The Artist Alive

Explorations in Music, Art & Theology

Course instructors considering a book for adoption will be provided a complimentary copy.
$29.95
Digital Books

A singular and stunning achievement. This book is equally attuned to the potent creativity of the human spirit as well as the prophetic call to forge right-relationships with God, self, and others. Pramuk’s text is original and unforgettable; it is also accessible, insightful, and captivating. It will engage students in practicing wonder and awe, cultivating deeper empathy and respect, and sparking greater curiosity, joy, and hope. It will empower instructors to more effectively present the relevance, meaning, and urgency of enkindling spirituality, thinking theologically, and expanding our imagination of what more is possible for being human—together. This the exact kind of text we need to initiate and sustain reflection and discernment, conversation and commitment to act in order to be ever more attentive and responsive to the work of the Spirit in our midst.

Marcus Mescher
Xavier University

Christopher Pramuk’s deft, utterly unique, theological and literary voice is in beautiful harmony with all the musicians and other artists he lovingly and brilliantly looks into.

Fr. William Hart McNichols
Painter, Illustrator, Iconographer

With his signature spiritual depth and cultural humility, Christopher Pramuk invites readers of his latest book to participate in meaning-making through engagement with the arts, and with music in particular. Pramuk lives in the imagination that one is transformed, for good or ill, by the company one keeps. Readers are introduced to some of the guests with whom Pramuk has shared hospitality in his own interior spaces—the musicians who have formed him, as well as the thinkers who have informed him. Without any hint of patronizing, the author nurtures readers, brooding like a hen over an egg, attending to the reader’s well-being so that as members of society, we may live into healthier, even holier, lives of meaning—into persons awakened, indeed, into artists alive. Engaging with Thomas Merton as well as other prophetic voices who respond with encouragement in times of ‘endless war, crushing poverty, and horrific violence,’ Pramuk’s book is filled with practical insights and ample resources for teaching and discussing such things as paying attention, struggling for holiness, and uniting the secular with the sacred. Pramuk’s latest offering is itself a work of wonder, resistance, and hope.

Kim Vrudny
Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas

Christopher Pramuk shows with teacherly care how popular art, especially music, opens the way to transformation of self and society. This inviting book will be compelling reading for those who seek Christian meanings of artistry in ordinary life. The Artist Alive empowers readers not only to appreciate the Christian significance of everyday art, but to become artists in their own right who can learn new ways of Christian experiencing.

Tom Beaudoin
Professor of Religion, Fordham University

Christopher Pramuk’s The Artist Alive is a multivalent exploration of how the popular arts hold the potential to transform consciousness. It is also a profound investigation for people of all ages into the transformative power of art in its myriad forms. I envy the young people who have the privilege of sitting in Chris’s classes, where theology is taught not as a series of propositions or doctrines, but as the existential basis of all genuine religion that ties us to planet Earth by opening us to mystery, “radical amazement,” and compassion. Pramuk’s book establishes that everyone has access to a common core of creative power from which abundant life, “aliveness,” pours continuously in a living stream despite the sorrows, injustices, suffering and brokenness we all experience. This is a book that takes a hard look at the world of our times yet offers hope. Enter its pages and find yourself recovering “beginner’s mind,” checking out YouTube recordings of your favorite artists, discovering new ones, moving and grooving to a deeper music that enables the mind to slowly descend into the heart and make the world a better place. As Pramuk puts it, “[T]his is one of our most urgent and beautiful tasks today: to teach to the imaginations of young people, to feed their wonder, to dare them to imagine, in spite of it all, a future of peace.”

Susan McCaslin
Poet, Author of Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine

Christopher Pramuk asks, “Can art be a vehicle of hope, stirring that wondrous if elusive capacity in human beings to imagine a more just, humane, and joyful future?” Pramuk does not take an easy path to answer the question. He probes topics that have been the source of deep questions and divisions: sexuality, race, technology, death, and our search for love and identity.

