Brothers and sisters, it is a wonderful treat to be back in the Marriott Center to see so many of you here with us tonight. But, more than that, it is wonderful to realize that across the earth there are tens of thousands who are gathered in various facilities—maybe even hundreds of thousands. Sister Bateman and I were in Argentina and Uruguay last week, and we know that they will be watching the delayed broadcast this next Sunday evening. People are gathered everywhere, which exhibits the faith they have.
In August 2005 President Gordon B. Hinckley challenged “members of the Church throughout the world and . . . friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon.” He concluded the challenge with a promise:
There will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.1
The response to the prophetic call was immediate and far-reaching. People everywhere began reading the book—in homes, on airplanes, at lunch, upon arising in the morning, before going to bed at night. It is likely that more people read the Book of Mormon during the second half of 2005 than at any other time in history. A few months ago a friend of mine was on a flight between New York and Salt Lake City. As he walked down the aisle, many people were reading the book. About midplane he noticed two individuals across the aisle from each other, both reading the Book of Mormon, and he stopped to see where they were. He chuckled when he saw that they were on the same page.
Elder Richard G. Scott and I were on assignment in Africa during November. At a Sunday evening devotional with more than 2,000 members in attendance at the Accra Ghana Stake Center, Elder Scott asked how many were reading the Book of Mormon. Almost every hand went up. Ten days later in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I met with 200 Saints and friends in a devotional. I asked the same question. About two-thirds of the hands were raised. I learned after the meeting that the remaining one-third were mostly investigators.
Now, by a show of hands, how many of you read the Book of Mormon during 2005? As I look through the audience, almost every hand is raised, and I suspect the same is true in Los Angeles, New York, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Sã Paulo, Mexico City, and the many other places in which you are gathered this evening. What an extraordinary response to the prophet’s challenge.
I accepted his challenge and read the book as well. I experienced the fulfillment of the promises made by President Hinckley. I felt an added measure of the Spirit, a stronger testimony, and a strengthened resolution to walk in the Lord’s way. May I share with you for a moment tonight an insight from the Book of Mormon that came while I was reading last year.
A Strengthened Testimony of the Book of Mormon
For some time I have known that chapters 5 and 32 in Alma deal with the same subject—faith. Until my reading last year, however, I had failed to notice how carefully the two sermons were tailored to their respective audiences. Alma’s listeners in chapter 5 were Church members in Zarahemla (see Alma 5:2). This city was the headquarters of the Church, and one may assume that the members knew the doctrine. In contrast, the listeners in chapter 32 were the poverty-stricken Zoramites who had been forced out of the synagogues by the rich. The people in this part of the land had drifted far from the truth (see Alma 31:12–17). Although the poor were humble and wanted to learn, they were investigators needing to be taught gospel fundamentals.
Alma’s sermon in chapter 5 to the members in Zarahemla was deep and complex. The series of questions he posed assumed familiarity with the doctrine and experience with the Holy Ghost. Otherwise, the questions would have had little meaning and been difficult to answer. The purpose of the questions was to prompt those members in Zarahemla to review and renew their faith in the Lord and His redemptive powers. Listen to the questions (see Alma 5:14–15):
• Have you spiritually been born of God?
• Have you received His image in your countenances?
• Have you experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
• Do you exercise faith in the redemption of Him who created you?
• Do you look forward with an eye of faith and view this mortal body raised in immortality to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds that have been done in the mortal body?
To appreciate and answer these questions, one must know about and believe in the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, have experienced a cleansing by water and by fire, have tasted the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and believe in the literal resurrection of the physical body. This was not a sermon for initiates but for well-grounded members of the Church.
In contrast, Alma taught the Zoramite investigators the rudiments of faith—how faith in Christ begins and then grows. The sermon in chapter 32 is so clear concerning the faith-building process that missionaries use it today to teach investigators how they may develop a testimony. The process begins with a “desire to believe.” An individual must then plant the seed—which is the word of God—in his or her heart by searching the scriptures, listening to the words of the prophets, praying and asking for a confirmation of gospel truths, going to church, and obeying the commandments. The result, Alma said, will be a swelling in one’s bosom, an enlightenment of the mind, and warm feelings in the heart (see Alma 32:28). These are the beginning of a testimony—and the seed is good. Anyone with a sincere desire to know can obtain a testimony by following Alma’s teachings in chapter 32.
