Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hug

by Jake Mohan 


Tags: spirituality, religion, essays, skepticism, Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi,

freehugs

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to be open-minded about someone's spiritual beliefs, Emily DePrang can empathize. In “Cult Following,” a Nerve essay subtitled, “How I learned to embrace my girlfriend’s ridiculous religion,” DePrang describes the bumpy spiritual path that lead to her girlfriend Sam, a follower of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, known in the West as Amma, the “hugging saint.” The use of the word "ridiculous" in the piece's subtitle is appropriate, since spiritually transcendent moments aren't always elegant or otherworldly, and might seem absurd at first blush.

Finding spirituality in the seemingly ridiculous is also the focus of a piece by Rabbi Naomi Levy in Moment Magazine. Levy describes an epiphany she had involving a spectral figure wrapped in what appeared to be toilet paper. She sheepishly told her boyfriend about her vision, afraid of appearing insane, but he pointed out that “if God can could come to Moses in a burning bush, who's to say that God can't come to you in a roll of Charmin?” 

Both stories explore the confluence of the absurd and sublime, a point well-taken by a cynic like me. The experience for me isn't always spiritual, but the act of finding beauty and common ground with others is almost always revelatory. For Emily and Sam, the story culminates in a pilgrimage to a desert ashram where they receive hugs from Amma herself, and Emily’s cynicism dissolves. DePrang's writing is well-suited for the subject: sharp and sardonic but also kind. She’s an assured writer who can still articulate her doubts. The piece—just as much a love story as it is a story about religion—considers the ways compassion can chip away at skepticism, both in our spirituality and our relationships with others.

Image by kalandrakas, licensed by Creative Commons.