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Chapter 1 - The Presence of God

Today I gird myself with a mighty power,


Invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.
In the Creator’s presence.

Before one word is spoken, there is the Presence of God. After all words cease,
there is the Presence of God. God is before all, after all, anticipating all, within all
and yet above all. Prayer acknowledges this reality. In the midst of our busy lives,
we can turn to face the Presence of God.

In one sense, Patrick’s breastplate is a prayer of Presence: confessing that all life is
sustained by the Presence, and yearning for a greater awareness of the Presence.

This Presence is not a generic divine force but rather the personal Presence of the
Creator whose very essence as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is a
community of love. This prayer serves as a continual reminder of the One who
sustains us and to whom we look in hope.

Hope. Hope is powerful gift that frees us from the chains of fear. Hope renews
our vision. Hope empowers us to walk forward into the future kingdom. This
hope is a gift that fundamentally changed the world of the early Celt.

Like many animistic cultures, the ancient Celtic people find spiritual forces
behind every bush, in every pool of water and in every forest. In one sense, this
seems like a magical vision of the world where everything is filled with wonder.
Today we look with fascination at the world of leprechauns who promise a pot of
gold beyond the rainbow.

This is a tame version of the ancient Celtic understanding of powerful spirits


surrounding and guarding all things—and sometimes entering into our world.
Unfortunately, the ancient Celt did not always know if these spirits were kind or
vengeful.

John McNeill suggested that the pre-Christian Celts believed in up to 400


different deities.1 There were spirits of the trees and the streams and the lakes
1
John T. McNeill, The Celtic Churches: A History, A.D. 200 to 1200, Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1975 (3rd impression), p. 7.

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and the fields. There were spirits for all kinds of animals. But there was not a
clear deity whose sole function was to care for and protect humans.

They could not turn to a single deity as their chief intercessor, so they had to
offer prayers and sacrifices to every deity in every place. This kind of world
could seem precarious and even terrifying at times. Potential evil forces could
crush them or trick them or lead them into confusion at any time.

The ancient Celt also faced the threat of warring tribes. These tribal people were
notorious for fighting amongst themselves. In fact, this is one of their great
weaknesses that often led to their defeat. When they could get along, they
terrorized their foes. Unfortunately, they usually ended up fighting one another
instead of their enemy.

After observing the ancient Celts in battle, Caesar realized their great power, but
he also saw first-hand their lack of discipline to stay united. And he used this
weakness as a means to eventually crush them and drive them away from Rome.2

So the ancient Celt faced the threat of untamed spirits as well as warring between
tribes. Imagine the hope that Christianity brought to them. They discover there is
one Creator to whom they must answer. They discover this Creator is one God
(completely united) in three persons (a loving community).

This vision of God brings hope into our midst. If the Creator of all things sustains
all things with His loving presence, then we can find hope even in the midst of
great dangers.

Imagine the ancient Celt wandering through a dark forest. When the fear of the
shadows begins to overwhelm her, she stops walking, takes her walking stick
and cuts a sunwise (clockwise) circle into the ground around himself. Asshe cuts
the circle, she prays:

Today I gird myself with a mighty power,


Invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.
In the Creator’s presence.

2
For a brief overview of the fierce Celtic tribal culture that was eventually defeated by Rome, see Gerhard
Herm, The Celts, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975.

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She is surrounded by a power greater than herself; a loving Creator who will
protect and guard her and keep her from all harm surrounding him. Now she
continues walking with a renewed since of God’s presence. This is known as a
Caim, an encircling.

As the Celt prays the caim, she physically turns in a circle, so that her body joins
her voice and mind in prayer. A Caim is a way of centering our whole person in
prayer. Sometimes it is easy to forget that prayer is not simply limited to our
mind but is actually infused into our body.

We often pray silently, so not even our mouths participate in the prayer. This
habit may cause prayer to seem limited to our mind. We think prayers toward
God. Unfortunately, this can make our spiritual life rather abstract: just another
idea among many other ideas.

Christianity is centered upon the story of God taking human form. The Word of
God entering human history. In other words, it is a faith that is not simply an
idea, it is embodied. We read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles to see the
reality of God’s presence embodied fully in Jesus and then through his collective
body: the church.

We see people walking to the Temple, eating meals together, laying hands on one
another, baptizing in water, healing the sick. We see a faith that is not simply
ideas but ideas taking form through human bodies. Christianity is an earthy,
incarnated, historical religion.