After explaining the initial faith-building process, Alma continued with a question in chapter 32: “After ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?” (Alma 32:35). No—the process has just begun (see Alma 32:36). The seed has grown but is still only a seedling. Alma explained that if one continued faithful, the seedling would grow into a tree. What tree? The tree of life! (see Alma 32:41). This tree is a symbol of God’s love for His children expressed through the condescension and atoning sacrifice of His Son (see 1 Nephi 11:9–33; John 3:16).
Alma taught the Zoramites that when the tree was deep within their souls, they would feast upon its fruit and not hunger or thirst (see Alma 32:42–43). In other words, they would have experienced spiritual rebirth—the mighty change of heart—and the tree deep within their soul would produce God’s image in their countenances. It is interesting to note that Alma taught the Zoramites in chapter 32 what they must do to answer the questions posed to the Zarahemla members in chapter 5.
How remarkable! Can you imagine Joseph Smith at age 24, with little formal schooling, dictating a manuscript that outlined fundamental doctrines over hundreds of pages with consistency in every detail and tailored the presentations of the doctrine to meet the needs of the audience? And, even more than that, Alma’s sermons tied directly to and built upon the visions of earlier prophets: Lehi’s and Nephi’s dreams of the tree of life in 1 Nephi. Of even more importance is the fact that the sermons were not only relevant for the Nephites and Zoramites but are for readers hundreds and thousands of years later as well.
Brothers and sisters, the Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is true. Joseph Smith was not the author of the book but the Lord’s translator. The book was written by ancient prophets centuries ago.
I am grateful to have read the Book of Mormon one more time. Each time I have learned new things that bear witness to my soul that Joseph Smith was and is the Lord’s prophet of the Restoration. Although there are many things that I do not know, one thing is certain: the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Church are part of the “restitution of all things” foretold by the Apostle Peter 2,000 years ago (Acts 3:21).
Looking Forward in the Lord’s Plan
Tonight I wish to borrow from Alma’s sermon in Zarahemla. I ask you, the young adults of the Church in 2006, do you “look forward with an eye of faith”? Do you abide by the gospel teachings so that you may receive and retain His image in your countenances? Do you recognize the critical point in life at which you have arrived and the long-term implications of key decisions you will make during the next few years?
I believe the age span from 18 to 30 is one of the riskiest and most challenging times of life. It is also one of the most rewarding times. Major decisions will be made in the next few years that will have an impact on you through mortality and into eternity. Choices regarding education, employment, marriage, children, and faithfulness in God’s kingdom are upon you. Your choices now, active or passive, will affect you forever.
A knowledge of the Lord’s plan, especially as it pertains to this life, will help you make wise decisions. For the remainder of my time this evening, I wish to examine the purposes of mortality in the Lord’s plan and how these purposes relate to the important choices that lie ahead for many of you.
When the Father called His spirit children together in the Council in Heaven, He indicated that it was time to create an earth and that those “who keep their first estate shall be added upon; . . . and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever” (Abraham 3:26). We know the first estate to be the spirit world and the second estate to be this life. In what ways were we to be “added upon” as we kept our first estate and entered mortality?
There are at least three ways in which we are enhanced by coming to earth. First, we receive a physical body. Second, mortal experiences allow us to prove ourselves, and in so doing we grow in intelligence, or light and truth (see D&C 93:36, 130:18–19). Finally, we have the opportunity to begin an eternal family, wherein we forge special relationships that bring added glory. Let us examine each purpose.
The Physical Body
The physical body is one of the great gifts of mortality. The scriptures teach that the body is not only important for this life but also for eternity. During mortality the body can be a temple of God in that it may house the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads one to the celestial kingdom. The body is so important in the eternities that Christ gave His life to overcome physical as well as spiritual death. In so doing, He made possible a resurrection for everyone.
Joseph Smith said: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.”2
Why is the physical body so important? How does it relate to your happiness here and hereafter? What are its divine purposes? There are at least three.
1. Sacred power of creation. The first divine purpose has to do with the sacred power of creation. The body contains the seeds of creation, which allow us to have children and begin an eternal family. In mortality this power is given for a limited period of time. If we are faithful and abide by the commandments pertaining to its use, that power of creation is restored in the Resurrection. The scriptures indicate that “a fulness of joy” comes when the body and spirit are inseparably connected (D&C 93:33). However, a “fulness of joy” requires more than the Resurrection. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are taught that those who enter into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” and are faithful enter into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and there receive a “fulness” of glory and “a continuation of the seeds forever” (D&C 131:2; 132:19). It is the eternal marriage relationship and the power to create life that produce happiness in mortality and a “fulness of joy” in the life to come.