His approach is contemplative, seeking to listen attentively to a song or gaze deeply into a painting, carefully teasing out how it illuminates human experience or points towards a deeper reality. Yet Pramuk’s approach is simultaneously communal, consistently inviting us to listen to the music, read the story, view the art, and note our own responses prior to reading his. It is an invitation to be fellow pilgrims, to bring our insights and experiences into play with the author’s. He is not offering definitive answers, but opportunities to open our restricted imaginations.

Pramuk crosses the boundaries of time, culture, and genre to explore each topic. One chapter brings into conversation the music of the Indigo Girls, letters and poems of Rilke, and the Song of Songs, to explore sexuality, love, and identity. The uniqueness of Pramuk’s approach, however, goes beyond his method and sources. His carefully crafted prose weaves sources, questions, and insights into a rich tapestry of love and hope, crafting a poetic and imaginative theological vision, a work of art in its own right.

Paul Pynkoski
Member, International Thomas Merton Society

A profound and beautiful book, The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art & Theology allows us entry into the contemplative classroom of a gifted teacher. Drawing skillfully on religious and philosophical insights from a range of diverse traditions and perspectives, Christopher Pramuk allows us to experience musical and visual works of both popular and classic art—the Song of Songs to Pink Floyd—as “texts” or doorways through which the creative and spiritual dynamism inherent in each of us might be awakened. For those who seek such an awakening, The Artist Alive will be a treasured companion.

Wendy M. Wright
Professor Emeritas of Theology, Creighton University

About This Book

Overview

Are songwriters, painters, filmmakers, and other artists modern-day prophets in society and church? Can art be a vehicle of hope, stirring that wondrous if elusive capacity in human beings to imagine a more just, humane, and joyful future?

Through critical and contemplative engagement with classics in music, film, literature, and visual arts, Christopher Pramuk’s The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art & Theology invites us to explore these and other questions. Attentive to the deep longings of the human and spiritual journey, Pramuk posits the arts as a doorway into the life of spirit and sacred presence. Rather than proposing “answers,” he outlines a way of seeing, hearing, and praying through some of life’s most enduring spiritual and theological questions. With more than a dozen case studies featuring various artists, prompts for contemplative practices, and a focus on today’s most urgent social and spiritual issues, The Artist Alive weaves a spirituality of wonder, resistance, and hope: a prophetic response to the utilitarian, militarized, marketplace vision of reality that bears down upon and dehumanizes so many in our time. Through loving examination of artists and their art, Pramuk convincingly conveys the possibility of a more humane and joyful way of being in the world.

Details

Weight .8 lbs
Dimensions 9 × .5 × 6 in
Print ISBN

978-1-59982-838-1

Format

Softcover

Pages

324

Item # 7090

Customer Reviews

A singular and stunning achievement. This book is equally attuned to the potent creativity of the human spirit as well as the prophetic call to forge right-relationships with God, self, and others. Pramuk’s text is original and unforgettable; it is also accessible, insightful, and captivating. It will engage students in practicing wonder and awe, cultivating deeper empathy and respect, and sparking greater curiosity, joy, and hope. It will empower instructors to more effectively present the relevance, meaning, and urgency of enkindling spirituality, thinking theologically, and expanding our imagination of what more is possible for being human—together. This the exact kind of text we need to initiate and sustain reflection and discernment, conversation and commitment to act in order to be ever more attentive and responsive to the work of the Spirit in our midst.

Marcus Mescher
Xavier University

Christopher Pramuk’s deft, utterly unique, theological and literary voice is in beautiful harmony with all the musicians and other artists he lovingly and brilliantly looks into.

Fr. William Hart McNichols
Painter, Illustrator, Iconographer

With his signature spiritual depth and cultural humility, Christopher Pramuk invites readers of his latest book to participate in meaning-making through engagement with the arts, and with music in particular. Pramuk lives in the imagination that one is transformed, for good or ill, by the company one keeps. Readers are introduced to some of the guests with whom Pramuk has shared hospitality in his own interior spaces—the musicians who have formed him, as well as the thinkers who have informed him. Without any hint of patronizing, the author nurtures readers, brooding like a hen over an egg, attending to the reader’s well-being so that as members of society, we may live into healthier, even holier, lives of meaning—into persons awakened, indeed, into artists alive. Engaging with Thomas Merton as well as other prophetic voices who respond with encouragement in times of ‘endless war, crushing poverty, and horrific violence,’ Pramuk’s book is filled with practical insights and ample resources for teaching and discussing such things as paying attention, struggling for holiness, and uniting the secular with the sacred. Pramuk’s latest offering is itself a work of wonder, resistance, and hope.

