Tag Archives: sabbath

Our Souls Need Real, Not Counterfeit, Rest

For many of us, one of the hardest things we ever do is doing nothing. Incredibly difficult, disciplining ourselves to find some regular time to do nothing is the best way to make the doings that we do, when the time is right for doing, worth something once the doing’s done. When we never really rest, we just end up done in, and much of the doing becomes dry dust bereft of real meaning.

If you found it difficult to make your way out of that last first paragraph, it’s because it’s its own frenetic illustration of our lives, bouncing so rapidly from one “doing” to the next, and the next, and the next, that it almost never stops. The Brits call a “period” at the end of a sentence a “full stop.” And an occasional full stop is exactly what we desperately need.

At least, our Creator seems to think so. He thought that a regular time to rest was important enough for the well-being of the humans he created in his image that he devoted one of the Ten Commandments to it. Even God rested on the seventh day of creation.

Dallas Willard once observed that “the command is ‘Do No Work.’” What that means, he says, is as simple as it is difficult: “Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing.” And, knowing us well, he says, “Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.” (And texting!)

Oh, but we do jerk. We do squirm. And we have a very hard time just “making space” even for a few moments.

What is “urgent” crowds out the truly important. (How many texts do you get in a day that  deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the word “important”?)

What is loud floods our ears continually and drowns out the silence that can fill our souls with meaning if we just stop long enough to let it in.

What is garish and glitzy blasts our eyes with counterfeit color and flash-blinds us to the real beauty and joy we could see all around us if we’d just be still long enough (and unglue our eyes from our screens long enough) to look around and see it. But most of the time we’re moving so fast with our thumbs or our feet that life itself becomes a dreary blur.

I think it was Dallas Willard again who commented that rest and diversion are not the same things. We all enjoy some occasional diversion. A “run fast and play hard” vacation at times is fine, but don’t be surprised when you come home more tired than when you left, and your soul is still hungering for some real rest.

Living life continually at high speeds is unsafe. Wrecks happen and people get hurt. Relationships suffer as we bump into each other and crash into solid objects like exhaustion and reality. We weren’t made to run this fast, this continually.

And so our bodies, our minds, and the objects and people we bump into often end up forcing us to stop, whether we like it or not. I wonder how much depression, migraines, gut maladies—and on the list goes—are really our bodies/minds saying, “You won’t stop on your own, fool? Pull over. I bet I can stop you for a while.”

As always, our Creator is telling us the truth. Our souls desperately need some genuine rest.



     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!



Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Why Does Finding Real Rest Require So Much Discipline?

Why is resting so hard?

One definition, “freedom from activity or labor,” surely makes “rest” sound rather appealing, maybe even like something we should try on occasion.

Just a brief Internet search will result in scads of wise quotations on the benefits of rest. Some sound almost like a sop to Type-A hyperactives who won’t say “Good Morning” unless it fits into their business plan and the utterance is duly scheduled. Charles Spurgeon was not among that group, but he told the truth when he said, “In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”

Some quotes are simple and wise: “Rest is not idleness,” wrote John Lubbock, “and to lie sometimes in the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

Someone took a few of those words and, understanding our tendency to actually feel guilty if we ever rest (how incredibly dull, stupid, and full of ourselves we are!) wrote, “All rest is no more idleness than all sex is adultery.”

The research keeps stacking up. Sleep less than six hours a night for a couple of weeks and our performance scores will plummet, our blood sugar levels will rise, our waistline will expand, we will actually begin to show levels of psychosis, and (this one is my own observation) we might even begin to compulsively and irrationally tweet in the middle of the night. Run long enough without rest and someone in your family will be the “barometer” who first begins to reflect the stress and begin to be in “distress.” Count on it.

Oh, and by the way, the Creator of the universe thought rest important enough that he gave us a commandment along that line. Disregard the truth at the heart of any of those Ten and a price will be paid. The principle at the heart of this one, no matter what pseudo-Bible scholars may say as they quibble about Sabbath, is no different.

