Tag Archives: soul

Pre-Existent Soul?

After studying a glimpse of Theology, I’ve come to realise that the most important prerequisite which one needs to seriously study the Faith is Christian Philosophy.

Why? Because Philosophy is the LANGUAGE in which God uses to communicate Revelation to us. One cannot do Bible Exegesis without at least a basic understanding of Aristotelian Metaphysics.

Just this afternoon, a friend in one of my group chats made a ‘theologically’ incorrect statement which was innocent by nature, but actually disastrous to the Christian Faith. He said, “Oh, back in 1980 I wasn’t on earth yet. My soul was still floating around in heaven.”

This is why Metaphysics is crucial. Such statements reflect the lack of understanding in even the most fundamental ideas of our Faith. I immediately corrected him and said that we do NOT have pre-existing souls. It is in fact, a heresy from the early 4th Century!

The notion of us having pre-existent souls would imply Reincarnation, or that God sent us to earth as if it were some sort of test. It is completely incompatible with Christianity.

“If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema.” (Second Council of Constantinople)

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Originally posted on Instagram.
Image: PD-US

Fully Human: Body and Soul United

the soul soaks the body like a strong savour, and does not merely inhabit it like a hat in a hat-box.
—G. K. Chesterton, “The Moral Collapse of Modern Germany” (February 17, 1917)

I believe … in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
The Apostles’ Creed

An anti-racism video came up on my newsfeed:

See, when I drive my car, no one would ever confuse the car for me. Well, when I drive my body, why do you confuse me for my body? It’s my body. Get it. Not me.

Let me break it down. See, our bodies are just cars that we operate and drive around. The dealership we call society decided to label mine the “black edition.” Yours the “Irish” or “white edition.” And with no money down, 0% APR, and no test drive, we were forced to own these cars for the rest of our lives.

Forgive me, but I fail to see the logic or pride in defining myself or judging another by the cars we drive, because who we truly are is found inside.

Prince Ea, “I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White.

A nice sentiment, but simply untrue.*

It reminded me of the Carolyn Arends song, I Am a Soul:

“I have a body, but I am a soul

I see a fraction, it’s not the whole

I cannot prove it, but still I know

I have a body… I am a soul.”

This Cartesian dualism can seem really appealing, but it is a rather dangerous wrong-headed neo-Gnostic concept that ultimately denies the beautiful gift of our human nature.
For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul’s manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the “true self” standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self.
Bishop Robert Barron, “Bruce Jenner, the ‘Shadow Council,’ and St. Irenaeus

Christians need to be mindful… that they are embodied creatures with the promise of an embodied resurrection. Jesus incarnated in a body and resurrected with a body, so Christians should be careful about minimizing their own.
Hannah Peckham, “‘You Don’t Have a Soul’: C.S. Lewis Never Said It

We Are Enfleshed Souls

Why do people who struggle with anorexia, transgenderism or body dysmorphic disorder long so much to modify their bodies to sync with their thoughts and feelings? The body is not simply an expression of oneself, but an integral part of one’s self.

Erroneous dualist thinking has also crept into how people treat their bodies and view the gift of sex. A cousin of mine defended the practice of cohabiting, saying that people ought to be able to “test-drive the car before marriage.” Would you like your beloved to treat you like a car? It is downright insulting and abusive to treat people as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved.

As Ryan Kraeger wrote recently,

…of all the creatures in the universe, we are the only ones who can worship God freely by physical actions. This is why the Church places so much store in physical morality, over and against the Manichean heresies that claimed that what the body does did not matter, because it was mere matter and the spirit was separate from it.

When we die, our bodies are treated with respect because they are part of our selves. They’re not empty vessels to be casually tossed aside or used as fertilizer. They are marvels of Creation, formed carefully in the womb with unique, unrepeatable DNA and ensouled from the moment of conception. They are made by Love and for Love, and will be resurrected in glory.

