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Love for the Sake of Love

April 27, 2020, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

A few weeks ago, a student of mine confided in me about a friendship that recently ended. They explained that they felt embarrassed and ashamed that they still deeply cared for the friend who was no longer an active part of their life. Before we ended our session, my student left me with their final thought: “Why does it matter if I care about someone, if they do not reciprocate that care or they aren’t around to feel it?” For some reason, I immediately thought of the familiar phrase – “When a tree falls in a lonely forest, does it make a sound?”1 For weeks, I’ve turned over the conversation in my mind and have found myself grappling with how we value a love that goes without acknowledgment, one that merely sits silently within our souls. 

It’s no secret that love is the spirit of the Baha’i Faith. Our Faith is built on the foundation of a set of virtues that exist within a balance of one another, including love. Our endeavors in sharing the Faith are fueled and sustained by our love to serve humanity and, in turn, God. In fact, our creation itself was forged out of the spiritual quality of love – “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.”2

But if we believe that God is an All-Knowing, spiritual entity, isn’t it safe to assume that He knew His creation would oftentimes not return that love? Although we have free will, the decisions we make already exist within another spiritual reality (whether we call this another dimension, the future, etc.) and are already known to God.

God in His justice gives His creatures the opportunity to carry out their duties without His interference; they have free will to behave as they please. Of course, He has full knowledge of how each individual will behave in discharging the obligations which the Covenant of Baha’u’llah has placed on him but He leaves the person free to play his part and He does not judge him before he commits an error.3

It is my understanding that God created humanity with the knowledge that many of His creations would not recognize Him, would actively work to disprove His existence, would even hurt His other creations. This was the first true act of love and shows us that love retains its value in the absence of reciprocation.

If we believe that love has no value when it’s not explicitly reciprocated, we reduce it to a transaction, a one-for-one relationship of “I give, then you give.” Love becomes weighed only through its physical manifestations or acknowledgement, allowing much of its true essence to be lost. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:

Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe.4

In this case, love is a spiritual quality that not only exists in but binds together every spiritual reality. In the physical world, as Abdu’l-Baha explains, it is “…the supreme magnetic force…” that tethers elements together or that which governs the attraction of the atoms to one another.5 In a like manner, upon our departure from this life, the love within our souls follows us, as “…. a love that one may have entertained for any one will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom.”6

Imagine a world in which love is viewed as a spiritual force, “…the axis around which life revolves…”7 In this world, love’s being has value in and of itself. In this world, we can give without the expectation of return, we can love solely for the sake of love. We can detach from the presence (or lack thereof) of physical manifestations of love and instead remain focused on the deep appreciation we harbor for others.

In fact, the student’s love, though without acknowledgment, is contributing to the creation of this kind of world. Their love still serves a purpose for the advancement of the souls around them and for the advancement of their own. Unknowingly, they are practicing a kind of love that we should all strive to practice – one that lasts beyond notions of time, one that values itself solely through its own existence, the kind that, in the grand scheme of things, will be the catalyst to the new civilization we are all working towards.

Weeks later, I sat with my student and told them that I had an answer to their question. I started off explaining that if a tree falls, although nobody is around to hear it, there is a chain reaction of sound waves distributed into the universe (per the laws of physics). The existence of the sound is not negated by the fact that nobody is around to hear it (after all, we are not the center of the universe). Additionally, its sound reverberates off of and affects every object around it, even if we are unable to see said effects. Similarly, when we feel love, though it be silent/vocalized, reciprocated/unreciprocated, it echoes off of the walls of every spiritual reality. Its existence is not changed by anyone witnessing it or the lack thereof. It is our purest reflection of our Creator operating in the universe, and it maintains its value, its efficacy, with or without our acknowledgment.

  1. Originally published in The Chautauquan, June 1883 []
  2. Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, Page 4 []
  3. Taherzadeh, Adib. The Child of the Covenant, Page 258 []
  4. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Page 27 []
  5. Ibid., Page 27; The Second Principle–The Unity of Mankind, Paris Talks, Page 139 []
  6. Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Page 206 []
  7. Abdu’l-Baha, From a Talk at Green Acre (August 17, 1912), The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Page 268 []
Posted by

Tahirih Khademi

Tahirih is a Chicago-raised Baha’i living in Visalia, California. She’s interested in the relationship between incarceration and a lack of universal education. With immense help from incredible students/volunteers, Tahirih directs a non-profit called Writing Works, which promotes access to education in at-risk communities. You can find her reading at local coffee shops, watching films from the 1950s, or spending time with any animal she can find.
Tahirih Khademi

Discussion 7 Comments

This post was deeply moving. Thanks for sharing this writings and your thoughts.