Kim Vrudny
Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas

Christopher Pramuk shows with teacherly care how popular art, especially music, opens the way to transformation of self and society. This inviting book will be compelling reading for those who seek Christian meanings of artistry in ordinary life. The Artist Alive empowers readers not only to appreciate the Christian significance of everyday art, but to become artists in their own right who can learn new ways of Christian experiencing.

Tom Beaudoin
Professor of Religion, Fordham University

Christopher Pramuk’s The Artist Alive is a multivalent exploration of how the popular arts hold the potential to transform consciousness. It is also a profound investigation for people of all ages into the transformative power of art in its myriad forms. I envy the young people who have the privilege of sitting in Chris’s classes, where theology is taught not as a series of propositions or doctrines, but as the existential basis of all genuine religion that ties us to planet Earth by opening us to mystery, “radical amazement,” and compassion. Pramuk’s book establishes that everyone has access to a common core of creative power from which abundant life, “aliveness,” pours continuously in a living stream despite the sorrows, injustices, suffering and brokenness we all experience. This is a book that takes a hard look at the world of our times yet offers hope. Enter its pages and find yourself recovering “beginner’s mind,” checking out YouTube recordings of your favorite artists, discovering new ones, moving and grooving to a deeper music that enables the mind to slowly descend into the heart and make the world a better place. As Pramuk puts it, “[T]his is one of our most urgent and beautiful tasks today: to teach to the imaginations of young people, to feed their wonder, to dare them to imagine, in spite of it all, a future of peace.”

Susan McCaslin
Poet, Author of Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine

Christopher Pramuk asks, “Can art be a vehicle of hope, stirring that wondrous if elusive capacity in human beings to imagine a more just, humane, and joyful future?” Pramuk does not take an easy path to answer the question. He probes topics that have been the source of deep questions and divisions: sexuality, race, technology, death, and our search for love and identity.

His approach is contemplative, seeking to listen attentively to a song or gaze deeply into a painting, carefully teasing out how it illuminates human experience or points towards a deeper reality. Yet Pramuk’s approach is simultaneously communal, consistently inviting us to listen to the music, read the story, view the art, and note our own responses prior to reading his. It is an invitation to be fellow pilgrims, to bring our insights and experiences into play with the author’s. He is not offering definitive answers, but opportunities to open our restricted imaginations.

Pramuk crosses the boundaries of time, culture, and genre to explore each topic. One chapter brings into conversation the music of the Indigo Girls, letters and poems of Rilke, and the Song of Songs, to explore sexuality, love, and identity. The uniqueness of Pramuk’s approach, however, goes beyond his method and sources. His carefully crafted prose weaves sources, questions, and insights into a rich tapestry of love and hope, crafting a poetic and imaginative theological vision, a work of art in its own right.

Paul Pynkoski
Member, International Thomas Merton Society

A profound and beautiful book, The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art & Theology allows us entry into the contemplative classroom of a gifted teacher. Drawing skillfully on religious and philosophical insights from a range of diverse traditions and perspectives, Christopher Pramuk allows us to experience musical and visual works of both popular and classic art—the Song of Songs to Pink Floyd—as “texts” or doorways through which the creative and spiritual dynamism inherent in each of us might be awakened. For those who seek such an awakening, The Artist Alive will be a treasured companion.