2. An instrument of the mind. Second, the physical body is an instrument of the mind. President Boyd K. Packer taught this concept in a CES satellite broadcast three years ago.3 Many acts of love, kindness, and service require the physical body. These physical acts not only bless others but also oneself. A personage of spirit is able to do many things, but the physical body increases the range of activities that can be performed. In fact, President Joseph F. Smith, in his vision of the spirit world, learned that “the dead . . . looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage” (D&C 138:50). In other words, there will be actions we cannot take after death before the Resurrection, and we will look and yearn for the return of that physical body and the freedom that it brings.
3. A receptacle for light. Third, the physical body is a receptacle for light. Physicists indicate that every physical object can hold light. The brother of Jared must have known this when he exclaimed, “Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them . . . that we may have light while we shall cross the sea” (Ether 3:4). The Lord, speaking to the Prophet Joseph Smith, stated, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light” (D&C 88:67).
Have you noticed the light in the countenances of those who live the gospel? Four months ago I was in the Accra Ghana Temple. The ordinance workers, dressed in white, were all Ghanaian. The light emanating from their faces was quite visible. As you live the gospel, light is added to your being with the body as the receptacle.
Finally, the Lord tells us that if we live according to celestial law, in the Resurrection our bodies will receive “that glory by which your bodies are quickened. Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness” (D&C 88:28–29). What does that mean? If we strive to live the gospel, our bodies will be quickened by a portion of celestial light in this life and then will receive a fulness of celestial glory in the Resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.” It contains the sacred powers of life, it is an instrument of the mind, and, as a temple of God, it increases one’s capacity for light and truth. It is important that we respect the body through modest dress, by refraining from immoral acts, and by keeping it clean and unmarred.
There is one more aspect of the physical body that should be mentioned. It is the strength of the body over a lifetime. Have you ever thought about the strength pattern as you live life? This life pattern of physical strength and its relationship to spiritual growth provides a perspective for the choices you make.
Physical Strength During Mortality
Data from physiological studies illustrate the muscular strength of the human body from birth to old age. A horizontal axis marks off ages from birth until we die, and a vertical axis measures the muscular strength of the body. At birth a graph line begins near the bottom of the chart, showing how a baby’s strength is small relative to that of an adult. Strength then increases rapidly as the human body develops from childhood to adulthood. The strength of the physical body peaks near 30 years of age. It is well documented that muscular strength in both males and females begins a long descent after 30 as the body slowly deteriorates until death occurs.4
Where are you on the graph? You are all near or approaching the peak. Since most in the audience tonight are under 30, note that you have only experienced increasing physical strength. For the most part, you only know what it is like to become stronger and stronger. But just wait. It will not be many years before all of you will be over the hill and on a downward course. What will it be like then?
Is it any wonder that many of life’s key decisions are made during the period from age 18 to age 30? You are nearing peak strength. You feel indestructible! Death is some distant event that may never occur. From a physical point of view, the twenties are a particularly important time to marry and begin a family because you are in good health and will have the energy required to raise a family in the decades that follow.
As one looks at the chart, one might ask: Why the long, slow decline? Are there lessons to be learned? The answer is yes! The mind and spirit are taught many lessons. One of the first, as you start down the hill, is that you learn that you are mortal! When I was your age, death was not an option. Like you, it was so far off that I hardly thought about it. Today I am much further out on the curve and experience the aches and pains that come with the body’s steady deterioration. Now death is right before me.
I have learned that life is short regardless of how long one lives. Also, I understand more fully the need for a Savior. There is no way I can overcome spiritual and physical death without His grace. I also realize that many of the blessings received in later life stem from decisions made between 18 and 30. My greatest blessings in life stem from the decisions to (1) marry Sister Bateman shortly after a mission, (2) to finish our educational pursuits together even though resources were limited, and (3) to listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in laying a foundation for our future life.
As one experiences the downhill portion of later life, the inevitable aches and pains serve an important purpose. They help one put off King Benjamin’s “natural man [or woman]” as we learn to yield to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19). The aches and pains of later life teach humility, the meaning of long-suffering, the importance of patience, and an appreciation for the qualities of kindness and love, and they help one learn moderation in all things. It’s interesting. These are the divine attributes. For the faithful, the slow deterioration of the body serves as a refining instrument for the spirit.
