(Yes, this post contains some SPOILERS. It might make you love the movie more, though, which happened to me with this article about Mad Max: Fury Road.)
When I was in high school, in the early 90s, a Methodist pastor I love preached a sermon about Christopher Columbus. She was the first ecofeminist I’d ever known, and she spent her ministry helping to heal racism, sexism, and the Earth, including building lasting community with the indigenous people where we lived. Among other things, she would invite native leaders to come speak to our churches and help the congregation understand their continuing presence and cultures. And she was the first person I knew who recycled, used inclusive language – I’d never even heard of it – or who lamented the wastefulness of convenience.
Her sermon was, as always, beautiful. This was way before the internet. I think she had read a biography about Columbus. She spoke of what it must have been like to take such a leap of faith, to cross an ocean, honestly not knowing if you would find land before you and everyone depending on you died of dehydration or starved. What a huge burden, responsibility, that must have been. And what a moment: to see land, to know you will all survive to live another day. The biographer had described a pioneer of deep faithfulness and conviction, the only possible explanation for such courage. Her sermon inspired us all to remain faithful to our divine covenant; to remember, we are never alone; and to have courage when we are called to journey into the unknown.
Well, decades later, and probably thanks to the internet, much has surfaced in the wider culture regarding Columbus – his brutal avarice, cruelty, racism, arrogance, fraudulence, and abusiveness toward women. Indigenous communities consider him a genocidal butcher. Even if only a fraction of the accounts are true, Columbus was clearly motivated by greed and only greed. Which brings me to why we should watch Frozen 2.
Rarely has an ecofeminist manifesto felt so inspiring and powerful – and fun. (Witness Trelawney’s description of its theology!) It starts out with a hauntingly beautiful lullaby, passed from grandmother, to mother (Queen Iduna), to her small daughters, Elsa and Anna. Iduna sings of a river, in whose song all magic flows; but can you brave what you most fear? Can you face what the river knows?, she asks; yet, when all is lost, then all is found.
This song sets the tone for the story, as the people of the [ahem, Queendom] of Arendelle celebrate community, bounty, and harvest beneath a beautiful Autumn sky. As they gather for a feast, it’s clear they joyfully believe some things will ‘never change,’ such as how their kingdom of plenty.. stands for the good of the many, and that their flag will always fly.
But. There’s this pesky Voice in Elsa’s head, telling her all is not quite right; it disrupts her complacence and calls her out of her comfort zone and toward something important but as yet unknown. Although she is afraid, her willingness to heed the Voice awakens powerful Spirits that force all of Arendelle out of their peaceful homes to huddle on an exposed cliff, while Elsa and Anna head North to seek a truth that they hope will restore their home.
They eventually encounter the indigenous Northumbra people, a wary community who has been trapped in a decades-long impasse with, of all things, guards from Arendelle, neither group trusting the other and all unable to leave and live freely. Trust me, entreats Elsa; I just want to help.
We only trust Nature, replies the matriarch, Yelena; when Nature speaks, we listen.
Nature certainly speaks a lot in this story, and Elsa and Anna learn to listen, to work with the powerful Spirits of Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire that guide them to the truth. It turns out, much happened in the past: some brutal and unjust; yet some beautiful, loving, and powerful. Nature teaches that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for; and if we are willing to be guided by Nature, work with Nature, we may find both truth – and the strength to embrace it. To let go of our attachment to the past; to grow into something new and free. What are we afraid of? That we might be wrong about something? That someone we looked up to might have been wrong, or done something wrong? Or perhaps that we don’t have all the power; maybe we’re not really ‘Number One?’ That’s just your fear, says Elsa. Fear is what can’t be trusted.
Truth-journeys can be tough. They demand courage, sacrifice, compromise, and yes, trust. It hurts to let go. My favorite song is Anna’s heartbreak when she realizes just how much must be ‘lost’ for all to be ‘found.’ Like a biblical psalm of lament, her song doesn’t hesitate to name just how hard things are. This grief has a gravity… it pulls me down. How to rise from this floor?, she asks. Have you ever felt that way? I sure know I have. And I can promise you, so have the Northumbrians of the world.
But, then… the psalm continues. A tiny voice whispers in my mind: you are lost; hope is gone; but you must go on, and do the next right thing.
The next right thing. This phrase captures the heart of the story. We personally may not have caused the injustices in the world today. Maybe we are doing our best; and that includes not ignoring injustices of the past that still affect people today. We are not responsible for others’ choices, the film argues, but we ourselves still always have a choice: to hear that Voice, and do the next right thing.
So, yeah. As painful as it is, I’m glad to know the truth about Columbus. And the pastor who preached that sermon all those years ago? She was first in line to help change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Because Nature has been speaking all along; and that pastor was willing to be guided by its Voice, to truth. Change. Justice. Freedom. Are we?
Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee does Climate Resilience Chaplaincy in the Boston area. She recently earned her Ph.D. in social and ecological ethics from Boston University School of Theology and she is an adjunct professor for Wesley Theological Seminary. She continues to study intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in metrowest Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.