If humans were really only souls, why do people get so creeped out by ghosts? Just as we know that a body without its soul is incomplete, so do we sense that souls without bodies are lacking. They’re just not right.

Returning to Prince Ea’s contention: racism isn’t combated by pretending our bodies are mere accidents which can be ignored. That cheapens our view of humanity. No—racism is defeated when we are able to love everyone deeply and completely, body and soul united, seeing the goodness and humanity in each particular person as a whole being.

Incarnating Christ in Every Race and CultureMatteo Ricci, SJ

Jesus Christ chose a particular human body and culture in which to be incarnated, humbly undergoing Jewish practices like circumcision, and choosing to be baptized. By humbling Himself to become man, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity not only restored but transfigured human nature, universal and particular. St. Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” We are each called to manifest Christ to the world, without losing our individuality, but rather, performing the paradox of truly fulfilling it while completely identifying with others.

The saints have incarnated Christ in every culture, not brushing aside their visible characteristics as superficial, but incorporating these physical traits into their ministry. Mother Teresa, born Macedonian-Albanian, chose to clothe herself and her order in saris, the cultural dress of the Indians they served in Calcutta. Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuit mathematicians and scientists dressed as mandarins when they went to China in the 16th century, having thoroughly studied Chinese philosophy and culture.

Modern-day folk may decry this as cultural appropriation. But cultural appropriation involves taking a tradition and using it without respecting its original meaning and context, like secular celebrations of Christmas, Hallowe’en, and St. Valentine’s Day (or Protestants taking the Bible without caring about its liturgical origins). Cultural appropriation impoverishes a tradition, hollowing and distorting it into a wretched shadow of itself.

Inculturation, on the other hand, is a harmonious blend of previously separate cultures, as in Peranakan culture, where Chinese in the Malay archipelago have combined Chinese, Malay and European customs to form a unique and rich culture of their own. It is not an artificial mix, but a genuine fusion that has developed over time, and continues to develop anew. One now thinks of sipping tea as very British, but it was a Chinese beverage initially frowned upon in England. Through inculturation, traditions are mutually enriched in a happy marriage which creates wonderful offspring. (We Chinese never used to put milk in tea! And now, thanks to Taiwan, there’s boba/bubble tea.)

So let us love everything good in this physical world, neither dismissing it as superficial nor clinging to it as an idol but appreciating all things in their proper place, facets of the glorious Kingdom of God.

The hylomorphic understanding of human nature is founded on the observation that human nature is essentially of a different order from that of a living animal or a non-living thing.
Hylomorphic metaphysics contends that, to account for freedom and rationality, there must be a principle for human activity, a form transcending the physical and having a non-material source. As only the acting person is the agent, this principle does not constitute a separate substance; it is therefore a functional principle of being and acting, bestowing unity and of personhood in which the mental and the physical are perfectly integrated.
Aristotle named this principle of activity as ‘the rational principle’ or ‘the soul.’
—Andrew Mullins, The Battle to Reclaim Free Will

How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints!
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

When Fr. Michael Sweeney first came to our parish, a young and brilliant Thomist who was full of ideas and ready to talk High Theology, he came to Fr. Fulton’s room and was going to impress him with something Big Thoughts about Ecclesiology. Before he could get a word out, Fr. Fulton said, “My dear boy, what do you think about cats?” Fr. Michael was flummoxed. Years later, at his funeral, Fr. Michael remarked that he himself had been focused on abstractions, but Fr. Fulton was focused on real things: cats, for instance. And this was the heart of Thomism, the belief that God made and redeemed a real and concrete world though making the Word flesh.
—Mark Shea, Getting broken has been strangely good

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* boyinaband takes apart Prince Ea’s videos.

Image: Jesuit Resource Page

Bags of Water

By guest writer Jason K.