Taking care of your body in your early years increases the chances of living a long life. That is important because many of the important lessons of life are learned in the later part. One pack of cigarettes per day shortens life by 10 to 13 years. It also diminishes our strength as we age. Drugs shorten life even more. No wonder the Lord provided a health law in every dispensation.
My young friends, the Lord’s Atonement and Resurrection affirm the importance of the physical body. May we understand and respect the important roles that it plays in mortality and in eternity.
Intelligence, or Light and Truth
The second grand purpose in mortality is the acquisition of intelligence, or light and truth (see D&C 93:36). The dictionary defines intelligence as “the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.”5 The Lord’s definition, though, is a little bit different. He defines intelligence with an additional element. It is not only “the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge” but the wisdom to use it righteously. In the Lord’s words, “Light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93:37).
Light is an attribute of Deity. The Apostle John stated that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Jesus stated that He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12). The gospel is a message of light (see D&C 45:9). A key mortal objective for all of God’s children is the acquisition of light—to become more like Him. We are to prove ourselves in mortality through obedience to His commandments. And then the reward is added glory or light (see Abraham 3:25–26). The Doctrine and Covenants records, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
The Lord has provided two sources of spiritual light. The first is the Light of Christ. This light is given to every person so that he or she “may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:15–16; see also John 1:9; D&C 84:46). The second source is the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is bestowed on members of the Church. The Holy Ghost has many gifts that enlighten and strengthen us, especially in our testimony of Jesus Christ, but also in other ways.
Three Spiritual Paths
There are three different spiritual paths that one may take through life. The upper path leads to the celestial kingdom. As noted earlier, those on this path receive more and more light throughout life. This is because they “are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide” (D&C 45:57).
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized . . .
. . . and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of . . . hands. . . .
They are they . . . who have received of his fulness, and of his glory. [D&C 76:51–52, 56]
These individuals learn from both the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ. The celestial curve rises rapidly for young members of the Church because baptism and the promptings of the Holy Ghost over a period of years bring significant light to an individual.
The second path leads to the terrestrial kingdom. There is spiritual growth along this path as well, but the trajectory falls short of what might have been. Along this middle path, men and women accept and learn from the Light of Christ but not from the Holy Ghost. They
are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.
These are they who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness. [D&C 76:75–76]
The third, or bottom, path leads to the telestial kingdom. The travelers on this road reject even the Light of Christ as well as the Holy Ghost. They cheat, steal, commit adultery, and love to make a lie (see D&C 76:103). Although they will receive telestial glory in the Resurrection, these individuals lose light during mortality. In Paul’s words, they have “their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2) and do not respond to the promptings of the Light of Christ.
The Effects of Sin
Now let us examine the effects of sin. Suppose one is traveling on the celestial path and commits a sin. The effect is a loss of light.6 Embracing evil lowers the trajectory of one’s path as the Holy Spirit withdraws. Is it possible to return to the upper road? Yes, one may return through the process of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance. Suppose someone steals another person’s wallet. What must be done to reverse the course and climb to the higher road? A recognition of the sin, a feeling of remorse, asking for the person’s and the Lord’s forgiveness, expressing regret, returning the wallet, and refraining from further sin will start one’s return to the upper path. It will take time to prove oneself, but it is possible to remove the effects of the sin through faith in the Lord’s Atonement.
Now, consider another circumstance much more serious. Suppose through fornication a young man and a young woman rob each other of their virtue. The loss of light is greater here than in the case of the wallet’s theft. Can these young people return to the celestial path? Yes, it is possible, but how is it done? How do they become clean again? The young man cannot return virtue to the young woman, nor can the woman return virtue to the man. The only person who can renew their virtue is the Lord. He is the only one with the capacity to restore virtue and cleanse the young people.
What are the conditions? Obviously it is not enough for the young people to forgive each other and refrain in the future. They must build a relationship with the Lord, beginning with a confession to the bishop. They must seek the Lord’s forgiveness and earn His trust! It will take time and faith and effort on their part to be whole again. Thankfully the Holy Spirit will return and lead them back to the higher road as they partake of the fruits of the Atonement through their faith and diligence in keeping the commandments.
Brothers and sisters, it is important to stay on the celestial path. Respect your bodies and refrain from sin, and the added light you receive through mortality will stay with you and will be yours in the world to come (see D&C 130:18–19).
