Guest post by Magdalyn Fiore.
A lengthy comparison between the Ocean and the Holy Ghost? What can I say except you’re welcome!
I recently saw the Disney film Moana for the first time. As you might know by now, the movie has some encouraging themes, such as stepping up to responsibility, discerning one’s calling, and learning that worth and identity are not dependent on material possessions (like magical fish hooks) or even the affection of others. There are also a few delightfully quirky side characters in the film, like Tamatoa, the shiny crab voiced by Jemaine Clement, and Alan Tudyk‘s character Heihei, the chicken who surely would have died off long ago by natural selection had it not been for Moana’s constant and patient intervention.
But the character I found most intriguing was the Ocean, which takes on a very present personality of its own throughout the film. There was something about the Ocean that was familiar to me, and I quickly noticed a handful of similarities between the Ocean character and the Holy Spirit — one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
The film begins following Moana of Motunui, the island Chief’s daughter and future heir, as a child when she has her first meaningful encounter with the Ocean. The Ocean chooses Moana to fulfill the task of finding the demigod, Maui, and taking him on a journey across the sea to return the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of life. The heart was stolen by Maui long ago, which led to a curse that has affected the well-being and livelihood of Moana’s people. Returning Te Fiti’s heart would restore the life of Moana’s island and undo the growing threat of the curse. The Ocean calls Moana to her vocation at a very young age, knowing that her island will one day suffer from the curse and that Moana will grow to be the perfect instrument to fulfill the task and save the people.
The way the Ocean chooses Moana is similar to how the Holy Spirit gently directs us to our own calling. God always meets us where we are to guide us to His will and writes it on our hearts. In Moana, the Ocean meets the Chief’s daughter when she’s a toddler and speaks to her in a gentle and playful way that Moana can delight in and understand, at least to some degree. The Ocean invites Moana to come see what it wants to show her by leaving her a beautiful conch shell to find — and then another, and another like a trail of breadcrumbs, leading Moana closer and closer to the joys of the Ocean and the greatness it is calling her to. The Holy Spirit meets us in the same way. Though we are small and imperfect, God comes down to our level to love us and call us to greatness, just as the Ocean playfully calls Moana. The Holy Spirit often communicates with us through the people in our lives, small moments or words we hear throughout our days, or sometimes even through a trail of conch shells if that’s what will speak to us. These small (and sometimes big) moments and interactions are the trail of breadcrumbs the Holy Spirit leaves for us, leading us to our calling and vocation. Possibly more telling than anything, however, is the desire God places in our hearts for whatever it is He is calling us to, exactly like Moana’s deep desire to explore beyond the reef and her love of the sea. God would not place a desire on our hearts if He did not intend to fulfill it in some way. Speaking to us in ways we can understand and relate to, the Holy Spirit works with our strengths and weaknesses to lead us to our vocation, and therefore help us grow deeper on our greatest path of love.
Additionally, when Moana faces opposition to her mission from Maui, who resists the journey throughout most of the film, the Ocean helps Moana in extraordinary ways, such as swiftly guiding Moana back to the boat every time Maui throws her far off into the ocean. Even before she finds Maui, the Ocean helps Moana by keeping her awake when steering the boat as she searches for the demigod. The Ocean provides Moana the means to fulfill her calling when she is faced with adversity, just as the Holy Spirit assists us on our journey. When fulfilling God’s will, we are given the graces we need to follow our mission through. The Holy Spirit helps us overcome obstacles that threaten to derail us when our hearts are fixed on achieving what God is calling us to. We are never without help when seeking God’s will, much like Moana is never completely without help on her journey.
But early on in her venture to find Maui, Moana finds herself suddenly caught in a treacherous storm while sailing the sea. The rough water thrusts her boat on its back and crashes into Moana as she tries to stay afloat. Moana pleads with the Ocean, asking it to help her manage the storm, to flip her boat and keep her from drowning. However, the Ocean does not provide help to Moana during what she thinks is her greatest time of need. Moana is knocked unconscious and dies. No, I’m just joking, Moana lives — but Hehei dies. I’m kidding, I’m kidding, Heihei doesn’t die… or does he?
Moana lives and awakes to find she, her boat, and Heihei (maybe) have washed up on an island Moana is unfamiliar with. She becomes frustrated and feels betrayed by the Ocean, who gave her nothing but silence when Moana was struggling to survive the storm. Moana feels ignored and abandoned, until she turns around to see Maui’s shadow in the distance, signaling that she has finally reached her destination and found the demigod. The Ocean did not abandon Moana; it knew exactly what it was doing and was with her the whole time. The Ocean knew the storm would take Moana to her destination and that Moana would survive. It was not being silent out of spite or abandonment, rather the Ocean was allowing natural events to unfold and lead Moana to where she needed to be. This might have been my favorite scene just because it’s so relatable. How often do we pray and hear nothing but silence from God? I know it happens to me pretty often. But even when it feels as though God is not listening and doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to, that does not mean we have been betrayed or ignored. The Holy Spirit never abandons us, it only remains silent because it has a greater plan, similar to how the Ocean had a plan for Moana during the storm. God hears our prayers always, but sometimes He answers them in ways we do not expect. The Ocean never left Moana, and the Holy Spirit never leaves us.
Finally, God never forces us to follow the vocation He intends for us to follow, similar to how the Ocean never forces Moana to finish the journey she started. After a series of events, Moana begins to believe she is not the “chosen one” and is not fit to handle the responsibility the Ocean bestowed upon her. Moana tells the Ocean that it made a mistake when it chose her, and gives the heart of Te Fiti back to the Ocean, recommending that it find someone more adept for the task of returning the heart to the goddess. Though disappointed, the Ocean gently accepts the heart and Moana’s resignation. The Ocean doesn’t make Moana do anything she does not want to do, it allows her the free will to choose a different path, though it may be a path of lesser love and fulfillment. The Holy Spirit treats our choices similarly. God has extraordinary plans for each of us and wants to use our unique gifts to bring greater love to the world and to our own lives. We must decide whether to follow God’s calling and accept the graces He wants to give us — but God leaves that decision in our hands. We can choose a different path, and God will never force the decisions we make. But if we are open to it, the Holy Spirit continues to send us graces to guide us to our greatest path of love and redirect our path when we veer off course, sort of like how Moana is given a pep talk by her grandmother after giving back the heart. The Ocean (I think) sends Gramma Tala to speak to Moana. Gramma helps Moana see that Moana was chosen for a reason and that she is fit for the task. Moana then dives into the ocean to retrieve the heart in order to finish the task she was called to complete, and sets off with a clear mind and conviction in her heart to save her island. You go, Moana. You go.
The character of the Ocean in the movie Moana provides a charming and relatable metaphor for how we experience God in our lives, particularly through His Holy Spirit. Discerning our vocation and following our calling can be hard sometimes. We are all called to greatness, and greatness is often faced with hardship and adversity. But if we keep our eyes on God and ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance, we will not be led astray, and there’s just no telling how far we’ll go.
Originally published at “Flowers and Foxes”.
Magdalyn “Maggie” Fiore was raised in California, USA. Now living on the east coast, Maggie is pursuing her Master of Arts in Science Writing at Johns Hopkins University after recently receiving her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. Maggie’s greatest aspiration is to one day own a baby dinosaur. Unfortunately, some dreams don’t come true.