This might help us to understand the Caim. It is a prayer that we pray with our
whole body: our mind, our mouths, our hands, our legs and our hearts. The
Caim makes me think of a form of prayer common among Orthodox and
Catholics: the breath prayer.

The most famous breath prayer of all is often referred to as the Jesus prayer. As a
form of devotion, some Christians will pray the following prayer over and over
throughout the day: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a
sinner.”3

3
This form of prayer is common among the Russian Orthodox and made popular in the West through a
popular Russian story, “The Way of a Pilgrim.” Helen Bacovcin translator, The Way of a Pilgrim, New
York: Image/Doubleday, 1978.

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You might wonder, isn’t it vain repetition to pray this same prayer all day? If the
prayer is used as some kind of magical rite that will cause certain things to
happen, it may be a form of vain repitition. But repeating the prayer may also be
seen as a way of focusing the whole person upon the mercy of God. For the
words of the prayer are a perfect summary of the cry of the human before God.

By praying this simple prayer over and over and over, the pilgrim believes that it
is entering into his body. In other words, he is praying the prayer into his heart.
The essence of the prayer can be reduced to two simple words: Jesus…Mercy. The
prayer becomes part of the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling. As the heart beats it
alternates between “Jesus” and “Mercy.”

When I first think of a prayer being in the heart, I tend to think that really means
my mind: not my physical heart. It is hard to believe that the heart thinks or
prays or speaks. We tend to separate the mind from the body. Your thoughts and
dreams and hopes and desires all occur within the “mind.” The body carries out
the wishes of the mind.

Not everyone has always thought of mind and body as separate. Certainly some
of the ancient philosophers talked about it, but in the 17th century, a man named
Rene Descartes so strongly emphasized this break between the mind and the
body, he influenced other people after him to think this way. As a result, we
would not think of an idea being in our heart, or our hand or our lungs. Instead,
all ideas are limited to our mind, which is somehow located in the physical brain.

The ancient Hebrew did not emphasize this distinction between mind and body.
Just think for a moment of the all the Old Testament references to the heart: it can
think (Gen 6:5), it can grieve (Gen 6:6), it can speak (Gen 27:41), it can grow hard
(Ex 4:21), and much much more. The stomach can be satisfied by our words (Pr
13:25), can eat the Word of God (Eze 3:3), and so on.

While these references do not necessarily indicate that Hebrews located thinking
or speaking within the organ of the heart, it does point to a more holistic view of
the person. They are not separating the mind, body and emotions in as distinct a
manner as the Greeks or most people today.

Today I gird myself with a mighty power,

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I begin by “girding myself with the prayer.” The prayer is my garment, my
breastplate, my shield, encircling my body and mind with God’s presence.

So a breath prayer or a Caim transforms our prayers from simply an activity of


the mind to an activity of the whole person. David Adam says the “Caim works,
not as a charm but to re-tune us to the reality of the love and presence of God.”4
The Celt considered our body like a five stringed harp: representing each of the
five senses. This harp needs continually tuning. A Caim gives us the opportunity
to pause and retune or refocus our whole person upon God’s presence.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar once suggested that God has given us five worlds in
which to enjoy his goodness and worship his glory. He realized that all five
senses give us vastly different ways of encountering the world around us and at
the same time open vastly different ways for engaging and understand the
wonder and glory of God.5

We gird each of our senses with a mighty power: the Presence of God. We
acknowledge his kindness and sustenance in our hands and feet and eyes and
mouths and noses. He has blessed and continues to bless us in a range of ways
that we continually fail to acknowledge or grasp. Sometimes, simply pausing to
reflect on His kindness revealed in every aspect of our physical body is a helpful
exercise in redirecting our thoughts toward Him. This simple act is a powerful
reminder of His Presence and His Good Providence in our lives.

In one sense, the life of faith is one continuous expression of thanksgiving to God
for His goodness. I breathe because He gives me breath. Each morning that I rise,
I rise because his love has called me forth to a new day of wonder. Sleeping is
like death: a state of helplessness. So when Orthodox Christians rise each
morning, they acknowledge that God alone has them called forth into a new day.
They pray:
Arising from sleep, we fall down before thee, O Blessed God, and sing to thee, O
mighty One, the Angelic Hymn: Holy, holy, holy art thou, O God.6

Sometimes, when I need to remind myself of the need to cultivate a life of


thanksgiving, I play little thanksgiving games. One game is to write down the
name of every person I know or have known and then write one thing beside his
or her name for which I am grateful. I don’t usually finish my list, but I do
4
David Adam, The Cry of the Deer, SPCK, 1987, p. 14.
5
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, ?
6
A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, SVS Press, 1983, p. 2.