The third great purpose of mortality is to marry and initiate one’s own eternal family. President Hinckley has stated that there is nothing more precious than one’s family.7 In the recent worldwide satellite broadcast on the family, Elder L. Tom Perry quoted from a booklet known as the Family Guidebook. It states: “The family is the basic unit of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the most important social unit in time and eternity.”8
Joseph Smith taught:
Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection.9
The family proclamation states that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and . . . the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”10
Why are marriage and family so important? Elder David A. Bednar in the recent worldwide satellite broadcast gave two doctrinal reasons. The first is: “The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation.”11 That’s why Peter said the man and the woman are heirs together of eternal life (see 1 Peter 3:7). And Paul said that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). “By divine design, both a man and a woman are needed to bring children into mortality and to provide the best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children.”12
Men and women complement each other physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. We have different strengths, and a righteous marriage is a partnership in which spiritual growth is enhanced because of the differences between the man and the woman.
The family is the ideal setting for teaching children. Father and mother are important role models. Children’s self-respect and identity are shaped by the love their father and mother have for each other and for them. The home and family are where children experience the bonds of love, where they learn virtue, honesty, and good citizenship. The home is where children learn respect for other people. In other words, the family is the ideal organization for the spiritual growth of both parents and children.
The world’s view of marriage and family is different from ours. Generally those of the world see marriage as a temporal association, a short-term relationship. For some the purpose is mostly individual pleasure and satisfaction. When difficult times occur, the incentives to maintain the association diminish, and the relationship is often terminated. More and more adults are choosing not even to marry but to live together without a formal relationship. Needless to say, their associations are the shortest of all.
Three Kinds of Relationships
There are differences between (1) no marriage, (2) a civil marriage, and (3) a marriage for time and eternity. The first is the association between a man and a woman when there is no contract. The two individuals live together but stand apart. The promises shared are limited, and there is no formal connection between them. Nothing but personal satisfaction seems to be their goal. Because a contract does not exist, children born in this circumstance have little security. The relationship is fragile, and duration is almost always short.
Second is a civil marriage. Promises are made between the man and the woman as a result of the marriage contract. They promise to care for each other until death parts them. The contract is recognized by civil authority. The children have some security because of the intent of the parents and the promises made. Unfortunately, more and more civil marriages are falling by the wayside as people break those promises. In many circumstances, broken promises leave men, women, and children destitute.
Third is a marriage for time and eternity. This relationship is established by a sacred covenant between the man, the woman, and the Lord. The woman covenants with the man and the man covenants with the woman, and the two together covenant with the Lord. In these covenant promises the man promises the woman that he will honor and care for her and that no one will come between them. “No one” includes father, mother, friends, and certainly another woman. He also promises the Lord that he will live the gospel and treat the woman with the respect she deserves. Similar promises are made by the woman to the man and then to the Lord. Finally, the Lord extends marvelous promises to the man and woman and their posterity based on their faithfulness.
This triangular relationship is much more stable. When understood, these potentially infinite relationships increase confidence, deepen commitments, and give greater strength to the marriage. Notice that the closer the man and the woman come to the Lord, the closer they come to each other. The secret in marriage is to live the gospel and turn the triangle into an eternal circle.
The eternal family is one of three great gifts of mortality. Your stage in life, both physically and spiritually, is designed for you to initiate it. You have the Holy Ghost to guide you in these important decisions. But you must make the choice. The Holy Ghost will not make it for you. That is not His responsibility, nor will He rob you of your agency. The Holy Ghost will, however, bring peace to your soul when you make a good decision.
Brothers and sisters, remember the great gifts of mortality: the physical body, additional light, and the eternal family. These gifts are sacred. May the Lord bless you during this wonderful phase of life that is yours to live so that you may receive all three of these great promises in their fulness. It is my prayer that the Lord will bless you to this end, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Merrill J. Bateman was a member of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given on 5 March 2006.
1. Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, August 2005, 6.
2. Teachings, 181.
3. See The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character (CES fireside for young adults, 2 February 2003).
4. See William D. McArdle, Frank I. Katch, and Victor L. Katch, Essentials of Exercise Physiology, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins, 2000), 558.
5. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “intelligence,” 682.
6. See Teachings, 67; 2 Nephi 28:30.
7. See Gordon B. Hinckley, “Rejoicing in the Privilege to Serve,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 21 June 2003 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), 22.
8. “Organization and Purpose of the Family,” Family Guidebook (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001), 1.
9. Teachings, 300–301.
10. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.
11. David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Supporting the Family, 11 February 2006 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006), 3.
12. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential,” 4.
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