Breaking from my weekly routine is due to a piece of news that I only received at the weekend and I felt needed marking: Maria Von Trapp, the last member of the family singers (before the three later children were born to the Captain and Maria) that inspired The Sound of Music, died at 99 years old. Having studied this classic whilst at University I fully believe that the arts can provide great lessons about God, ourselves, and humanity’s relationship with Him. Below are five lessons based on the 1965 film adaptation of the story that I feel are well worth looking into.
Being in His creation can bring you closer to God
One of the most famous movie scenes of all time is the soon-to-be-nun Maria running across a beautiful green field singing to the sky.
“The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.
My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”
Let’s think about those lyrics a little.
I’ve always loved the scientific suggestion that the first thing that we can be sure of before the Earth began, at the “big bang” is a sound. When looking at Genesis we can say the same thing: God spoke. Sound and song have been a large part of creation. We praise, we sing, we create music, and sound is something that can truly lift our spirit. The Bible talks about creation groaning and the rocks crying out, and this is what they have done before our existence, and yet it is often hard to think of earth, and things, having a song. Although it might not sound right to call the earth living, I think there is some premise to suggest that those things created by God, like children, communicate with their maker. This could be a song sung over and over for thousands of years, just as Maria herself sings out.
“‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’”
Luke 19:40, NIV
Yet Maria has this connection to it all, even if the other nuns don’t know what sense to make of it. It makes sense to me; it makes sense that there are places, often beautiful places, that seem to take our breathe away, feel literally closer to heaven, to God, and fill us with awe. It doesn’t seem surprising that in a world created by God we might find places that tell us about him, like a painting speaking of the artist behind it. This does not make nature God, or God nature, but does suggest a connection that we might appreciate more if we spent time within it.
God can take you on some strange journeys
Nun to nannie, back to nun, then to step-mother & wife on the run from Nazis: I can’t imagine that Maria had any idea of this journey as a girl. Yet, her life had purpose behind it and she was desperate to follow God’s will. Do I think she succeeded? Yes.
I do believe there are those called to a religious life, infact I believe we are all called to a religious life. The issue is what that life looks like because God can call us to some hugely differing paths. Maria’s was not clear to her for a long time, but in finding a family who needed her and giving herself to them, I do believe she followed God.
In my experience He can and does do this, and definitely has a sense of humour. There have been moments in my life that I thought I had everything planned perfectly, and then… well you know what happens when you tell God your plans… my degree, jobs, money, and my child, all have come from paths that were not what I planned or expected. All are wonderful in their own ways, and sometimes hard, but definitely of God. These strange journeys can teach us so much more than our own five year plans for stability.
Sometimes to follow God’s commands sacrifice is required
I sometimes feel that one of the most underestimated moments of the film is the nuns’ sabotage of the Nazi’s cars in order to help the family escape. The sad truth of it is that they were probably all killed as a result. The Roman Catholic church were not on great terms with the Nazi party, many priests, nuns and monks were killed throughout WWII particularly where they were found to have helped others escape. It is not much of a leap to suggest that as the nuns were the only ones around (other than the family) the Nazi officers would have correctly assumed the culprits behind the damage to their vehicles. It is also fair to assume the nuns probably knew this potential risk when they assisted and hence gave their lives to protect the family.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13, NRSV
It is often hard to think that God might ask this final sacrifice of us, but the truth is that sometimes He does, even if not in booming voices from the heavens, but in the example He set for us. It is not easy. Yet the example of these nuns, and many others who suffered and died protecting innocent victims of the Nazi regime, serves to remind us that life is not something we can hold onto, and we should think carefully about what we use our limited time for.
Those who are the hardest to love often need it the most
Captain Von Trapp was not an easy man to be around, even with his children. When Maria turns up he does not smile or seem remotely welcoming. He uses military-inspired routines, including a whistle, to command his children. Everything is strict and done his way but the children are mischievous and resent the governess’ that their father continues to provide for them. Even the Captain’s fiancé does not seem to receive much affection from him.
But this is a man who has lost his wife, leaving him the sole parent of seven children and he has coped the best he could relying on what he knows to get by. He needed someone to help him, and really care before he was able to open up. He needed to be reminded of love.
Whilst in Dundee a woman spoke to me about the teenage mothers that she worked with. She described how some would look down their noses at these mothers who seemed more capable of looking after their makeup than their children. This woman explained that most have been battered by the world, insulted and are exhausted by it all. The only thing they can do to protect themselves is to put on a front, literally a mask that tells the world they are fine and don’t care. What they needed was love and kindness and unexpectant help.
Sometimes there are people in our lives who are hard to deal with. Sometimes it’s worth looking a little deeper and loving a little bit harder.
Even in the darkest of situations there is hope
Despite there being a real answer to what happened to the Von Trapp family the film left the ending open. In the same way as Fiddler on the Roof, this was done in a time where many people still had memories of real wartime tragedies, losses of family and friends, and it was left open to allow others to fill in their own ending. By seeing the family walk over the mountains there was hope but not an expectation of safety – safety wouldn’t have been an honest portrayal of such a risky time. Still, that border, across the mountains was the light at the end of the tunnel. It would be their salvation from the tyranny of the Nazi party and what they were being asked to obey.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5, NIV
Even when so many people died there was still hope. Many didn’t die: they fought, hid, and assisted in saving lives. There were those who risked everything over and over again despite being relatively safe under the Nazis, knowing that what was happening was wrong, in order to save those that were discriminated against, tortured, imprisoned and killed en masse.
God weeps at our pain, rages at the injustice of it all, and yet points to the light. Many people saw in His lessons the command to protect those widows, orphans and oppressed and did exactly that, trusting that there was hope and praying for an end to the war. So many of those are now remembered for their great acts of courage and holding to their faith despite huge opposition.
There is far more within this musical, and many others, that can show us new ways of looking at scripture, God and our relationship with Him, and I would highly recommend having a look. One great source is written by my University lecturer Dr Ian Bradley: You’ve Got To Have A Dream, The Message of the Musical.