June Perkins

June Perkins (April 4, 2020 at 11:17 AM)

This post was deeply moving. Thanks for sharing these writings and thoughts. Thinking of the magnetic power of love, and also about the life of ‘Abdul-Baha, and just loving everyone for the sake of God, without expecting a return.

June Perkins

June Perkins (April 4, 2020 at 11:19 AM)

Thank you so much for all of your kind words, June. I’m so happy and touched that it resonated with you. I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe amidst the pandemic!

Tahirih Khademi

Tahirih Khademi (May 5, 2020 at 5:31 PM)

If a tree falls in a forest, it is possible that no human ear hears it. But birds, mammals, insects will hear the sound. They are, like all of us humans, part of creation and creation is an emanation of God. When I focus on that I feel love for each human being and all that is created. To love another human being anfd that other human being does not want to be in touch with me or hear from me is painful until I can accept it and forget about what I would like. To let go in a loving way, to let another go their own path, creates inner peace and moreclove in one’s heart. I love inner peace and I am prone to be resentful. But when I feel resentful in the proces to let go and feel only love I accept that it is there, that I feel that but that in Reality, the realm of being where things are real and and clear and no illusions, there is no time or place forbsomething like resentment. There is only love there. We are invited every day to live in that realm and it is sometimes difficult to stay in that beautiful light, because of the eho and the illusions of this material world, the world where we have a material body and where things can look appealing but blind us often so resentment, fear, anger and other things that disturb inner peace will be felt by us. I have noticed that if I am willing to accept whatever is in me and then put all my trust in the Divine Being (or in the goodness of life, and that life can take turns that can be quite unexpected and really nice) life becomes a little bit easier and I feel the negative emotions at least a bit less. Until they return again, and then i know i have to shift my focus again to God and the knowledge that we are never tested beyond our capacity. God is our best friend, why not talk to God as you would to a loving, understanding, nonjudging friend who knows you better than you know yourself?

Janine van Rooij

Janine van Rooij (April 4, 2020 at 11:08 AM)

Janine — I loved reading through these thoughts. I could see the student really grappling with finding this peace you’re speaking of (in fact, I think this is what pushed them to open up) — I think it’s something we all struggle with at some point in our lives! I also agree that we find that peace when, as you said, we are “…willing to accept whatever is in [us] and then put all [our] trust in the Divine Being.”

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and comments, and I hope you’re well!

Tahirih Khademi

Tahirih Khademi (May 5, 2020 at 6:14 PM)

It is awesome to read these thoughts and reflections. My mind seems to work like yours, Janine van Rooij ! I’ll share something we discovered in our Zoom deepening and devotions We were studying a compilation on prayer and meditation from House of Justice. We were wondering why it’s important to say “Allah’u’Abha” 95 times. I thought it was so we would be reminded how glorious God is. I also thought it was to put us into a peaceful mind by clearing away all except chanting the Greatest Name phrase. But my mind was awakened when a recently declared wise woman conveyed that we are talking with that Friend, lovingly greeting Him with “Allah’u’Abha!” Now I feel better connected!

Marti Bitts

Marti Bitts (May 5, 2020 at 2:15 AM)

Thank you Tahirih Khademi for your blog which I just read now, very interesting. I think that love between two humans is generally reciprocal and not transactional but not always. One person may love someone else and help the other person immensely while the other person may not have the capacity to return the love at that time. The Hidden Words no 5 from Arabic is pointing to the reciprocity of love, amongst other things but it does not mean as I understand that God will stop loving us if we don’t love Him. Nevertheless, plants need sunshine to grow and if they are in the shade, the warmth of the sun may still reach the plants but not as effectively. It is of course just an analogy and life is sometimes more complex.

Peter Seery

Peter Seery (June 6, 2023 at 8:52 PM)

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