Because he loves us, God tells us to take time to rest. Really rest. The kind of rest that means significant time for praying, playing, sleeping, filling up, soul-growing, recreating, thanking, breathing, not producing, just being. Taking time to rest may be one of the most faith-filled God-honoring activities of all as we follow his loving command, believe his promises, stop, and trust him to spin the world for a few hours without our help.

Let’s be honest. More often than not, we have a very hard time finding the kind of discipline it takes to intentionally pursue this kind of rest. Obstacles abound, mostly between our ears, but also many things not bad but just incredibly unbalanced in our lives.

Jobs. Especially the more we confuse what we produce with our value; the way we make a living, with our life.

Phones. The more panic we feel when we’re away from them for five minutes, the more desperately our souls need to be away from them for much more than five minutes.

Electronic “balls and chains” in general. Unplug!

And, oh yes, balls. All shapes and sizes. We’re masters at making even our “fun” with them a grueling amount of stress-filled work.

And have you noticed? We’re so terrible at resting that we often make even our vacations utterly exhausting, about as relaxing as a forced march in wartime.

Unless we’re in complete denial (we may be; addicts always are), the problem is obvious. I can’t prove it, but I suspect it lurks near the heart of much of the soul-distress, the depression, the lack of joy, the loss of purpose, and the fractured relationships littering so many lives. As individuals, families, and a society, we pay a staggering price for our refusal to listen to the One who made us, to take time to truly rest, to let our souls breathe.

We need his grace and power in all things—even and maybe especially to have the real strength and uncommon wisdom it takes to find and fill up on regular times of genuine rest.


     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!



Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Lesson from Sloth, Murder, Adultery, and a Water Tower


The list of what we know as “The Seven Deadly Sins” dates back to the fourth century and, of course, has its basis in the teaching of the Bible.

One of the seven was Sloth. A one-word paraphrase is inadequate but useful: laziness.

We’ve all known some folks beset by such, people who begrudge the effort it takes to breathe, much less to do anything resembling work. Like all sins, this one carries with it a sad list of its own punishments, consequences that hurt not just the slothful person, but also those who deserve better from him.

And yet a wise man once said something to the effect that all idleness and rest is no more sloth than all sex is adultery.

You see, God was saying nothing at all against sex in marriage and everything FOR marriage and faithfulness and strong families with happy and secure children when concerning adultery he said, “Thou shalt not.” That’s generally held to be Commandment Number Seven. No matter what our society says, we cannot make our own rules and break that commandment (or any of the others) without painful consequences to ourselves and those we should love more than ourselves. Of course, God’s forgiveness is available and real, but real forgiveness does not remove all of the real and intensely hurtful consequences.

All God’s commandments are like that. They are rooted in his very nature. Nowhere in God’s vast creation will you find a place where murder will not hurt you, where lying enlarges your spirit, where disrespect to parents blesses your life, where covetousness does not shrink your soul, etc. These laws from God are not simply the “flavors” he chose on one particular day; even God cannot change them because they reflect his nature, and they are as real as the law of gravity.

It’s been interesting lately to watch the water tower near our house as workers have been climbing all over that massive structure in a serious refurbishing project. Their various lines and cables and safety harnesses indicate that those folks (whose job I do NOT want) are very much aware that the law of gravity is not to be trifled with. Flaunt it, and serious pain or death will be the inevitable consequence.

All of that to say that the Almighty was not recommending laziness when he gave us Commandment Number Four: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Like all the other commandments, it predated the ritual laws of the Old Testament and points to truth and principles everlastingly true.

We can talk about those principles and applications and interpretations, but at the very least, we can know that even the Creator “rested” after creation. His commandment that we take some time for recreative rest and trust him to spin the world for a few hours without our help is meant to bless us. If we ignore it, the consequences to ourselves—and to those around us—may not be quite as obvious, but I think we can be sure they are just as real and painful as those which follow when we shoot a neighbor, run off with his wife, twist words into lies, or take a nose dive off the nearest 150-foot water tower.