From a purely scientific point of view, we are all slightly-discolored bags of water, contaminated with a smattering of minerals and various carbon-based organic compounds. These carbon-based compounds are in turn wondrously-complex. Query any chemist on the likelihood of these appearing by chance on the street, and he would maintain that their existence in a purely-random world would be extremely unlikely, if not almost impossible.

Yet, here we are. A miracle of randomness, perhaps? Or the design of a benign Creator? There are those who subscribe to the first view – that life is nothing more than a result of chance. Millions and billions of years of chance, no more unlikely than a randomly-formed monkey with a randomly-formed typewriter typing out the complete works of a randomly-formed Richard Dawkins.

Their argument is this – there has been quite a few millennia since the beginning of time (and indeed there has been), long enough for molecules of space matter to bump into each other in just the right way to produce a molecule a step up in complexity. This happens over and over again, over a long period of time. And with each passing millennium, a more complex molecule is formed. Up till the aggregation of such molecules learns to move, to consume, to procreate… to live.

And from that very first bacterium, life then underwent many more billions of years’ worth of evolution to arrive at what we have today. Infinitely more complex, yet still no more than a bunch of intertwined chemical reactions in bags of water.

That chemical reactions are needed for life to occur is not a new concept, nor is it controversial. The very thing responsible for the production of most food for life on earth is nothing more than an extremely convoluted chemical reaction: carbon-dioxide-plus-water-gives-you-glucose-and-oxygen-equals-photosynthesis. The very thing that allows you to run, to jump, to laugh and to cry has its origins in little tiny membrane-bound organelles in every cell of your body called mitochondria. Glucose-plus-oxygen-gives-you-carbon-dioxide-plus-water-plus-energy. Respiration. So it is not wrong to talk about chemical equations being an essential part of life.

But what about feelings, emotions, thoughts, free will? If bodily actions can be reduced to a mere smattering of colliding compounds, why not the decision whether to eat-in or take-away? For Science, there is no conflict. If what controls a cell is a series of very many (albeit tremendously complex) chemical equations, then it makes no difference to the nerve cells of the brain, firing electrical impulses to one another and conducting chemicals across their synapses. Every time molecules collide, a thought is produced.

Free will, in that case, is an illusion. Whenever one is faced with a choice, the many molecules in the brain collide in a certain way that produces a thought. The thought that yes, although one is on a diet, one can very well have chocolate ice cream for dessert if one goes for a five-kilometer run afterwards. It is an illusion that one has a choice, when in fact it has been predetermined by those dastardly molecules in your neurones which were always going to collide in that specific way because, well, kinetic energy and Brownian motion.

So, for those who believe in life being chance, it also is predetermined. Because those molecules are always going to collide in a certain way, there are no choices to be made. There is no need for goodness, for mercy, for justice, for altruism. No suffering, no pleasure, no meaning.

A murderer is as innocent as a saint. What they do is nothing more than the bidding of their molecules colliding. Me typing out this article, going over my paragraphs over and over and tweaking them just-so is simply a result of a series of furiously-colliding molecules. (I do wish they’d make up their mind, though. All that bumping around and getting me to retype things is making me rather annoyed.)

But what if there was an alternative? More than just chemicals, more than life being an illusion of free will? What if our decisions were controlled by something outside of our water-bag-bodies?

Perhaps that is what we call a soul.

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Jason K. is a biology teacher in Singapore who enjoys reading Pratchett, playing board games, and immersing himself in Japanese culture. He has taken temporary vows as a third-order Dominican.

Image: Human Cell / PD-US

Where Is Your Soul?

If anything could prove the existence of a soul, it is the utter emptiness of a corpse.
— Mary Doria Russell, Children of God

Death of St. Joseph

When I was little, I asked my father where our souls were in our bodies. He made a gesture in the general area of his liver while trying to explain that souls animate our entire bodies. For quite awhile afterward, I was convinced that the soul was an organ beside the liver.

