There are many ways to express love beyond the verbal and sexual. Or perhaps I should say in addition to verbal and sexual, for surely these are practiced expressions of love that binds us to one another.

There are the more asexual hugs and kisses shown to all under the cloak of friendship. Certainly this life would flow in a shallow stream if not for the love of friends.

For some in love, words alone may suffice. Perhaps it’s the spoken declaration of something not seen. Like a public pronouncement, “Hear ye, hear ye, be it known to all present,” the statement of love gives both certainty and security to the recipient. Possibly there is even validation in the ritual.

But, outside of “love you, adore you, cherish you” and other terms of endearment, and in a different realm from the lustful “oooooos, oh yes, and mmm’s,” lives an exchange so exquisite and so subtle it is often missed. Beyond all these, there lies the sweetest of exchanges—love offerings.

There are ways of love offerings but I wouldn’t call them rules for, as everyone knows, love has no rules. Neither do love offerings. Love offerings are not usually gifts and never occur on holidays or other expected occasions. A dozen roses on Valentine’s Day may seem like the perfect love offering but, au contraire, it is predictable—expected even. It may be a nice thing, a loving thing, a generous thing, a thoughtful thing, but it is not in the realm of love offerings. Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, dinner out on Mother’s Day—are all very nice but do not comprise a love offering.

Love offerings transcend the calendar. They are beyond Hallmark. The real art of love offerings is they are too elusive and too spontaneous to be anticipated.

Love offerings are neither the things you are supposed to do nor the things you are obligated to do. They are not measured. “You bathed the dog last time so I’ll do it this time” is not a love offering. It is the clear division of domesticity. With a true love offering there is no accounting or tallying. They are given and accepted in a state of grace.

Love offerings are those gifts of self that are surrendered to another soul immensely cared for. Lover, mother, brother, friend, child, anyone truly cared for can be the recipient. They are given without expectation for a response in kind or even acknowledgement (although it is indeed nice when it is recognized as a love offering).

On the receiving side, it is of utmost importance to recognize a love offering as such. Sometimes they may seem an odd or curious thing. You may ask yourself, “Why now? Why this?” Recognition of the effort as a love offering, however, puts it in proper perspective.

When a child makes something for you, it is almost always a love offering. When my grown son calls just to see how my day is going I know it’s a love offering. The glass of orange juice my mate brings me before I stumble out of my slumber is more than a glass of liquid to help me open my eyes. As a love offering it creates its own moment in the passing of a connection, in giving and accepting of caring. It is a testament to the warm thoughts you carry of another.

A love offering is a foot rub when you are both tired. It is cooking the dinner the other loves, even though you don’t care for it. It is an act of kindness without comment. But tread carefully. If you slip and point out the incredibly gracious and giving act you’ve just performed, it loses its value and status as love offering.

Committing love offerings without thought of their recognition or acknowledgement is an art unto itself. It’s a little like taking your favorite book and leaving it in a public place with an invitation to be picked up and read. You walk away not knowing who or when it will be picked up, but somehow you’ve shared something you enjoyed with another without actual contact. Like the lightest of touches, the subtlety enhances the whole experience.

The elusive nature of love offerings makes them all the more delightful. As recipient, they arrive when your thoughts lie elsewhere and they appear without warning. The surprise is a gift of its own, bringing back a childhood delight at simpler pleasures. But love offerings are simple acts shrouded in complexity.

I have a friend for whom I occasionally bake bread. Food is such a nurturing gift, both in its creation and consumption. But this is something more. Through the kneading and rising, the bond between us grows stronger. The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread is like no other. But to partake, the bread must be delivered hot. I once left it steaming in her house while she was gone, knowing she would return in a short time. The gift was the bread but the love offering was a house overflowing with the smell of hot bread when the front door was opened. To my delight, the scent was recognized as a gift separate from the bread.

Be aware of love offerings in your life. If you perceive none, then start the practice yourself. In this season of packages with shiny bows and wishes of peace and prosperity, take a moment for love offerings. Even old St. Nick recognized the cookies for what they really were.

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