      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!


Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.



Even If Fidgeting Is Genetic, a Little Rest Is Divine


Scientists have discovered, I’m told, a gene for “fidgeting.” I guess I’ve got it.

When sitting down with your legs crossed, do you find your in-the-air foot speed-wiggling for no apparent reason?

Has your spouse surprised you by suddenly erupting in your presence, “Will you STOP clicking that blasted pen!”? You didn’t realize you’d committed any crime—well, at least, not that one—but there you were, guilty as sin, nailed for incessantly and quite unconsciously rapid-fire firing off a pen-clicking mechanism.

Answer yes to those questions and, yes, you, too, carry the fidgeting gene.

I suppose fidgeters should form a victims’ group. Our society loves victims. There could be money in this. Surely our fidgeting is not our own fault. Who to sue?

If you’re a fidgeter, I guess you could try to overcome genetics by cutting down on your coffee intake. I’ve thought about cutting back to one pot. But that approach seems fraught with danger. I can’t imagine how anyone could expect to write anything coherent or, for that matter, think two logical thoughts in a row, without the beneficent aid of a cup or a few of dark-roasted brew.

How many sermons have crashed on take-off even at the composition stage, long before they reached the pulpit, because the reckless sermonizer was short of coffee? How many columns and essays have decomposed even as they were being composed, simply because the writer was so undisciplined and lax in his craft, so criminally careless with the precious words entrusted to his care, that he tried, without the aid of coffee, to send them down the runway and expect them to fly?

One wonders.

Besides that, the list of the health benefits of coffee-drinking just keep piling up. Google it. (By the way, did you notice that butter has now been pardoned by the food police? Cheesecake will surely be next!)

Ah, but how to deal with fidgeting?

I’m told that some fidgeters, trying to bravely bear up under the weight of their affliction, enter the ministry. That way they rarely have to sit through an entire sermon.

For about two nanoseconds, I thought I had the answer: “Fidgeters Anonymous.” But that’ll never work. Not the anonymous part. Everyone around us already knows who we are.

But it would be a great club! (We could meet at Starbucks.) I couldn’t prove it, but I’ll betcha dollars to java-dunked donuts that both the Apostles Peter (jumping out of a boat to water-walk) and Paul (rapid-fire, take-no-prisoners prose) would be honored posthumous members.

God created, and loves, both fidgeters and non-fidgeters. Both groups have inherent strengths and weaknesses. But in the not-so-anonymous Fidgeters’ Club, we probably should post prominently a framed copy of God’s Fourth Commandment. The Almighty seems to think we all need to take some time to be still.

Fidgeters need to, even if it’s genetically difficult. And non-fidgeters desperately deserve a break from fidgeters.


      Some new stuff is on the website! You’re invited to visit at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

A Need for Sleep and a Need for Humility Share the Same Pillow

Zzzs 01

I’ve slept since then, so I don’t remember when it aired, but several years ago, 60 Minutes did an interesting story on “sleep.”

Sleeping is one thing I’ve always been very good at. But if anyone has pointers, I’m willing to listen. What I heard was fascinating.

Modern folks in our society have been a little snooty and dismissive about sleep, as if needing to snooze at all is something of an embarrassment, a luxury we could likely do without if we weren’t so lazy and unmotivated. Not so!

In 1980 a study was done using rats who were kept awake indefinitely. After five days, they began dying. They needed sleep as badly as they needed food. All mammals do.

Recent studies show that sleep is every bit as important to our health as diet and exercise, and that we need 7 1/2 to 8 hours of it each day. The lack thereof seriously affects our memory, our metabolism, our appetite, how we age, and, it seems, if we drive ourselves and/or others crazy (my phrasing here).

