'Just Keep Swimming' – Lenten Lessons in the Most Unusual Places

Rev. Amy Johnson shares insights for Lent where you might not expect to find them-- all with a little help from a Disney movie.

The following is a community contribution from blogger Amy Freeman Johnson. It originally appeared on Canton Patch.

When my daughter, Tula, was five years old, she was sick with an awful flu virus. 

All she was able to do was lie down, sleep, eat and drink a little, and watch television.  She was sick for almost seven days, so she, my son, Kiran, and I watched a lot of movies during that time!  We even pulled out some of our “old” movies, like ShrekBeauty and the Beast, and Finding Nemo

Being clergy, it’s hard for me to watch anything without finding something spiritually instructive in it. 

That week, Finding Nemo proved to be particularly instructive to me, especially since the Season of Lent was beginning, the season during which we prepare ourselves through self-examination, discipline, penitence, prayer and fasting for the celebration of the redemption and new life of Easter.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Finding Nemo, let me give you a very brief description of it. Nemo is a Clown fish child.  His father is Marlin.  His mother, Coral, is dead. A Barracuda ate her, along with Nemo’s brothers and sisters, just before Nemo was born.  

This event traumatized Marlin, who had tried to save his family, so he is very protective of Nemo.The first day Marlin lets go a little, and allows Nemo to go to school, Nemo is captured by a human being and taken as a pet to live in a fish tank. Marlin witnesses Nemo’s capture and tries to save him but he is unsuccessful. The rest of the movie is about Marlin trying to find Nemo and Nemo trying to escape the fish tank and return to the ocean to find his father.

At the beginning of his search for Nemo, Marlin meets Dory, a Regal Blue Tang fish. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, so she keeps forgetting who Marlin is, who Nemo is, what quest Marlin and she are on, etc.  Because of her short-term memory loss, Dory is anxiety free! She just doesn’t worry. She takes things one second at a time, because she has to!  She is the ultimate optimist.  Marlin, on the other hand, is worry incarnate. He worries about everything and never thinks anything is going to turn out allright.  He is the ultimate pessimist.

There I was, watching the movie with Tula and Kiran, and a pivotal scene began. 

Marlin and Dory were inside a whale! Marlin was convinced the whale was going to eat them, while Dory was having fun swimming around in the whale’s gigantic mouth.  She was, of course, driving Marlin crazy, because he couldn't understand why she wasn't worried!

All of the sudden, the water in the whale’s mouth began to recede because the whale was swallowing. Marlin became completely terrified. He believed they were about to be eaten! Dory wasn't worried, though. She just began talking to the whale in whale language, something Marlin was convinced she didn't know how to do. 

So, Dory was talking to the whale, and Marlin was yelling at Dory, and they were both hanging onto the whale’s mouth, trying not to fall down the whale’s throat. Suddenly, Dory let go and Marlin grabbed hold of her fin so she wouldn't fall down the whale’s throat. 

But Dory told Marlin that the whale was telling them that it was time to let go.  Marlin, traumatized twice by the loss of two family members whom he was unable to help, was unable to let go! If he let go, surely something awful would happen. 

Finally, though, Marlin gave in and let go, and he and Dory were blown out of the whale’s blow-hole and into the Sydney, Australia, harbor, which was the very place to which they had been traveling. The whale had understood Dory all along and had taken them where they wanted to go.

It turned out that all along Marlin had been worrying needlessly. All along, what he needed to do was let go and trust, trust that merely because he was actively engaged in a quest and committed to it he would be taken where he needed to go.

While watching that pivotal scene with my children, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all live like Dory, so 'in the moment' and trusting of God that we didn’t worry, that we remained hopeful, and that we trusted that we would be taken where we needed to go as long as we took advantage of the opportunities that came our way as we journeyed along?” 

And then it occurred to me that Dory could live like that because she never remembered anything long enough to worry about it!

Those of us who are able to remember have to figure out how to actively let go of what we worry about. Even though we are able to remember what it is that worries us, we have to let go of it anyway! We need to find a way to be a combination of Marlin and Dory:  able to remember and yet able to let go.

Of course, the way we do that is through faith, for we are saved by grace through faith alone. C.S. Lewis once said, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”  We must, like Dory, let go ALL THE TIME, as if we had no memory (even though we do). We must take life a second at a time.

The Season of Lent is all about letting go and letting God: We let go of our sins, for we are already forgiven. We repent (which means we turn back to God), for God is with us at all times anyway. We trust, for evil was defeated when Christ was crucified, and new life was created when he was raised. We can let go because the kingdom of God is already at hand, and our only real challenge is to live that truth as if we believe it with every fiber of our being.

This Lenten Season, may we be a mixture of Marlin and Dory, aware of what is but trusting in what will be, to the glory and honor of God.

For a video of the "Finding Nemo" scene, click here.

Rev. Amy Johnson, Pastor, Canton Community Baptist Church

What are some of the things you reflect on during Lent? Where do you draw inspiration? Share with us in the comments!

Terry Chesky March 13, 2014 at 08:01 AM
Thank you! Just what I needed :)
Joanne Hayes March 13, 2014 at 08:48 AM
Very inspirational, so simple yet profound.
D Cabral March 13, 2014 at 11:23 AM
wonderful blog ... and interpretation of Finding Nemo ... thanks for posting :-)
John Starks March 13, 2014 at 11:47 AM
This analogy doesn't work for me. 1. We don't live in water. 2. Even if this is based on a true story, this took place in Australia and the Patch is about local events. Let's talk about southern California events y'all.
jo March 13, 2014 at 02:25 PM
works for Me.. got to be more like Dory... :)


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