What is the essence of love? It must be attraction, a desire to mingle and share with another. If that does not exist, then love does not. In the human realm, there are famous romantic love stories of intense attraction, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Orpheus and Eurydice, Layla and Majnun. In all these tales, one lover is willing to offer everything for the other.
Love can also be for truth, or for an ideal. It can be so strong as to cause great sacrifice. A scientist on the trail of discovery can face scathing ridicule, a solider on the battlefield will give his life, and an innocent bystander will jump in front of an onrushing train to save a stranger. We know love when it inspires sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the vital expression of love. If there is a relationship without sacrifice, it is shallow. We know parental love because the mother and father offer themselves in sacrifice to their children until the child can stand on his own.
The Taj Mahal is a love monument, built by Shah Jahan in India in honor of his deceased wife Mumtaz. It took great effort over twenty years to complete. Using white marble and precious inlay, 20,000 workers and 1000 elephants labored twenty years to bring the architecture to fruition. It is among the wonders of the world, and shares with them a foundation in love.
Everyone enjoys being loved. Especially since we know we are valued when we receive a sacrificial offering. For a lover to receive flowers, or a child to receive the gift of time and wisdom from a volunteer tutor; the essence is attraction, thoughtfulness and offering. When I travel in Asia, small shrines laden with gifts are a ubiquitous sight in homes and businesses. Usually, a small Buddha sculpture or Hindu deity is surrounded by flowers, incense, and fruit, and sometimes even soda pop and cigarettes . . . all tokens of sacrifice.
At present, many Baha’i’s, myself included, are fasting, and this is a show of love. From sunrise to sunset we abstain from food or water for nineteen days, between March 2-20 annually. It is difficult and painful to go without sustenance, but sacrifice is easy when one is in love. For true lovers, pain is sweet. And really, God cares not for material things, but He wants what our hearts can give and blesses us in the giving.