out of you and me only the bite. It wants to free us from qualities that don't belong to our true selfhood, that are opposed to God, or good. The qualities that belong to man as God's image and likeness are the qualities of successful living.

Speaking of how Jesus expressed these qualities, Mrs. Eddy writes, "The power of his transcendent goodness is manifest in the control it gave him over the qualities opposed to Spirit which mortals name matter" (Miscellaneous Writings p. 199). Doesn't this show that the control we wish to exercise over material conditions can only be gained through spirituality?

 

Expressing God's Qualities in Daily Life

True health represents the harmonious expression of the qualities of God found in man's spiritual nature. Ill-health presents the suggestion that man embodies qualities unlike God, or opposed to His nature. The best medicine for treatment of physical ills is spiritual individuality. It restores health as it restores our dominion over the material senses. And this scientific treatment can be applied just as readily to conditions outside the body in business, for example.

A busy road contractor, who had built a profitable business, found himself facing the threat of severe financial loss and possible bankruptcy. I won't go into all the details of his problem, but it was not an uncommon one. He seemed to be the victim of a too-rapid expansion of his business, combined with unseasonable weather that delayed completion of much of his work.

The bonding company was about to foreclose. Equipment suppliers, anticipating possible bankruptcy, began lodging judgments against the company's assets. And, as might be expected, the day-to-day operations were far from smooth. Anxiety and frustration caused errors in judgment, brought on labor difficulties, and put everyone under pressure.

Now, here's a man who was certainly not riding easy in the harness. He was fighting it. This wasn't just a problem in business, it was a problem in being. He woke up to this when the situation began to get out of control. He saw that the solution to his problem would have to come from God. His first step was to seek the help of a Christian Science practitioner.

The practitioner was led to direct his attention to this passage from Mrs. Eddy's writings. This is from her book "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany" (p. 278): "Whatever brings into human thought or action an element opposed to Love, is never requisite, never a necessity, and is not sanctioned by the law of God, the law of Love." He recognized immediately that elements opposed to Love had indeed come into his thought and action.

This showed him the need. And it showed him where the human must yield to the divine. He began to make a genuine effort to shut out of his thinking suggestions of selfishness, fear, envy, all that is unlike Love. As he based his thinking on man's unity with God, his outlook became more spiritual, more loving, honest, and patient. He began to enjoy the freedom of being about the Father's business the business of reflecting God's qualities.

Perhaps the most important change came with the awakening to how he had been deceived. He saw that personal ambition and egotism had completely dominated his thinking. He had even regarded these as natural attributes to success. But isn't it clear that these qualities lead us away from God, away from the true source of success and happiness? They bind us in a harness of limited, mortal concepts.

When he became willing to let go of the frantic search for a human solution and respond to the divine demand, he found that in God's kingdom there can be no failure. He was divinely guided, step by step, to make changes that brought a new sense of order to his business. In numerous ways, some of them small and seemingly unrelated to the main problem, he was able to correct and improve its daily operation.

His new-found dominion and the way he expressed it impressed the officials of the bonding company. They decided to extend his credit and offered technical assistance that proved invaluable. They made it clear that it was the change in him that had brought the change in their estimate of his business. As each detail of the operation was brought into accord with divine Principle the business flourished. This was because divine Principle was now governing his thinking. Instead of failure, he established a real and lasting success. His business was saved.

 

Following Where Truth Leads

The picture many of us commonly entertain of ourselves is as mortals striving to work out the problems of human existence, struggling to free ourselves from the elements of discord or disease. This is the basic deception of material sense. So long as we think of ourselves as mortal so long as we see ourselves as part of these problems we can never really solve them.

We've got to get outside the mortal concept. We've got to see that the red man, our true selfhood, is never part of this false picture. Man is not mortal; he's immortal, for he lives in God. We can't humanly outline how our lives should unfold. We arrive at the fulfillment of true being by yielding to God's will and letting divine Love govern and guide our every thought and action.

No two individuals are ever at exactly the same standpoint of human need. Yet we're all striving for the same things. We want to know ourselves. We want to come to an understanding of the forces that govern our lives. We want to gain dominion over our experience. We want to be free. We want to fulfill life's meaning as we discover it for ourselves.

How can we do this without God, or without the understanding of our relationship to Him? The Science of being, Christian Science, unfolds man's life in God. The practice of this Science brings human thought and experience under the guiding, protecting law of divine Love.

What is the essence of this Science? It's the understanding of God's allness, of His control over all. It's the willingness to yield our lives to this divine Principle.

This is the way of freedom and fulfillment for each one of us. This is riding easy in the harness.

 

[Published in The Tulsa County (Oklahoma) News, Jan. 10, 1974.]

 

 

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