As a member of the Catholic charismatic renewal, I tend to fangirl over the Holy Spirit. However, I wasn’t expecting any theology from “Moana.” That was, until I noticed how the Ocean draws Moana to her mission to save her people. The Ocean brought to mind another friendly being who calls us to journey beyond our comfort zones for something greater…
Then it hit me: The Ocean could be a metaphor for the Holy Spirit!
The Ocean beckons Moana when she is a toddler
After she helps a baby sea turtle, Moana looks up and sees the water begin to rise, revealing a pink seashell. The water begins lifting slowly, allowing Moana to grab more seashells. The ocean then parts, surrounding her in walls of water. A large wave rises in a hesitant way, then gently descends to her and interacts with her as if it were a person. The wave reaches down at her slowly. When he father calls, the wave lifts Moana and safely carries her back to shore.
This is exactly how the Holy Spirit makes himself known to us; he beckons us gently and lovingly to draw us near. Sometimes the Spirit roars like a mighty wind. Other times he whispers to us softly. Whether he is comforting us or convicting us, the Spirit uplifts and challenges us as any good teacher would. Should we lose our way and seek the Spirit’s help, he scoops us up and carries us back to shore.
The Ocean calls Moana to go out
The song “How Far I’ll Go” is what got the “ocean is the Holy Spirit” idea in my head. Moana sings about how, “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me…” One thing we know well about the Holy Spirit is that when he comes upon us, he calls us to go out beyond our comfort zones, outside our own walls and preach the Gospel. He graces us with gifts and charisms that are not meant for ourselves, but to go outward and serve a greater purpose. More often than not, the Spirit calls us to missions that do not comply with our own plans or the plans set for us by family.
As Moana sang “How Far I’ll Go” I couldn’t help but be reminded of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now while Moana never goes to Judea or Samaria, the ocean’s influence and friendship does enable her to travel far to take Maui to defeat a volcanic sea demon. In the same vein, when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we are equipped with the courage to follow that sweet dove wherever he may fly.
The Ocean “overshadows” Moana
When Maui takes Moana’s canoe and tries to leave her behind on the island after his big musical number, Moana attempts to swim after him. Suddenly the Ocean takes hold of her body and transports her across the horizon all the way to her stolen canoe. Granted, the Ocean propels her swiftly the first time around, but as the movie goes on we see it transporting her more gently and with much care.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit overshadows us as a roaring wind that knocks us off our feet. Other times he wraps himself around us like a glowing blanket as he takes hold of our soul’s steering wheel.
The Ocean respects Moana’s choices
After their first battle with the sea demon Te Ka, an angry Maui flees and Moana is seen crying on her canoe. The Ocean manifests itself as the familiar wave, and Moana then begs it to choose someone else to restore the heart of Te Fiti. In another “chosen one” narrative, the Ocean would have kept giving that swirly green rock back to her. That is not the case in this movie. When Moana hands the heart to the Ocean, it takes the green rock and lets it sink to the bottom of the sea. She is then visited by the soul of her Grandma Tala, whose intercession gives Moana strength and reignites her desire to save her people, inspiring her to swim down and retrieve the glowing green heart.
This brought to mind how sometimes we are not ready to do what the Holy Spirit is calling upon us to do. The Holy Spirit is a patient teacher and is willing to wait as long as necessary. In the meantime, he never stops speaking to our hearts, helping us to prepare so that when we finally do come around to what he wants, we respond to his mission freely.
Moana faces Te Ka fearlessly . . . and peacefully
In the climactic fight against Te Ka, Moana realizes that Te Ka is actually the island goddess Te Fiti! “Let her come to me,” she says to the Ocean. The Ocean separates and, like Moses walking through the parted sea, Moana bravely heads straight for the raging Te Ka. There is no fear in her eyes, nor does she stumble during the tense walk. Te Ka screeches and roars, but nothing can stop Moana’s compassionate lullaby that tames the creature so that she can place the heart of Te Fiti back where it belongs.
In the presence of the Holy Spirit, there is no room for fear. When he comes upon us, he wraps the armor of unfailing peace around our souls so that we are able to boldly go into the most frightening places. The devil and his minions can shout, snarl and raise their claws at us, but when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we can face the forces of darkness with a monk-like calm that sends them fleeing far and away. Evil cannot remain in a place or person overshadowed by the Spirit of the Most High.
Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.