A study at the University of Chicago School of Medicine restricted the sleep of young, healthy test subjects to four hours a night for six consecutive nights. At the end of that time, tests showed that each of the subjects was in a pre-diabetic state, which was naturally reversed when they resumed sleeping normally.

They were also hungry. Lack of sleep caused a drop in levels of leptin, a hormone that tells our brains when we’re not hungry.

Cheating your sleep? No problem. If you don’t mind being fat and sick. One researcher said that sleep deprivation should certainly be considered a risk factor for Type II diabetes. The program host went on to mention studies done all over the world linking lack of sleep to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke—not to mention the mood swings that make sleep-deprived people “hell on wheels” to harmony in their homes and workplaces, and whose brain activity on MRIs mimics that of the severely psychiatrically disturbed.

To Type A folks who think they’ve trained themselves to do fine with little sleep, the researchers reply, “Nonsense.” For a day or two, artificial “counter measures” such as caffeine or physical activity may mask the problem, but it is cumulative and real and can’t be hidden for long.

“People who are chronically sleep-deprived, like people who have had too much to drink, often have no sense of their limitations,” said Dr. David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “It’s a convenient belief,” he says. But he issues a standing invitation for “any CEO or anyone else in the world” to come to his laboratory and prove it.

We easily adopt society’s lie that our true worth comes from what we produce. We’re so impressed with ourselves, our indispensability, our strategies and plans. We quit “wasting time” by sleeping much. Then the wheels come off even as we slog on physically and emotionally as if through molasses.

And the God who is real Rest and Peace but who himself never needs to sleep, chuckles and says, “Time for bed, child. Go to sleep and let me do within you what you can’t do for yourself. I’ll spin the world a few rotations without your help.”

I need to ponder the lessons in that. But right now, I need a nap.


        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“White Space Is Not Your Enemy”

white space

I just ordered a book recommended to me by a friend helping me with some ideas for the cover of my new Christmas record. (A CD is still a “record,” as in “recording.” And, no, it is not difficult at all to sing “Let It Snow” with deep feeling on a 100-degree day.) The title grabbed me: White Space Is Not Your Enemy. The book is a guide to “graphic, web, and multi-media design.”

For 30 years as of September, part of ministry for me has been the monthly editing and designing of a little devotional magazine The Christian Appeal. My brother launched the magazine in its present format 50 years ago, and one of his first design tips to me, the wet-behind-the-ears managing editor, was this: Don’t be afraid of white space. Modern readers drown in type.

It’s not just that modern attention spans are minuscule and most folks won’t read at all if reading takes much effort. For a supposedly literate society, we are frighteningly illiterate. (TV Guide doesn’t count.) No, it’s deeper than that.

A good bit of white space on your page or screen automatically gives value to, focuses your eye on, the relatively few items that win a place there.

Oh, you can get a bunch of words on a page if you load it up, shovel them in, decrease the font size, increase the kerning, cram them in so tight that words will leak out on the floor if you don’t belt the magazine shut with a rubber band. And guess what? People won’t read it. More white space. Fewer words. And the words get read. And they become more precious as communication happens.

“White space is not your enemy.” I wonder what this truth might mean in, say, art, or music, or . . .

How important is “white space” in public speaking, or, I hate to mention this, preaching? Ouch! Sometimes less is more.

What about teaching? I’ve had the chance to lecture some college English students. I know the pressure. So much material. So little time. It’s so hard, but so important, to stop, slow down, shut up for a minute. Think together. Give and take together. White space.

God knew we needed white space in our lives for life itself to blossom and be rich and full and joyful, creative and productive. That’s what the Sabbath commandment is about. Time to rest. Time to let God “re-create” us. We desperately need some “white space.” We need to stop “doing” for a moment so that, when we’re back to the “doing,” what we do will be worth something. And worth doing. And maybe even done with some joy.

You might run with this “white space” idea a bit and see how a little more of it might be a blessing in other areas of your life. It might occasionally involve using the OFF switch on your cell phone or iPad, for example. Just a thought.

