Moana: To Be Chosen
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
2 Timothy 1:8-9, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, . . . but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
One of Disney’s latest princesses, Moana, is probably one of the most unique. She’s fairly short with a very fit, stockier build. She has no castle. She enjoys a close relationship with both her parents, and unlike the other princesses, she has a ‘chosen one’ arch. Now, few story clichés are considered as phoned in as the ‘chosen one’. Its overuse for the past decades have, in many people’s opinions, overstayed its welcome. However, I felt Moana’s ‘chosen one’ story is not only deceptively deep, but it adequately captures the Biblical framework of what being chosen means and its true purpose.
For those who haven’t seen it, the movie ‘Moana’ is Disney’s love letter to Polynesian culture and myth. It starts with a legend of a powerful artifact called the Heart of Te Fiti. The story goes that the demi-god, Maui, stole and lost the Heart, which incited a blight that spreads from island to island. To Moana’s father, though, it’s more important for him to prepare his little girl to become village chief than to entertain such fairytales. Problem is, Moana isn’t the ‘stay-at-home’ type. She’s the voyaging type and would much rather sail the sparkling seas. Her parents try to instill a love for their island home in their restless daughter. Still, even after Moana learns to love serving her people, she can’t silence her inner craving for the sea. Then the legendary blight infects her home. Somebody must leave their island to save it, and the second Moana learns the ocean itself picked her to restore the Heart, that settles it. She follows her ‘way-finder’ impulses, grabs supplies, and sets off as the ocean’s chosen - all the while questioning why it picked her in the first place.
The ‘chosen one’ trope is so common these days, people groan at its mere mention, but its repeated use is really no surprise. Everyone’s been chosen in one way or another. In fact, this trope’s commonplace appearance stems from our innate desire to be special and our underlying knowledge that there is such a thing as chosen ones. After all, God Himself handpicked people for specific things countless times throughout our history, so its very concept is practically grafted into our genes. Still, just like navigating rolling waves, understanding the true purpose and direction meant for a chosen one is far less straight forward than most fiction portrays. Doubts and questions crowd in, confusing the way.
Moana is initially a clumsy sailor, and as she faces storms, pirate coconut people, and a lava monster, her grasp on what it means to be handpicked is just as haphazard. She openly repeats her goals in a mantra fashion as if it were a life-preserver. After all, considering how clueless she admits to be, she clings to the one clear thing in her head: her mission. Even Maui criticizes their sentient ocean for not restoring the Heart on its own. It’s more than capable. So why’d it bother picking Moana at all? Funny how people ask similar things about God. He’s omnipotent. He technically never needed anyone from anywhere to do anything for Him - not even His angels. So why doesn’t He blink and fix our broken planet? All the troubles He allowed, past and present, seem kinda pointless. That is, unless, the results He’s accomplishing don’t exactly match the results you’re expecting.
Now, I’m not going to equate Moana’s ocean to God. It’s not at all an adequate stand-in, but there’s a parallel between the two. Saving the world is minor to them compared to the bigger picture. You see, God isn’t simply about saving earth. He’s about restoring our relationship with Him. Similarly, the ocean wants to restore its connection with Moana’s people, who used to be skilled voyagers. Thus, saving the world isn’t the endgame for either of them. Stopping a blight won’t restore voyaging anymore than removing physical problems would mend man’s bond with God. Moana’s heritage would still be forgotten. Mankind would still resist God. It amends the physical but not the relational. Such internal issues can only really be addressed in one way: by being personal. This is where a ‘chosen one’ comes in.
Ever notice how chosen ones become personally connected with whoever chose them? The ocean and Moana bond pretty closely after she accepts its call. Plus, the fact that it picked her actually starts helping Moana make sense of herself. She’s been lost between two conflicting passions: the sea and her home. It’s a relatable problem, since people are often forced to pick one of their passions over another in real life. It feels like losing an arm. Sure, you’ll live, but going without it feels like a mistake. What’s the point in being gifted a noble yet unusable passion? However, Moana’s unique personhood is ideal to the ocean. A teachable, passionate sailor, that also won’t abandon her home is exactly the person who can restore the Heart and bring back the voyaging to her people. The ocean reached out to her, knowing others will be reached through her too. The same thing happens with God’s chosen ones. He directly connects with and equips those He selects.
Still, even ideal candidates like Moana can and have refused the call they’ve been given. Even redeemed Christians have refused God’s call. It’s tragically commonplace but understandable. Being chosen often equals daunting expectation, and some chosen ones believe they’re not actually needed . . . which . . . is correct. We’re no more God’s last resort than Moana is the ocean’s. So what’s the point? Well, perhaps it’s not God who’d suffer loss but ultimately the chosen one him or herself. Consider Esther. Mordecai implored her to risk her life to save the Jews, declaring God had obviously chosen her for that purpose. However, even Mordecai said her refusal wouldn’t doom Israel. Instead, she’d be doomed. Not only would she die. She’d never enjoy the deeper connection God had in store for her if she refused her tailor-made mission. With that in mind, it’s less like God needs His chosen ones. It’s more like His chosen ones need Him.
There’s a moment when Moana refuses her call, but what would have happened if the film stopped there? I imagine the Heart would be restored, but Moana would stay lost - not at sea but with herself. She needs the call just like we need God’s call. You’re not a puzzle piece. You’re an instrument - an instrument that won’t know what it can offer without a Great Composer’s attention and touch. His symphony will still be beautiful without you, but it’ll be all the more beautiful and personally fulfilling with you in it. God includes everyone in His plans, both the willing and the unwilling. The difference is the willing don’t miss out on their true purpose nor the intimacy with Him that results. God rescues through His Son. He calls His rescued to more through His Spirit. No one knows how far you’ll go should you answer, but come what may He knows the way.
“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.” - Tala to Moana
2 Peter 1:3-4, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
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