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remember the gifts of persons in my life. Each person is a treasure that our Father
in His never-ending mercy and grace has granted me to encounter along this
journey.

Another little game is to pause during a meal and begin to think of all the people
who made this meal possible for me to enjoy. There’s the man who works at the
plate factory: he works forty plus hours a week, comes home exhausted, giving
every penny to support his wife and three children. He married young, didn’t go
to college and has spent his adult life working long hours in a factory. His
faithful service means that I can enjoy the plate in front of me.

Now I begin to think about the silverware, the glass, the tablecloth, the steak, the
vegetables, the truck drivers who transported these items, the mechanics who
work on the trucks, the gas station attendants who work late into the night to
supply the trucks, the chef who prepares the food, the waiter who serves the
food. This is just one layer: there are layers upon layers upon layers of people
whose efforts made a way for me to enjoy this simple meal. I’ll never meet most
of these people, but I can offer a prayer of simple thanks to God who created
each of them and sustains each of them and continuously blesses me through the
actions of each of them.

Each moment of each day, I am learning to gird myself with a mighty power; to
acknowledge I am clothed by the everlasting love of the invisible God. All I can
say is thank Him and rejoice in his lovingkindess.

Invocation of the Trinity.

Now the prayer invokes the Trinity. What does invocation mean? At first, it
sounds like we are summoning God to appear. We are calling upon Him,
expressing our desire to be near Him, but we are not actually summoning him.
We realize and affirm that He is already present.

This is the lesson Moses learns in the wilderness. He encounters the glory of God
in the burning bush and in the midst of the encounter, he asks for God’s name.
This would make sense for a man raised in Egypt.

The names of the God played a pivotal role in the rituals of worship. The names
of the gods gave the priests power. When they called out the god’s name, he or
she had to appear. The name was the power to summons. This is based on an
idea that the gods are somewhat similar to humans except that they are immortal

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and have superhuman powers. But like humans they are limited in where they
can be and act at any given time.

But God does not give Moses a name by which to summon Him. Instead he says,
IAM that IAM or I AM and Remain Present. In other words, “You cannot
summon me Moses, I AM forever Present. I summon you into my Presence.”7

There is actually incredible hope in this name. God is present. God is present.
God is present. No magic ritual will make him anymore present. He is Creator
and sustainer of all livings things. I am continuously surrounded by His
presence. This abiding presence reveals His greatness.

The church fathers had a motto: “God is always greater.” Every time you have a
concept for God, every time you think you can explain some aspect of God,
remember, God is always greater. Mere human ideas and forms will never
contain the God who precedes all things and sustains all things.

He is the beginning and the end. I can never get to the end of God, so I must
simply rest in His presence. I keep a Latin phrase on the bottom of all my emails:
"Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit"

Essentially this means,


“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”

He is and was and will be. He is always present. He is always present. He is


always present. Jesus says, “Abide in me and I will abide in you” (John 15). How
do we abide? We dwell, we live, we remain. Abiding is not an action word: it
describes a state of being.

We are not trying to figure out ways to get “into the Presence of God.” The fact
that we’re living and breathing and moving is a sign that we’re already there.
Thus Paul can say (quoting the pagans), “in Him we live and move and have our
being.”

When I really believe this, it will radically change the way I experience this life. I
rest in His love. I live in His goodness. No matter what happens around me, as
long as I am breathing, I know that I am in His Presence for it is His Presence
that is sustaining me.

7
Martin Buber, Moses, xxxxxxxxx

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Oddly enough, we continually forget. We tend to feel alone and aloof: separated
from God. Every little problem can make God seem so far away. That’s the value
of a Caim: it simply reminds me to be still and know that He is God.

Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.

The prayer acknowledges that this presence is both three and one. For some
reason, the Celts readily accepted the abstract notion of the Trinity. They seem to
embrace it in their poems and prayer—which continually have threefold
reference.

The eye of the Father to watch over you


The hand of the Son to guide you
The mouth of the Spirit to speak to you.

This may be because pre-Christian Celts seemed to have had a fondness for
threes and often picture some of their gods in threes.

This prayer emphasizes both the threeness and the oneness. God is the person of
the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and yet God is one.