Wendy M. Wright
Professor Emeritas of Theology, Creighton University

About the Author

Christopher Pramuk

Christopher Pramuk is an associate professor of theology and the University Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University in Denver. He received his PhD in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame and is the recipient of several teaching awards, including the Monika K. Hellwig Award for Teaching Excellence, granted by the College Theology Society.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

Seeds of Awareness

1          “I Asked for Wonder”

Rediscovering the Artistic Spirit

2          “Us and Them”

Pink Floyd: Empathy, Alienation and Madness in Post-War Europe

3          “Back to the Garden”

Joni Mitchell and Bruce Cockburn: Poets of the Canadian Counterculture

4          “Life Out of Balance”

Jean Giono and Godfrey Reggio: Earth and the Technological Milieu

5          “Joy Inside My Tears”

Stevie Wonder and John Howard Griffin: Resistance and Celebration Down at Street Level

6          “In the Wind We Hear Their Laughter”

Billie Holiday, Peter Gabriel and U2: Communion with the Dead

7          “Love’s Discovery”

Indigo Girls and the Song of Songs: Friendship, Sexuality, and the Yearning to Belong

8          “Images that Return Our Love”

William Hart McNichols: A Theology in Lines and Colors

9          “A Dream of Life”

Bruce Springsteen: Light at the Edges of Darkness

Conclusion

A New Kind of Humanity

Appendices

A         Discussion Board Posts and “Set the Table”

B          Structuring Classroom Activities

C         An Ignatian Guide to Listening and Journaling

D         Guidelines for Team Presentation

E         Art and Spirituality Paper

Index

Professional Reviews

The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art, and Theology. By Christopher

Pramuk. Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2019. 324 pages. $29.95 (paper).

The Artist Alive shows us a passionate teacher of undergraduates drawing his students into a course about knowing and understanding social and cultural injustices and their potentially transformative demands on us. The book is an emotionally intense journey through the motivation driving this course and the material used in it. Pramuk draws students into the course experience through popular music, with briefer excursions into modern Christian icon making, literature, and film. The music, beloved of the author, is apparently a powerful means of engaging students, though the general reader may be less moved by, for example, Pink Floyd and less ready to consider popular lyrics compelling poetry.

Pramuk describes the book’s chapters as a series of “case studies,” each about a particular artist and his or her work as used in the class, and about the way the work helps us see into societal and personal reality. Appendices A through E are descriptions and directions for student activities and class work.

The author makes many connections between the work of the artists considered and theology, often presenting art as a means of theological understanding. Artists’ concerns and intentions, and the responses of listeners, viewers, and readers, are often laid alongside biblical texts. Meetings of art and theology are usually seen in the light of Christian, often Ignatian Catholic, insight and challenge.

The author suggests that the arts are “pre-religious” (16) and that they can “prepare the way” for “the experience and language of grace” and “the mystery of the divine” (17). This is a common but problematic way of connecting the arts and Christian theology. Defining the artist and the arts as servants of religion tames and controls the meeting of the two disciplines.Both are human attempts to make meaning out of experience andperception, including experiences and perceptions of God. Releasing both theology and art from Pramuk’s “served” and “servant” preconception letsthem simply meet on the thin and mysterious boundary between them. There they cast often disconcerting light on each other, they wrestle, they dance together, they shout each other down, they sing together, as only equals can. This kind of meeting offers more to a project like Pramuk’s book than the hierarchical conception of art as a servant of theology.

As I write, people across the world are protesting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and demanding societal change and racial justice. Many of these protests are organized and led by student-age people. Pramuk’s course and book can nurture this sort of courage, drawing students away from the cultural lure of technological selfabsorption, into the gloriously and horrifyingly human world where we survive and flourish only face to face, heart to heart, body to body, standing against whatever would divide us. As students meet the commitment of artists, religious people, and others who fight injustice and change culture, they are offered hope and ground on which to stand in their chosen struggles. Pramuk has given us a highly personal and compelling example of teaching that offers time and room to see, to fall in love with, and finally to take one’s place in human pain and beauty. He helps his students and readers understand that our pain and beauty are where our joys and responsibilities are opened to us, the only place where we can confront the question of God and the lifelong urgency of bringing justice and making meaning.

JUDITH ROCK

Independent Scholar

 

Judith Rock
Independent Scholar
3/21/2021

Anselm Academic, May 2019.

324 pages. $29.95. Paperback. ISBN 9781599828381.