One evening I was walking through a park with an atheist friend, who is a strong determinist—he doesn’t believe that we have free will, but that all our decisions are formed solely by our genes or environment. He asked, “Wouldn’t you make the same decision again with the same information at hand?”

He is also a complete materialist (in the metaphysical sense). I asked, “What’s the difference between a living person and a corpse?”

He responded: “It’s all neurons. I’m basically a robot.”

At that juncture, I was strongly tempted to hit him over the head or grab him by the shoulders to shake some sense into him.1

Scientists have found that there is actually increased brain activity after death.2 Numerous near-death and out-of-body experiences have been recorded, suggesting that a human maintains consciousness though he may be clinically dead.3

Here’s a fascinating story in the secular press: “The top doctor who swears he saw a glimpse of hell: No-nonsense anaesthetist dismissed patients who said they’d had out-of-body experiences until HE went under the knife.

Many years ago, my maternal grandmother Maria died from an accidental poisoning, and my grandfather left her body lying on their bed for a few days because he was in too much grief to prepare it for burial.

After those days, she awoke, saying that she had found herself in a place of profound peace and overwhelming joy, which she never wanted to leave. But a bearded man approached and told her she had to return to earth, because she had children to look after.

I am rather glad she did come back to this life, because my mother wasn’t born yet!

These words by a scientist who converted from materialistic atheism have stayed with me:

Lewontin and most scientists are true believers in materialism, possessing an absolute faith that matter and its workings will eventually explain everything in the universe. But such a faith has already failed at the most basic level; brain function alone cannot account for the simple experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling. All human beings, scientists and laypersons, live in the nonmaterial world of the smell of lavender, the deep resonance of a cello, the beauty of a sunset over an ocean, the wonder evoked by the night sky, the elegance of Euclid’s demonstration of the infinitude of prime numbers, the very world that materialism cannot explain. If only matter existed, then we would have no interior life; we would be mindless things like rocks and volcanoes.4

The soul is the form of the body, as Aristotle teaches.5 “The body cannot be the principle that accounts for life, since a body, when deprived of life, is still a body, but not alive.”6 Just as a house becomes a house when materials are constructed according to a certain plan, so does a living thing come into existence when it is ensouled.7 Without the soul, the body crumbles away into dust.

Let us treasure our souls, and take good care of them, just as we care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Our souls are made in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image and likeness of Love.

Remember, Christian soul, that thou has this day a duty:

God to Glorify, Eternity to Prepare for,

Jesus to Imitate, The Angels and Saints to invoke;

Your Soul to Save, Your Body to Mortify,

Sins to Expiate, Virtues to Acquire,

Hell to avoid, Heaven to Gain,

Time to Profit by, Your neighbors to Edify,

The World to Despise, Devils to Combat,

Passions to Subdue, Death Perhaps to Encounter,

and Judgment to Undergo.8

brooklyn_museum_-_the_soul_of_the_good_thief_lame_du_bon_larron_-_james_tissot

“…there is a case against cannibalism; the aversion from the idea of my eating my next-door neighbour is not a prejudice. … It rests on a sacramental sentiment about the human body, by which the soul soaks the body like a strong savour, and does not merely inhabit it like a hat in a hat-box.”
G. K. Chesterton, “The Moral Collapse of Modern Germany” (February 17, 1917)

You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the Blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again!”
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, around May 27, 1906 (After assuring her mother that her doctrine on the presence of God within us is not something she came up with, but rather what Scripture tells us.)9

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul. My mission in heaven will be to draw souls, helping them to go out of themselves to cling to God, with a spontaneous, love-filled action, and to keep them in that great interior silence which enables God to make His mark on them, to transform them into Himself.
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity (Letter 122)10

Images: The Death of St Joseph, mesa wood carving (via Joy-Sorrow); James Tissot, L’âme du bon Larron (The Soul of the Good Thief).