By holding both images at the same time, we see a glimpse of absolute and
perfect harmony. By confessing three (Father, Son and Spirit), we see the
potential for relationship but by affirming the One, we see the relationship must
be founded on perfect love. There is no hint of separation in the essence of the
Father, the Son, or the Spirit. It is a perfect society of completely loving
relationships and harmonious life; it is the model for our life together.

There is absolute harmony: a loving flow of life between the Father, the Son and
the Spirit. Dmitrue Staniloae suggests that the Father, the Son and the Spirit exist
is a continual state of absolute, complete delight. No matter how much beauty
we behold, no matter how much joy we experience, no matter how much love
bathes our souls, we will never know the depths of joy and love and wonder that
exists in the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
This community of perfect love teaches us to trust. We can completely rely on the
love and goodness of God. Life is not a maze of methods trying to figure how
best to appease an angry God, but rather it is a dance of love and trust, resting in
the everlasting grip of my Triune Creator.

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In the Creator’s presence.

This first part of the breastplate ends with a gentle, acknowledging trust of the
Creator’s presence. I am surrounded by the perfect love of the Triune Creator and
nothing can separate me from that love.

With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put
everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to
the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and
freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of
God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us
— who was raised to life for us! — is in the presence of God at this very moment
sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge
between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard
times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not
backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that
nothing — nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high
or low, thinkable or unthinkable — absolutely nothing can get between us and
God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:31-39
(from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by
Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)

This wonderful promise stirs us and gives us a sense of assurance of God’s


encircling presence. And yet, while we may feel encouraged momentarily, the
pressures of daily life and the chaotic schedules we often keep choke out that
sense of Presence. How do we cultivate an ongoing awareness of that Presence?

The Christian Celts immersed their day in multiple short prayers that focused
upon the task at hand. Taken together, these prayers can be seen as continual
reminders of God’s presence in our lives.

Esther De Waal introduces the Celtic immersion prayer in her books Every
Earthly Blessing and the Celtic Way of Prayer. Weaving prayers from the
Carmina Gaedelica and other sources she forms a picture of a simple life
surrounded by prayer from birth to death.

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To get a sense of their prayer world, let’s consider a typical day in the life of a
Christian Celt.

A Celtic wife awakes in the Presence of the Lord:


I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
(DeWaal, 75)

She makes the bed:


I make this bed
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
In the name of the night we were conceived,
In the name of the night we were born,
In the name of the day we were baptized,
In the name of each night, each day,
Each angel that is in the heavens.
(DeWaal, 78)

She kindles the fire:


I will kindle my fire this morning in the presence of the holy angels of
heaven.
God Thou kindle in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall…..

She washes her face:


The palmful of the of God of Life
The palmful of the Christ of Love
The palmful of the Spirit of Peace
Triune of grace.

She milks the cow:


Bless O God my little cow
Bless O God my desire;
Bless Thou my partnership

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And the milking of my hands, O God.

Bless O God each teat


Bless O God each finger;
Bless Though each drop
That goes into my pitcher, O God.

She takes a walk:


My walk this day with God,
My walk this day with Christ,
My walk this day with Spirit.
Ho! Ho! Ho! The three-fold all-kindly.

My shielding this day from ill,


My shielding this night from harm
Ho! Ho! Both my soul and my body,
Be by Father, by Son, by Holy Spirit:
By Father, by Son, by Holy Spirit.

Be the Father shielding me,


Be the Son shielding me,
Be the Spirit shielding me,
As Three and as One:
Ho! Ho! Ho! As Three and as One.

Her child leaves on a journey as a pilgrim:


King of Elements – Love-Father of Bliss,
In my pilgrimage from airt to airt,
From airt to airt,
May each evil be a good to me,
May each sorrow be a gladness to me,
And may Thy Son be my foster-brother,
Oh may Thy Son be my foster-brother.