 Christopher Pramuk’s The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art and Theology grew out of the author’s teaching activities, and its organization corresponds to an introduction to the topic of music and theology. In the past when this subject has been addressed, the various musical eras and their relation to theology have been given the most consideration, whereas in this study a conscious decision has been made to select secular contemporary music. The author examines, among others, songs by Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday, Indigo Girls, and Bruce Springsteen. Pramuk writes, “This book is an invitation to explore some of the deepest questions rising from the human spiritual and social journey as mediated by artistic voices in both popular and religious culture” (10).

“The Art Spirit” (Robert Henri) propagates the general comprehensibility of art and opens up a different perception of reality. Pramuk starts from the premise of a possible “surplus of meanings.” This term is known from modern metaphor theory; in the discussion of music theory the postulated surplus is not only considered logocentrically, but also both as imaginary potential (one makes music) and reception aesthetic (one listens to music). Making music and listening to music constantly manifests the “play of imagination” in the aesthetic cognitive process (according to Immanuel Kant), which always takes place as a symbolic process in a societal framework. The theological question in postmodern times is no longer whether one believes in God, but whom one has faith in and how. Reality can thus be opened up for a spiritual dimension under the conditions of modernity.

The author employs the term “real presence,” coined by George Steiner in his classic study on aesthetic philosophy. The works introduced and interpreted by the author are presented, on the one hand, considering the aspect of art production by providing an analysis of the immanent characteristics of the work; and, on the other, they are interpreted in terms of the aesthetic reception of the audience. The author’s starting point is a view of the artifact encompassing three dimensions: the world within the text, the world behind the text, and the world in front of the text.

This triad opens up the possibility of an interaction between music, art, and theology. This method ties into the fundamental debate in music theory about how text and sound relate to each other. This question is new and interesting for the Catholic tradition of (church) music insofar as the school always propagated the primacy of the word over music (Gregorian chants can be considered a classic example of this approach). Thus, modern theology has completed a paradigm shift, which was received by the Second Vatican Council. In the modern age one assumes text and sound are independent but complement each other in harmony (!), yet without competing with each other.

The author illustrates this relation using songs by Bruce Springsteen that came about in the context of the drama of 9/11 in New York. In the face of this apocalyptic scenario, he speaks and sings about a “dream of life,” wanting to bring a little light into the darkness though music and text. Theology, literature, and music are social and intercommunicative media to broach the transcendence in immanence. The religious symbols and languages thereby open themselves up for an intercultural and interreligious point of view. Theology is, like literature, a business of interpretation. The “experienced theologian” (Martin Luther) is ultimately an interpreter. Pramuk opens his final chapter with a love poem by Persian poet Hāfis (“How did the rose ever open its heart?”).

This book can be read for multiple purposes: on the one hand, it is suitable reading for the fundamental issues of an aesthetic theology of music, and on the other it can be used as a manual for the teaching of these same topics. In appendixes Pramuk provides assistance for a didactic and pedagogical implementation of the topics for schools, university studies, and in further education. Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” and Matthias Claudius’s poem Der Mond ist aufgegangen (The moon has risen) show the polyvalent dimension of human reality, which is to be understood as the starting point for spiritual considerations.

Finally, it should also be noted that the author of this work has been inspired by Ignatian spirituality, which is exemplified in his statement: “To form ‘a new kind of humanity that is musical’ has to do with the careful attunement of silence and speech, contemplation and action, active listening and creative expression—in a word the art of spiritual discernment” (281).

About the Reviewer(s): 

Wolfgang W. Müller holds a professorship of dogmatic theology at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland.

Date of Review: 

March 11, 2021

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Christopher Pramuk is an associate professor of theology and the University Chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination at Regis University in Denver. He received his PhD in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame and is the recipient of several teaching awards, including the Monika K. Hellwig Award for Teaching Excellence, granted by the College Theology Society.

 

Wolfgan W. Müller
University of Lucerne, Switzerland.
3/11/2021

Theological Studies, Vol. 81, 2020

 The Artist Alive: Explorations in Music, Art & Theology. By Christopher Pramuk.

Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2019. Pp. 324. $29.95.

