I was born in 1959. When I grew up, I was socialised by romance narratives. Pretty much every popular song was a love song. Romance stories filled the movies. Romance stories filled television. I believed in romance. I believed I would fall in love with someone and marry him. I was aware that the romance narrative in my mother’s head when she married my father was shattered as he become, within a week of the marriage, the dominating power that controlled every aspect of her life. But even with that, I still believed in romance. I just wouldn’t marry a man like that, I told myself.
It wasn’t until I encountered Baha’u’llah that I began to question the validity of romance narratives. By this time, I had had my own bad experiences with romance turning into a hell, but I kept thinking that if I could just find the right one, all would be well. However, I was confronted with the following saying from Ibn Farid, which Baha’u’llah quotes with approval in the Seven Valleys.
“Live free of love, for its peace
Is grief and sorrow at each breath.
It starteth but with ache and pain;
It endeth but with loss and death.”Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys in The Call of the Divine Beloved
I’m thinking: Wow! Baha’u’llah doesn’t seem to rate love very highly at all. In fact, he’s telling me to steer clear of it. I began to seriously consider that this love thing was all folly. Baha’u’llah was pointing me in another direction when he made the distinction between spiritual attachments and worldly attachments. What appears to be love between people is actually people needing something out of a relationship, whereas Baha’u’llah was role modelling genuine love by sacrificing himself for humanity’s salvation.
“Worldly friends, seeking their own good, appear to love one the other, whereas the true Friend hath loved and doth love you for your own sakes; indeed He hath suffered for your guidance countless afflictions.”Persian hidden word no 52
Another passage about love that steered me in a new direction was Baha’u’llah’s definition of love in Words of Wisdom: “The essence of love is for man to turn his heart to the Beloved One, and sever himself from all else but Him, and desire naught save that which is the desire of his Lord.” (in Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh) That one has always got me because Baha’u’llah’s view of love makes no reference to anyone else but him. It’s all about getting away from everything else! I consider this a challenge to romance narratives because romances place the beloved one, another person, at the center of one’s being. And I understand Baha’u’llah to be requiring that he alone take that place; for example, he says in Arabic hidden word no 8, “I desire to be loved alone and above all that is.”
I have been a follower of Baha’u’llah for 40 years. It has been a long journey coming to terms with what Baha’u’llah means by love. I was all at sea when the romance narratives I was raised with were put under scrutiny and came up wanting. After that, I thought the story was to focus on spiritual relationships and not worldly ones. However, I witnessed quite a few Baha’i marriages fall apart spectacularly. I concluded that just because the two partners are Baha’i does not mean there is an abiding love.
Finally, I actually listened to Baha’u’llah, who seemed to be saying something that was foreign to me and that I didn’t know how to process – that love lay in abandoning attachment to everyone except him. Only after taking the time (ie, years) and making the effort to see it that way could I see the wisdom in it. If he is my primary relationship, then I’m going to be faithful to everyone else in my life, in accordance with the nature of each relationship I have. Here is what you get if you love Baha’u’llah – it seems a no-brainer to me.
“O Ḥusayn! Commune with the remembrance of God and become oblivious of all but Him, inasmuch as His mention is an intimate free of hypocrisy and a most agreeable confidant. He is a guest bereft of treachery, a companion who poseth no harm and committeth no crime. A trusted associate is He, dependably firm and steadfast. So faithful a friend is He that wherever thou goest, He will come with thee and never leave thy side. He changeth thy sorrow into happiness and cleanseth the rust of heedlessness.”Baha’u’llah: Tablet to Husayn, trans Adib Masumian