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1 Actually, I wanted to kiss him (can robots feel longing for, or aversion to, a kiss?), and I wrote a poem about that, but that’s another story.

2 Ed Yong, “In Dying Brains, Signs of Heightened Consciousness”, National Geographic.

4 George Stanciu, “Atheism: Disproved by Science?”, The Imaginative Conservative.

5 S. Marc Cohen, “Aristotle on the Soul”, Philosophy 320: History of Ancient Philosophy, University of Washington.

6 Joseph M. Magee, Ph. D., “Thomistic Psychology”, Aquinas Online.

7 S. Marc Cohen, “Aristotle on Substance, Matter, and Form”, Philosophy 320: History of Ancient Philosophy, University of Washington.

8The Christian Soul”, Holy Reflections; “Subjects for Daily Meditation”, Preces Latinae.

10 Jean M. Heimann, “Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity”, Catholic Fire.

Soul-Changing Sacraments

Recently, I was able to attend the ordination of my brother-in-law to the priesthood, and there, before my eyes, his soul was eternally changed, indelibly marked. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon before—I’ve attended many baptisms and confirmations and Easter Vigils, and I’ve even been to another ordination. I’ve also met many persons who’ve been indelibly marked, as all who are baptized and confirmed are, and I have the immense blessing of knowing many priests. And I am among the indelibly marked! Yet we all look physically, outwardly the same as we did previously. Inwardly, though, we are changed, like the man born blind (cf. John 9: 6-9). Much like the form of bread and wine conceal the greater truth of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, so our bodies conceal the greater reality of our changed, marked, and claimed souls through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and, for some, Holy Orders.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, in paragraph 1121, that these three sacraments, in addition to conferring grace, also confer “a sacramental character or ‘seal’ by which the Christian shares in Christ’s priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different states and functions. This configuration to Christ and the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church.” The indelible mark of these three sacraments is a positive orientation towards God and openness to His grace, that we might love Him, serve Him, and be more like Him. I’ve been baptized and confirmed, and in those sacraments, not only have I been claimed for Christ by this indelible mark—this sacramental grace from the Spirit—but I have also been given an avenue, a calling, a vocation to be more like Christ. These sacraments call me to be Christ in this world, according to my state in life.

What an incredible thing! To be so changed inwardly that it cannot be undone, no matter what. We truly are the Church, the baptized and confirmed, that we have been so changed that not even the gates of hell can change us back—we are eternally for Christ, then, by virtue of these sacraments, and that is a glorious comfort. Surely we can still choose against God, choose sin and evil and Satan, but that cannot undo or revert our souls back from this indelible mark; we are changed forever. It reminds me a lot of something C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare….There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Fr. Jason blessing Archbishop—photo courtesy of William Williams

At my brother-in-law’s ordination, I encountered a cathedral packed with everlasting splendors, hundreds of people invested in the seven men who were giving their lives over in service to Christ and His Church, hundreds of unordinary people witnessing the eternal changing of these seven men’s souls. It is a glorious feeling to not only witness the conferring of this greatest sacrament of service but to also be among hundreds of other eternal, splendid souls who are doing the same. Surely, this is what heaven is like: a multitude of changed souls, oriented eternally toward the Triune God, worshipping, praising, and participating in Him together. This is exactly what the ordination felt like. Truly, if you’ve never been to an ordination or an Easter Vigil, make it a priority.

It is a wondrous world we live in and a wondrous God we serve and love. He is a wondrous God Who loves us so much to create us in the first place, and even more so to give us the means by which to come to Him even more fully and easily through the sacraments. Carrie Underwood has a song called “Something in the Water,” in which she sings about how baptism changed her, how the Lord has been even more at work in her life since, and how she can depend on Him even more than she could before. She’s talking about the first and most available indelible mark we can receive, this positive orientation toward grace and God. How generous is our God to give us, as Catholics, two more ways to be indelibly marked, two more ways to be even more closely configured to Him and more deeply opened up to the power of the Holy Spirit! We are the few, the proud, the eternally changed, the indelibly marked—let our lives be shining examples of this in the world, of Him in the world. People can’t tell just by looking at us that we’re any different than they are, but our words, deeds, and joy set us apart; they open up the changed nature of our souls to share with others. This is the call of baptism, of confirmation, and of the priesthood: to be lights of Christ to others as we are more closely configured to and united with Him.