Early in this book, Pramuk quotes a student’s first reaction to hearing Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon: “To try to explain the impact of the album would be fruitless because then one would start to sound like a textbook” (41). Her response captures a guiding conviction of P.’s project—that through the arts we can encounter the ineffable that is likewise at the heart of theology. P. has, throughout his award-winning teaching career, incorporated the arts to facilitate this encounter, especially in his popular course, “Music, Art, and Theology.” This book, which could serve as an instructor’s handbook or a textbook for such a course, guides us through this master class with the impassioned prose of a captivating teacher (not the dull drone of that dreaded textbook author!).

The book is pragmatically structured for classroom use. Across the introduction and first chapter, readers learn of the author’s underlying epistemological framework and the theological convictions that animate it. Each person possesses the “seeds of an eternal loving Presence,” and our capacity for wonder and amazement evince this (37). Perceiving this ineffable Presence is, however, a matter of disposition, which can atrophy. P. believes that art not only expresses wonder but can also cultivate a disposition of perceiving “beyond the usual” (34). Indeed, he posits that, “More than 250 Theological Studies 81(1) our scholars and theologians, and certainly more than our politicians and daily newsmakers, it is the world’s artists who can help us reclaim the will to wonder, and so enkindle hope” (37).

P. illustrates this through the “case studies” featured in chapters 2 through 9. Each applies the framework of his early chapters to analyze a work or works of art. While music is featured most frequently (e.g., songs from Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Indigo Girls, Bruce Springsteen), P. engages a range of artwork that includes fiction, film, poetry, and iconography from various US and international cultural contexts.

Readers need not be aficionados to follow along. Through his use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical triad of looking “behind,” “within,” and “in front of” the “text,” P. provides an abundance of information to consider as readers innovate and weigh interpretations. Interwoven biblical, philosophical, and theological ideas (e.g., from Charles Taylor, A. J. Heschel, Merton, J. B. Metz) invite readers to link the artist’s perspective to the astonishment, outrage, and hope of theologians who witness to God’s presence and absence in the world, too. Listed at each chapter’s conclusion are additional resources that supply readers and potential instructors with ideas for expanding or changing up each case study. Appendices on classroom activities and assignment ideas aid this too.

Across the case studies, why P. esteems the arts as a medium for cultivating and converting perception becomes clear: art reaches beyond reason to engage the aesthetic and affective dimensions of human life. P.’s frequent association of the artistic and theological disposition with “empathy” suggests that only a cultivated capacity to feel as and with the other can rightly attune a person to the world as it is and should be. This conviction runs throughout chapter 5, where P. explores the music of Stevie Wonder, for example. Even as P. acknowledges the potential empathic impasses born of racial segregation and injustice, he elucidates from Wonder’s life and work a universal call to extend empathy beyond that which “preempt[s] the possibility of love,” “no matter what your racial identity or history” (126). P.’s passion for cultivating empathy is timely amid a wider, growing interest in empathy as an anecdote to societal polarization, but he does not assuage all doubts about what a universal call to empathy might mask. I left chapter 5 wondering whether P. sufficiently accounts for the disproportionate consequences incurred by African Americans as a result of mutual misperceptions “across the color line.” P. would surely agree that the limits of white empathy have had more dire collective consequences than those of the African American community, though this goes unsaid in the otherwise careful chapter.

That the world urgently needs the clear-eyed criticism and hopeful imagination of the artist is another of P.’s arguments. His case studies persuasively show the capacity of art to name and indict distortive cultural imaginaries that foster unsatisfying lives and social injustice. Many desire to address such realities in the classroom: the banality of war, the plight of refugees, ecological devastation, the perils of the modern technological milieu, racial injustice, violent sexual mores, cis- and heteronormativity. To this end, instructors could choose particular case studies for use in a class on one of these topics. Chapter 3’s stirring analysis of Jean Giono’s story, “The Man Who Planted Trees,” and filmmaker Godrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy, could serve discussions on Book Reviews 251 capitalism, technology, or our ecological crisis, for example. Whether instructors utilize this plentiful resource selectively or adopt it all together, theological education will be more wonder-filled for it.

Jessica Coblentz

Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN

Jessica Coblentz
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN
5/13/2020

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