Now, let me see if I can re-format this column so all the words will fit.

What? White space, you say? Well, that was tacky of you. But you’re right. Cutting stuff out to get that precious space is really hard. And worthwhile.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Taking Time to Rest Is a Genuine Act of Faith



Oh, for years most of us have heard amateur theologians and Bible “pseudo-scholars” asserting with the kind of loud confidence always reserved for the most seriously mistaken, that, of the Ten Big Commandments, we could certainly forget about #4. After all, the “old Law” that used to so tie people up in knots has been done away with, and now we’re under a new law, by which they generally mean the New Testament, which they contort into an upgraded system of law to use to continue to tie people up in pretty much the same old knots.

Well, what Jesus has done on the cross has indeed released us from slavery to a written code and established a completely new covenant based on the Spirit and not the law. But it has most certainly not altered God’s character as revealed in those Ten Commandments. Up might as well become down. Lies and murder might as easily become as godlike as truth and love. Don’t look for the truth of those commandments—God’s very nature—to change.

And that Sabbath commandment? Well, there’s mystery here we’ll never fully understand, but I think we can be sure of these things:

*God gave us this “Sabbath” commandment, this principle of rest, to bless us, not to tie us up with a picky law and tempt us to become piety police. I’d not at all bind rules about particular days and what constitutes “work” on anyone, but . . .

*If even God needed to rest after the work of creation, isn’t it incredibly arrogant for me to act as if I never do?

*Regularly taking time for rest is an act of faith proving that I trust God to be true to his word to care for me and keep the world spinning even when I try to stop my own spinning for a few moments.

*Taking time to truly rest (and being wary of making even my rest a kind of work) is an act of creaturely humility, a dose of the Creator’s antivenom for my poisonous pride.

*A time of rest recalibrates my perspective and helps me better learn to separate what is truly important from what is only “urgent.”

*Taking time to rest is an act of discipline. You may know some lazy people in danger of starvation or poverty, but I’ll wager you know hundreds more who along with their stressed out families live near the brink of exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and a multitude of relational dysfunctions—largely because they don’t have the discipline ever to stop and be still.

Most families, by the way, have a “barometer,” a person who most quickly registers pain or discomfort when the family is under too much pressure. Even if I have a need to think that following God’s commandment to rest is only for those who are weak (It most certainly is not!), I need to ask God to help me love the “weak” people around me enough to obey him in faith, give them and myself a break, and soak up a little “Sabbath,” a little rest.

God wants that for us. And in a thousand more ways than I can list here, he’ll use that intentional rest, that move toward balance, that simple act of faith, to bless us and those around us as we obey our Father. He knows best.




 You’re invited to take a restful visit to my website! http://www.Curtis Shelburne.com  


Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Some Thoughts on Lawn Care, Sabbath, and Trust


I just finished an unusual yard-mowing experience.

As usual, mowing and trimming is about a three-and-a-half hour job. We’re not talking here about a polite little postage stamp-size lawn. This is a 10,000 square foot yard, acreage that in some cities would pass for a park or a game preserve, complete with man-killing hills of a variety described on topographical maps by terrain experts as “darn hills,” sort of. Anybody who ever tries to mow this lawn will soon adopt the more specific term.

The only thing unusual about today’s lawn-taming experience is that it’s Sunday. In the space of almost thirty years, I could count on one hand the Sunday mowings.

For religious reasons, I don’t mow on Sundays. After leading worship and preaching, I’m religious about partaking of a good lunch and keeping the appointment my dog and I have with the couch for a really good nap. Then I’m religious about relaxing and enjoying the rest of the Sunday as much as possible. “Enjoy” and “mow” don’t belong in the same sentence.

But my wife and I are trying to get away for a few days and this was my only window of mowing opportunity. So I mowed.

