HOW MOANA SPOKE TO ME
If you've read other posts on this blog, you know that it’s been a year of great change. I didn't feel ready for any of it. But as I look back on it, I now see signposts sprinkled through the seasons that indicated a coming shift - there so often are, really. At each one of them, I felt great emotion and a stirring in my soul, though I did not yet know why.
One was the night I finally saw Moana.
I didn’t hear much about the movie at first, and its box office run passed me by. Chris bought it home back in March (before Wild Harbors, or any of this adventure, was even a thought in my mind) and we settled in for a cozy evening of what I thought would be mere Disney indulgence.
I was not prepared.
Before long, I was rushing to grab tissues from the bathroom and make it back to the couch without missing a moment. This story that conjures questions of identity and listening to the still, small voice inside wrecked me in a season of trying to avoid those very things.
Moana has a good life. She loves her parents and grandmother. She lives in paradise. And yet, her gaze drifts to the sea. She is not ungrateful or dissatisfied with her surroundings; she simply feels a pull that she cannot explain or shake. Her father’s admonitions to stay landlocked do not quell her magnetism toward the water. She tries her best to shut it out to live up to the roles set out for her.
This was me, and it will be me again if I’m not careful. I have led a good life. I taught elementary school for eleven years. I have a spectacular husband. We have a loving church community in our suburban town. We have a safe apartment. But from the day I took my first teaching job to the last, something tiny would crop up every once in a while that said “something else.” I would ignore it and plod on, but I also couldn’t bring myself to make decisions about big commitments like a house or a child that would rule out other possibilities. I wasn’t ready to follow that voice, yet I couldn’t bring myself to silence it entirely. Music steadily grew in our lives, but I wasn’t quite sure (and was too afraid to ask) if it was where the Voice was pointing.
“I've been staring at the edge of the water/
Long as I can remember, never really knowing why/
I wish I could be the perfect daughter/
But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try”*
She finally decides to follow the sea-beckoning voice one day, joyful anticipation spilling over as she paddles out. However, the reef under the waves proves an unkind element, and she nearly drowns. She resolves that the urges she has had are foolishness, that she will take her place as the leader of her people and serve them as best she can, never to risk the water again. Her deep desire hurt her, or at least she got hurt following it. It wasn’t what she thought it would be.
Enter Gramma Tala, the lone voice of dissension (and resident crazy lady) in the family. She sees Moana shutting down, and she takes her to the hidden-away secret of her people’s past. At Moana’s emergent cry of, “We were voyagers!” I had chills, and my eyes filled with tears. The voice that called her was not foolishness. It was calling to part of her identity. Her people had forgotten who they were. She was awake at last.
Have you felt this? The sudden electric jolt of “this is who you were made to be?” I have experienced it when I have stepped into passions previously put on hold, the ones I could live a day at a time without until it had been weeks and months before touching them again. Sometimes I have felt it after a long season of complacency in my faith. And then something breaks through - a moment to do the thing you love, a speaker of Truth, a song, a poem, a memory - the scales fall, and the voice is loud enough to hear. I was THIS. WE were this.
She leaves to pursue the mission set before her. She disappoints her father. She sets aside comfort and status. It is no “follow your bliss” journey; she sees the truth her father refuses to see - her people will die if she does not. It will be hard, dangerous, lonely, but it is vital that she go.
Sure enough, the sea is vast and lonely. Worse, she has never navigated the ocean or sailed a boat before. She must, though, and she tries valiantly. She repeats her mission out loud over and over again. She cries out for help, and she is answered with a terrifying storm that overwhelms her vessel.
As is the way of things, that storm serves to bring her to the first goal of her quest. It, also, proves harder than she thought - her boat is stolen, she struggles for control, she learns that they are missing a key tool for the journey. She works so, so hard to overcome these obstacles, and for a while she beats them back. At last, though, she faces the great purpose of the journey.
And she fails.
Her companion leaves. She is weak. She knows that her people will die. She has tried hard, and it was not enough. She begs, “Choose someone else.”
Cue the tears flowing (again). I’ve cried that prayer before. Sometimes the answer was no. Sometimes it was “okay.” But every time the task moved on to another person, my life was left safer and duller.
Beautifully, a voice of grace comes forward to answer Moana’s plea.
“It’s not your fault… if you are ready to go home, I will be with you.”
The choice is hers. And she turns to go home. Yet… she hesitates. She’s not sure why.
The presence with her sings:
“Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are
The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
Moana, you've come so far
Do you know who you are?”**
She is not told the answer. She is not given an object or a map to help her. She is asked who she is.
And line by line, she speaks aloud the answer. She is the daughter of a chief. She loves the sea. She’s journeyed so far. With each word of truth, her courage grows and returns, stronger than before.
At this point, I was a wreck. Every time I listen to the soundtrack now, I still am. My husband chuckles and doesn’t even have to look at me anymore to know that I’ll be silently weeping.
With Moana’s reaffirmation of what’s true, she finds the call she thought she’d lost or failed. It is not some hidden, faraway thing. It is not something to attain. It is close. It is inside her. Part of her. And with this, she can continue. Continue she does. She sees past the deception of danger, turning the same question of identity toward her foe. And through it, her foe comes to rest.
I was a puddle. I couldn’t even talk about the movie for a day or two, and I couldn’t explain why. I would just tear up. In fact, half a year later later, I tried to talk about it with a friend at Hutchmoot and choked up all over again (thankfully, she gets it, and she cried right along with me - Lyndsay, you're the best).
Months after watching Moana, the opportunity to make the new album arose. But, I would have to leave my teaching job to do it. We dared to ask God whether I should. He answered in numerous, abundantly clear ways. GO. I feared. I trembled. I wept. And I went.
I put the movie on again in the wake of the decision, alone at home one day. This time, I received encouragement and warning. In Moana’s initial attempt to take to the sea, and her near-total failure, I saw inevitable mistakes and failures in store for me. They will come my way. In fact, much like the reef, my own faults and difficulties below the surface may be the things that clash with the current and cause my injuries. I will probably hurt and want to cry out, “Choose someone else!” This does not negate the call I heard or cause it to cease.
I saw again the young heroine’s loneliness and confusion on the sea. Her lack of experience navigating. Oh, have I been lonely in this season. I’ve never worked for myself full-time before. I don’t know how to sail this ship. But it does not negate the call.
I saw her bravery and resilience. I saw her momentous attempt to complete her quest and how badly it failed at first. I saw her despair and self-doubt. And I saw how much I need to tell myself who I am on this journey. If I base my identity on my successes and failures, I will crumble. Who I am, then? I am a daughter of a King. I am inherently made to be creative. I have come this far. I am not equal to my failures or my successes. I am called to follow Jesus and know Him better in the journey. I am me, who He made me to be, and that is enough.
And His call is not far away. It is not a mystery He has concealed from us or something we have to race after to try to keep up with or measure up to. His Spirit is within us, close, guiding us, speaking actively.
God can speak in the most surprising of places. This animated interpretation of island folklore showed me a vivid picture of how God calls to us. For some people, it may be a specific task-oriented call; for all of us, it is the call to remember who we are and Whose we are. We are often so much more than the life we get stuck living if we’re not careful. I’ve spent too much of mine avoiding things the Spirit has beckoned me toward. So here I am, on my boat, remembering and repeating who I am, so that I can stay the course to which I am called for this season.
(...and belting out some epic Disney tunes in my car when I need a little extra encouragement.)
*Lyrics from “How Far I’ll Go” by Lin-Manuel Miranda
**Lyrics from “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors” by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Photo by Kundan Ramisetti on Unsplash