Savage. That's how I was born. We all were, they say -- blank slates and all that. But I was able to maintain it longer than most, resisting all onslaughts of civilizing, or so my family said.

But I was raised, despite my best efforts, and even civilized enough not to get knocked in the head by the time I arrived at the wise age of 17. That was the year, and Arkansas was the sovereign state that blared loudest the news of school integration. Hard for most civilized folks today -- or even then in other places -- to imagine the fervor-to-insanity that swept that part of the South in the mid-50s and for too many decades before and after.

Picture, if you can, what it meant for a savage adolescent, recently infected with the notion of her own intelligence -- and at the ripest point of free-floating rebellion -- to be handed such a plum of social insurrection.

"Savage" didn't touch it. I'd never become acquainted with one single black person, hadn't read widely and couldn't claim any real moral understanding. I could barely spell racial justice, but, boy, was I ardent. It drove my genteel Southern aunties crazy. My poor mother, I later realized, owned some serious moral understanding and didn't say much. I suspect she worried that someone would knock me in the head any day for my loud mouth.

But surviving didn't come quickly or easily. The spiritual training I needed for any real grasp of justice, understanding or compassion didn't present itself, even though I was looking in all the right places, I thought. I joined a church. There, I heard, "Christ said, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.'" Savage cocked an ear. Neighbor? You mean those black folks right down the street? So why aren't those neighbors welcome in our white church?

Oh, brother! My poor mama must have lain awake nights, sure the preacher himself might be the one to knock me in the head. Soon, I left the church and drifted, concluding that organized religion offered only hypocrisy. Too clever for that, I was. I'd often declare myself a "creek-bank Christian," one who deeply appreciated the hand of God ... in nature. And I'd cleverly quote a line from William Wordsworth: "Great God! I'd rather be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn ..." But cleverness couldn't fill my spiritual need. Nothing could, I was sure.

Yet even a savage teenager can occasionally have a worthy thought. What if, I wondered, God didn't mean for people to fight over his prophet? What if we, humankind, had gotten it all wrong? What if God's prophets were all linked somehow?

I didn't have any answer for those questions. For many years, I didn't even consider them questions needing answers. Odd-shaped notions they were, neither square nor round, and probably would never fit anywhere.

It took another decade of living -- and extraordinary luck -- to find and recognize the answers to those worthy questions.

I found the Bahá'í faith. My old, unasked questions found answers. God has kept His ancient promise never to leave us without a teacher. He has sent a new prophet, a manifestation of himself, as were the ones before Him.

God's revelation to mankind is progressive. Each succeeds the one before Him, verifying the foregoing spiritual teachings, building upon them, establishing His own spiritual and temporal laws. Like students in a school, humankind is brought along by each teacher, or manifestation, from one level to the next. God is not in competition with Himself.

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