Take Care of the Body, Take Care of the Soul

Last month I joined a Beachbody challenge group with some women from college. I have some weight to lose and have some other fitness goals—not to mention that regular exercise and healthy eating are great ways to combat anxiety and depression—and I thought, what better way to do this than with women I already know and love to hold me accountable? As a woman, I do struggle with my body image. My body always seems to be in flux—between pregnancies, sleep deprivation, stress, and so many other factors, not only has my weight been on a roller coaster, but so has the look and feel of my body, and I want to rein that in.

running shoes
Running can be a way to take care of both the body and soul

Controlling the body is a discipline and can lead to or aid in spiritual and emotional discipline. It’s no coincidence that when I became less physically active, I also became less spiritually and emotionally disciplined. This is because we are body-soul composites, each aspect feeding off of and aiding (or hindering) the other. Jesus tells us as much when He says to cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (cf. Matthew 18:8). To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, the body is the physical representation of the soul—what we do with our bodies does not only affect our souls but also reveals the state of our souls.

What I am not saying is that being overweight means that your soul is fat, ugly, or unworthy. There are many reasons for being “overweight,” from body types to illness to stress and any number of other factors. Furthermore, there are more ways to discipline the body than only exercise or physical activity. However, if you can do something to help your body be in or stay in good condition, you should do it. Now, consider a pianist—she must train her hands and fingers to move in exact precision and synchronization to create beautiful melodies and harmonies (also, she must learn to move her feet simultaneously, as the peddles add to the musicality). A pianist’s fingers must move with precision and intention—and the soul must move and act in the same way.

Surely, the body could act one way and the soul another, or vice versa, but that would be reflected in a person’s life. How many celebrity athletes who are in top shape and have trained their bodies with intense precision have been in the news for committing crimes or scandals? Plenty. How many people pay attention to the state of their souls with so much intensity that it borders on scrupulosity but neglect their bodies and suffer from negative effects on their health and well-being? Plenty. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between. There must be a balance. We have been out of balance since the Fall, constantly at war with our bodies and/or souls. It was not meant to be this way.

It is wise to remember the importance of our bodies. Christ did not just rise in His soul but also in His body and then ascended into heaven body and soul. The Blessed Virgin Mary was likewise assumed into heaven body and soul. It means that our physical bodies have eternal significance. What we do with our bodies and how we treat them isn’t just important in this lifetime or for our overall health or anything pertaining to the here and now. How we care for our bodies helps to shape how we care for our souls, and vice versa. To care for one at the expense of the other is to fall into believing a falsehood—that our bodies are only something to be tolerated until we can be set free from them, or that the soul doesn’t matter because there is nothing but right here, right now. Rather, eternity and the here and now are concurrent realities, existing simultaneously. God Who is outside of time came into time—He now exists as both. So we, in our persons, also reflect the harmony of these realities by being body-soul composites.

On our refrigerator, we have a list of family rules and values, and first among them is: “Exercise our bodies, minds, and souls daily.” Everything else flows from this. When we take care to be in harmony with ourselves, we can also then better practice other values, such as gratitude and compassion, and do things like controlling our finances so they don’t control us (another on our list). Harmony and balance. When we fully possess ourselves, we are also, then, free to give ourselves away.

As I finish with this Beachbody challenge group, I find that the more intentional I am with my body, the more intentional I’ve become with my words and actions, and also in my prayer and spiritual life. Ad majorem Dei gloriam—all for the greater glory of God.