Hold me like the river

23 August, 2003 Amritapuri

Westerners singing for Amma

The story begins in Rhode Island, when a handful of Amma’s Western children sang Michael Jackson’s “Hold Me”, the theme song to the movie, “Free Willie.” Already a touching song with spiritual implications, with just a few adjustments in the lyrics, the song was transformed into a heartfelt tribute to Amma. But it wasn’t just a song. The singers had assembled an impromptu troupe of dancers to stand in the back of the room and wave their hands back and forth in unison. As Amma responded enthusiastically and the song crescendoed into a joyful celebration of God’s love, almost everyone stood up and danced, the room transformed into a sea of white, the tide of love rolled in. Amma’s eyes shone as She gazed out at Her children’s innocent plea for Her love and attention.

At Amritapuri recently, Amma asked the same children to sing the song again. But it wasn’t only the song She wanted; She also asked that people should wave their hands in unison the way they had done in Rhode Island. So during the height of the Western Canteen dinner rush, a few of the singers called all the Western children closed and entreated them to quite literally give them a hand the next day when they were to sing the song.

This morning, after Amma started giving darshan, the singers went to Her and told Her they planned to sing the song at 2:00 pm. But Amma asked them to sing at 1:00 pm instead. Then ensued a mad dash to the flats, where the singers went door to door informing the dancers, (i.e. nearly all the Western children at the ashram) that the time had been changed from 2:00 to 1:00 pm. The Western Canteen lunch, which normally starts at 1:00 pm, would have to be postponed, as many of the girls in the kitchen had to be there to sing for Amma. But in the end it didn’t matter, as there wouldn’t have been anyone in line to eat, either. 1:00 saw the temple full with shining Western faces, eager to fulfill Amma’s request.

As the song began,

“Hold me
Like the river Jordan
And I will then say to thee
You are my friend,”

the room began to sway back and forth.

By the time the Canteen girls were plaintively singing the touching refrain,

Tell me will you hold me?
When wrong, will you scold me?
When lost, will you find me?”

Amma had started to wave Her hands back and forth, too. When their Mother started, it was no longer a Western celebration but a human celebration, as all of Amma’s devotees joined in the dance.

When the song reached its crescendo with the words,

“Save me
Heal me and bathe me
Softly you say to me
I will be there,”

a lone Westerner in the middle of the temple stood and began to dance, innocently and ecstatically. He didn’t mind that no one else joined him, oblivious of his surroundings, he was lost in his own celebration of love. But the room couldn’t ignore his innocent demonstration for long—by the end of the song, the entire room was on its feet, dancing for joy, dancing for love, dancing for Amma. [click here to see the video]

Was it a bit unconventional, a Michael Jackson song in a temple? Maybe so. But Amma celebrates the good in everything–in every person, every circumstance, every culture, every faith. Here was an innocent, heartfelt prayer in the form of a pop song. Amma made sure that it was heard by all. When the song was over, Amma had the song translated and read out in Malayalam, so that everyone present could understand the song’s words.