I didn’t like it. (Well, how unusual is THAT?) I mean, I didn’t like the Sunday aspect of it. It just felt (this is a technical theological term) sort of pagan-ish. Your pastor starts mowing his yard on Sundays and the next thing you know he’s sacrificing cats out behind the house and muttering dark incantations. (Rest assured that no cats were harmed during the mowing of this lawn and the only incantations uttered were under my breath as I mowed the hills.) I felt like I should maybe duck behind a bush as my neighbors drove by, especially the ones I knew were headed to services!

Seriously, I really don’t think I cut up any commandments too badly by whacking grass today. After all, Christ has freed us from bondage to rule-keeping pseudo-righteousness. Anyone who honors God and still wants to mow his yard on Sunday will get no mean looks from me.

But I’m not planning to mess up more Sundays this way; I’d rather the yard be shaggy. I do plan to reflect more on the whole idea of Sabbath. Just a quick look at the New Testament makes it clear that self-righteous rule-keeping about such things leads to stinky religion that takes us farther from God, not closer.

But the principle of rest and balance and “re-creation” involved in the idea of Sabbath is indeed from God, something he meant to bless us. It’s a little like tithing. God won’t force you to honor him in that way, but the blessings that come when you do are gifts he wants to give, gifts you’d otherwise miss.

Christians honor the Lord, on Sundays or at any time, by intentionally taking some time to rest in him and be still. Sunday afternoons tend to be great times for me to open my hands to receive a blessing from the Lord as I trust him to spin the world for a few precious hours without my help. He spins it just fine even if my yard needs a trim.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Be Still, and Know That I Am God”


Be still, and know that I am God.”

Has our Father ever asked us to do anything that we fail at more spectacularly than this simple command?

For a long time, I didn’t know these words were from Psalm 46. But I knew them. During all my growing up years, my mom papered the wall around our bathroom sink and medicine cabinet with inspirational clippings thumb-tacked into prominence. No wonder four of us became pastors. We’d never brushed our teeth without receiving an unspoken sermon in the process.

The clipping I’ve always remembered best was a yellowed and water- (and  probably toothpaste) spattered copy of a poem by “Doran” entitled, “Quietness.” I don’t know who Doran was, but a quick Google search makes it very clear which Doran the poet wasn’t.

The poem is not the kind presently in favor. It actually rhymes and is uplifting. Unlike much modern poetry which is completely full of itself, always takes itself in deadly earnest, drips and droops with existential angst and nihilistic navel-gazing (and should only be used to line bird cages if your bird is on heavy doses of anti-depressants), this poem encouraged us to look beyond ourselves, to look upward.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / That I who made and gave thee life / will lead thy faltering steps aright; / That I who see each sparrow’s fall / will hear and heed thy earnest call. / I am God.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / When aching burdens crush thy heart / then know I formed thee for thy part / and purpose in the plan I hold. / Trust in God.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / Who made the atom’s tiny span / and set it moving to My plan, / That I who guide the stars above / will guide and keep thee in My love. / Be Thou still.”

Well, my mom didn’t tack the poem to the wall because it was world-class poetry, even in those days. She just liked it. Mostly, she thought it pointed her family in the right direction. I think so, too.

I wonder if there is any way to calculate how terribly our inability to ever “be still” actually hurts us and the people around us? Even God rested on the seventh day of creation. And I seem to remember a big commandment given to remind us that it’s not only good to stop occasionally, it’s imperative if we would honor God and lead a balanced life.

When we take time to “be still,” we stop frantically rowing our little boats and comically hyperventilating as we huff and puff trying to power our own crafts. Then we’re able to acknowledge that God’s Spirit is truly the One who empowers us and fills our sails. If we’re regularly “still,” then when we sail on, we find renewed direction and meaning and energy for the journey, and we have honored the Captain of our souls.

Should we be surprised? “Be still and know . . .” are not just the poet’s words to us, they are God’s. And that command was written in stone on Sinai a long time before Mom tacked it up near our medicine cabinet. It’s good medicine—still.




Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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