Holy Spirit – Spirit of Light,


A pilgrim I throughout the night,
Throughout the night,
Lave my heart pure as the stars,
Lave my heart pure as the stars,
Nor fear I then the spells of evil,

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The spells of evil.
Jesu – Son of the Virgin pure,
Be thou my pilgrim-staff throughout the lands,
Throughout the lands,
Thy love in all my thoughts, Thy likeness in my face,
May I heart-warm to others, and they heart-warm to me,
For love of the love of Thee,
For love of the love of Thee. Gaelic (13)

The path I walk, Christ walks it. May the land in which I am
be without sorrow.
May the Trinity protect me wherever I stay, Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit.
Bright angels walk with me—dear presence-in every dealing.
In every dealing I pray that no one’s poison may reach me.
The ninefold people of heaven of holy cloud, the tenth force
of the stone earth.
Favorable company, they come with me, so that the Lord
may not be angry with me.
May I arrive at every place, may I return home; may the way
in which I spend be a way without loss.
May every path before me be smooth, man, woman, and
child welcome me.
A truly good journey! Well does the fair Lord show us a
course, a path.
St Columba

She celebrates the end of the day:


To you before the end of day,
Creator of the world, we pray:
In love unfailing hear our prayer
And keep us in your watchful care.
Bid anxious dreams and fears depart,
Enfold in peace each mind and heart.
Restore our flagging strength with rest
No wiles of evil can molest.
O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son,
Who, with the Spirit and with you,
Shall live and reign all ages through.

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Amen.
(O’Malley, 43)

She lays down in sleep:


May your Holy Angels, O Christ, son of the living God,
tend our sleep, our rest, our bright bed.
Let them reveal true visions to us in our sleep, O High Prince of the
universe,
O great and mysterious King.
May no demons, no evil, no injury or terrifying dreams disturb our rest,
our prompt and swift repose.
May our waking, our work, and our living be holy;
our sleep, our rest, without hindrance or harm.
Celtic Spirituality (6)

God with me lying down,


God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,

Nor one ray of without Him.


Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,
Every day and night,
Each day and night.

God with me protecting,


The Lord with me directing,
The Spirit with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore,
Ever and evermore, Amen.
Chief of chiefs, Amen.

Dear, chaste Christ,


Who can see into every heart and read every mind,
Take hold of my thoughts,
Bring my thoughts back to me
And clasp me to yourself.
Prayer of a Celtic monk, eighth century

O Son of God, change my heart,

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Your spirit composes the songs of the birds and buzz of the bees.
I ask of you only one more miracle:
Beautify my soul.
Traditional

On the one hand, we can’t fully identify with the pre-industrialized Celt. In the
early medieval world, life was fragile and few people lived beyond their 40s.
They faced the cruel impact of the elements without the convenient protections
of modern life. They were subject to kidnapping by pirates, attack by invading
tribes, starvation in times of drought, and times of disease.

Our lives are so safe and danger free compared theirs. And yet, we are often so
separated from the Presence. We have other struggles. The modern person
rushes from one event to another, from job to soccer games to church meetings.
Our lives overflow with busyness.

In the grocery stores, the frozen food aisles have doubled, tripled and even
quadrupled in the past 10 years. They market to our lack of time with convenient
meals requiring virtually no prep time. Our lives become one mad dash from one
event to another.

Life is drained of meaning and beauty. Wonder is swallowed up in the next


urgent “to do” calling out from our endless lists. This unstoppable pace creates a
void in our lives. Instead of pausing to worship and behold the goodness of God,
we feed this void with more events, more things, and more distractions.

We don’t have time to cultivate the Presence, so instead, we choose churches that
can give us an instant rush: a quick fix of God’s Presence. I want revival and I
want it on Sunday mornings between 10:45 am and noon.

But it may be time for some of us to stop this dizzying madness and find ways to
cultivate intentional presence in our lives. From the ancient Celtic Christian
world, a prayer is still calling, stirring, and challenging us to pause, draw a
sunwise circle around us, and cry out with our body and mind for the encircling
Presence of God.

Exercise:
Here is one tool that might be helpful in cultivating an awareness of God’s
presence in the midst of your life.

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Create a Celtic Caim. Draw a circle. Around the edge of the outer circle write the
prayer from this chapter:
Today I gird myself with a mighty power,
Invocation of the Trinity.
Belief in the threeness, affirmation of the oneness.
In the Creator’s presence.

Inside the circle, draw pictures (even stick figures) of what your typical day looks
like. As you’re drawing, visualize each element of your day. Think about the
Presence of God surrounding you, encircling you in all you do.

Much like the typical day of the Celtic lady we reviewed, you might also write
our your daily schedule on a calendar. Then write prayers for each event on your
schedule: from showering to eating breakfast, to traffic prayers and so on. As you
write the prayer, think about each activity. How can the outward action help you
focus on an inward grace? (Like the stirring fire prayer above)

We may not be able to cancel all the events and things from our schedule right
away, but we can begin to live in each event more intentional centered in the
presence of God. And by His grace, we may learn the secret of simplifying our
life and commitments.

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