November is near its end. Leaves have been shaken from the trees, acorns have dropped their caps. Each day grows darker. But being human beings — inventive, creative, curious explorers — we answer with light.

When I was a child I loved the dark because I loved the illuminated houses, the streetlights, headlights, tail lights, all lights. Sometimes we went for Christmas light walks around the neighborhood and I would ache with the joy of it, and say this prayer: “O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star…” Looking up at the sky I’d imagine myself transforming into light, and the ache would just melt away.

I remember this only because yesterday I was with several young children learning to sing this prayer. The teacher led us through it repeatedly in English and Spanish, with descriptive hand motions. Some sang boldly, others tentatively. Some just watched, chins out and mouths open. I found I had my mouth open too, observing their plain delight, their bright eyes; wondering if knowing this prayer could become for these children what it had been for me — a great warm protective wing in life’s storms.

For a while, approaching adulthood, I pushed the wing aside — not sure what to believe, to trust, to do. The prayer of a child began to feel like a mere rabbit’s foot charm in my pocket, a reliance on something easier than integrity. I learned about Marx, Nietzsche, and others who declared religion a drug and God dead. Bahá’u’lláh prescribed, fundamentally, the individual investigation of reality. I gathered my courage and went exploring, and came to this: there is but one religion. It is not about dogma and division. It is whatever promotes unity, understanding, love, joy, civilization. It is one with nature and science. It is deeds, beyond words, that light up the dark.

We, as humanity, are all perhaps approaching adulthood, living in times simultaneously darker and brighter than any we’ve known. Outworn institutions are breaking down, corrupt political systems crumbling, the planet sickened, education seeming irrelevant, morality adrift, science askew, views polarized, violence persisting, poverty deepening, wealth held close by the few. Religion too has taken ill, often associated with attitudes of superiority and exclusiveness, insincerity, force, disruption, oppression, power, undisciplined thought, resistance to change, ignoring science, even taking lives.

At the same time, we see how far we have come. Advancements in technology have freed up time to use our minds and facilitated instant interconnections worldwide. We have at least in principle said no to slavery, discrimination, bullying, sexism, and many other ills once accepted as the norm. Religion, too, has been changing — subjected increasingly to review, anger, criticism — a purification process. Corruption finds no place to hide. Motives are being examined from both within and without. Numerous goodwill organizations address suffering and tragedy.

As our children’s class came to a close, Marta glanced out the window and said, “it’s so dark.” I walked her and her younger sister home to their apartment across the street. There were no stars, no moonlight. A car passed and then we crossed, Marta holding Liana’s little hand. I walked too far ahead and to the left as they turned right onto the right path to home, and Liana giggled, pointing at me — the adult, astray! Marta gently said, “it’s hard to see.” I thought: how kind, how penetrating, how bright the light in darkness. What an opportunity to shine.

Dawn Jensen Nobile is a member of the Bahá'í community of Albany, serving as coordinator of children’s classes.

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