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Have you ever fallen in love?
When I met my wife Teresa, I sure did.
We met at a Baha’i conference, and only had the chance to talk for a short while in person. We lived in different cities, so we initially got to know each other through long conversations over the phone. Within the next couple of weeks it became very obvious that we had a strong affinity for each other. Like gravity, I could feel the pull, in an almost physical way. She apparently felt that affinity, too, because we married four months later, and that was twenty-three years ago. We still have that powerful love and affinity today, in a much deeper and more profound form.
And yet, when I think back on that magical time in our lives, it remains an unknowable mystery to me.
Don’t get me wrong—I know all of the wonderful qualities that attracted me to my wife. I could easily make you a very lengthy list, but we don’t have the space for it here.
You all know what I’m talking about if you’ve been in love. You know that the deep mystery of love and attraction happens at a much less conscious and a much more cellular level. In one sense, we have no idea why we react to another person the way we do. We can meet a hundred people and not fall in love, and then meet one and lose all rational judgment. Our minds seem not to control this reaction—it actually occurs far beyond our control, because it happens in the heart and the soul.
Scientists have studied love and affinity to little avail. Despite all of our knowledge of pheromones and chemistry and attachment theory, love remains a mystery.
This mysterious power of attraction and affinity and love has a very prominent place in the Baha’i teachings. In this short series of essays, we’ll explore the idea of affinity, try to understand where it comes from and see how it applies not just to love between people, but to love between everything in the universe, from the smallest to the largest.
First, the dictionary definition of affinity:
1: relationship by marriage
2 a: sympathy marked by a community of interest: KINSHIP b : an attraction to or liking for something c: a person especially of the opposite sex having a particular attraction for one
3 a: likeness based on relationship or causal connection b: a relation between biological groups involving resemblance in structural plan and indicating a common origin c: an attractive force between substances or particles that causes them to enter into and remain in chemical combination
Let’s start small, with number three in the definition above: an attractive force between substances or particles. That elemental attraction, in nuclear physics, contains four categories: the strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism and gravity. The strong force, by far the most powerful known force, makes all matter possible. It bonds the elementary atomic and sub-atomic particles, which causes every material object to cohere and stay together. Without it, the material universe could not exist.
But our limited scientific knowledge still has no good unified explanation for the strong force, one of the largest unsolved questions in physics. More than a hundred times stronger than electromagnetism, a million times stronger than the weak force interaction and many orders of magnitude stronger than gravitational pull, the strong force makes all existence and all life possible. The Baha’i teachings say the strong force defines the very essence of affinity:
If the atoms which compose the kingdom of the minerals were without affinity for each other, the earth would never have been formed, the universe could not have been created. Because they have affinity for each other, the power of life is able to manifest itself, and the organisms of the phenomenal world become possible. When this attraction or atomic affinity is destroyed, the power of life ceases to manifest; death and nonexistence result.
It is so, likewise, in the spiritual world. That world is the Kingdom of complete attraction and affinity. It is the Kingdom of the One Divine Spirit, the Kingdom of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 4.
Baha’is believe that this strong force, this powerful attraction for one another inside the very atoms themselves, expresses in physical terms the ineffable love of God:
All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 123.