This ancient Polynesian myth can help us learn some Catholic wisdom.
My husband was away for six days, so what is a mother of four small children to do? Watch a movie. (Repeat, if necessary.)
Although I had heard good things about Moana, I wasn’t quite sure what we would find wading into it. I was, however, very pleasantly surprised. An island chief-in-training, Moana is aware of a sense of mission. She is tasked with saving her civilization by returning a stolen “heart” to the goddess of life.
My children then sunk themselves in the movie soundtrack and those catchy tunes turned my thoughts to the timeless lessons tucked in this ancient story wrapped in flashy packaging (yes, the animation is incredible – the hair alone is enough to marvel for an hour and half).
Although a tale based upon the ancient myths of Polynesia, Moana does not stray far from timeless truths of the human heart that make for great storytelling and Catholic wisdom.
Wisdom is as wisdom does
Moana is torn between obeying her father, the island chief, and what she knows in her heart to be her calling. While I agree with Steven Greydanus that the Junior Knows Best theme is tired and tedious, there are ages when junior just might know best. We are living in one of those ages now, where it isn’t uncommon to find children and grandchildren evangelizing their parents/grandparents. Nor is it uncommon to find someone who feels they have a vocation to religious life or the priesthood – only to have a parent wish it away with ever ounce of their being, and every arrow in their quiver.
Moana knows she has a deep calling, so she rejects the trappings of fear and pride that have enslaved her father (and their island) in much the same way that many a young man/woman has responded to the call of the priesthood or religious life (or even a simple life of true faith).
Being heartless makes us terrifying
After overcoming challenge after challenge – from Maui, the narcissistic demigod who trapped her in a cave, to the Tamatoa, the monster crab who ate his own grandmother – Moana has one last demon to overcome, Te Ka.
Te Ka is a terrifying figure – and yet that terrifying figure turns out to be the heartless goddess Ta Fiti. Without love (caritas) we can become terrifying — or at least quite ugly. I suspect there are moments when I look a lot more like Te Ka than Ta Fiti to my family – but it is precisely those times when I am lacking love and not the times when I am patient, kind, compassionate, and self-less.
Often, we are our own enemy
Te Ka, the sizable menace, did everything she could to stop Moana. As happens in life so often, Moana was the very person who could help her. Even when we have the best thing in the world to offer someone (like our faith) they may resist with everything they have. The hardest part of helping Te Ka was to get past Te Ka. Anyone who has struggled to change or to help a loved one knows this very well. We can truly be our own worst enemy.
Women are key to healthy civilizations
What happens when women reject their life-giving abilities in its many forms? As portrayed in this Polynesian myth, women’s role in a healthy society is not a new concept. While on the surface, Moana may appear to be just another environmental-flick, the film expresses well the ancient wisdom that women are crucial to flourishing civilization – and not just because we recycle cardboard and glass bottles. Our real power is in our unique gifts of the heart. If there is no heart, there can be no life.
Heart beyond intellect
Often Catholics fight battles on an intellectual front, especially with evangelization. But more often than not, the real divisions are issues of the heart, such as the brokenness that happened at the hands of another, or an emotional attachment to the wrong things. Reason as we might, our best arguments may fall flat simply because they don’t get to the heart of the matter.
At the end of the film, when it is revealed that Te Ka is really the lost goddess of life, Moana doesn’t win Ta Fiti over with reason, but simply reminds the heartless goddess that rage, anger, and destruction are not who she is. “This is not who you are,” she says (or sings).
Yes, if only it were that easy – but often we make it more complicated than we should. There are few constants in this world, but the human heart that has changed very little. Moana reminds us to learn how to speak its language.