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Maria's Prayers in "The Sound of Music"

A deeper analysis for yesterday's DEEP

In The Sound of Music, Maria is portrayed as a model Christian. Her prayers, even her mistakes, are a lesson for us all.

Maria’s prayers show constant communion with God. Right after singing “I have confidence in me” (in which she’s actually trying to build up her confidence) she arrives at the gate to the Von Trapp estate. She looks through in fear and says, “Oh help.” No folded hands needed here; she talks to the Lord conversationally.

     Takeaway #1 – Prayer doesn’t have to look like prayer.

The next prayer we see is when she insists on saying grace. Given the hazing she’s just endured, this shows that thanking God is an absolute. She’s afraid of many things, but this is about the Lord. No fear.

     Takeaway #2 – Prayer has priority.

Next, we see her bedtime prayers. Two things jump out here. First of all, her prayers for the children are serious. She’s not just going through the motions; even remembering Kurt’s name is important.

But the real bell ringer is when she prays, “Dear Father, now I know why you sent me here.” Maria’s got it all wrong, but she’s praying to the Lord as if He’s her boss.

     Takeaway #3 – Being right isn’t important. Clueless prayers are still glorifying.

     Takeaway #4 – If He really is the Lord of your life, your prayers will sound like it.

Maria prays again just before she leaves to go back to the abbey. She’s packing furiously and all of a sudden she stops and leans on the bed. The camera cuts away quickly, so we don’t know how long she prays, but it’s clearly intense. From here on, Maria’s prayers get increasingly fervent.

     Takeaway #5 – Intense prayers are special.

Back at the abbey, Maria goes into seclusion and “doesn’t say a word … except in prayer.” Obviously, she says many different prayers, but she’s definitely not asking for favors. When the Reverend Mother asks her if she let the Captain see how she felt about him, she says, “If I did I didn’t know it. That’s what’s been torturing me; I was there on God’s errand. To have asked for his love would have been wrong.”

Then she walks over to the altar, bows her head and says, “I’m ready at this moment to take my vows. Please help me.” Her prayer is answered immediately, but she doesn’t like the answer. She has to go back and face Captain Von Trapp.

     Takeaway #6 – Some of the most glorious answers to prayer can look like anything but.

Then there’s her prayer at the gazebo, when she sits on the bench, leans forward, and folds her hands. There are no words – we don’t know what she’s praying – but it’s instantly answered by Georg interrupting her. She doesn’t like this answer either; at least she doesn’t like being interrupted. She’s clearly annoyed when she asks, “Was there something you wanted?”

Thus her prayer couldn’t have been what you’d expect in a movie scene like this – pleading with God to grant her heart’s desire. If it had been, his sudden arrival would have been anything but annoying.

     Takeaway #7 – God knows what you want better than you do. The key to prayer is communion.

Of course, she’s about to have a tsunami of joy wash over her. When it dawns of her and Georg that they’re deliriously in love, Maria asks, “How can this be happening to me?” This doesn’t sound like a prayer, but if it isn’t who’s she asking?

     Takeaway #8 – It’s OK to ask questions.

But her question doesn’t make sense. The Captain falling in love with her shouldn't surprise anyone. Why can’t Maria accept this blessing?

Maria answers her question with the words, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” That doesn't make sense either. Shouldn't recent events easily explain why Georg is in love with her? Instead it's all about her “youth or childhood.” Apparently, her "wicked, miserable past" precludes this happening to her.

The words to “Something Good” make this all about God. Otherwise, Maria’s past wouldn’t even be relevant. Why would Georg care if she was a brat as a kid? Only God could care. Only God could even know. She doesn’t doubt that Georg loves her; she doubts that he should. “Here you are standing there loving me, whether or not you should.”

The Lord has forgiven Maria for something she can’t forgive herself for. There’s no way she's going to figure this out in the span of a single scene; it’s too radical a concept. Besides, she’s still stuck in some guilt thing. She feels the burden of a debt that cannot be paid, even by her wonderful works with the Von Trapp children.

At least she’s come around to liking God’s answer. She just can’t figure out where in her “wicked, miserable past” she did something to deserve it, though she’s sure it must be there somewhere.

Except that it isn’t. Maria can’t think of where in her past she did something good because that’s not the answer. She’s got it all wrong, yet again. The idea that this is just a gift hasn’t even crossed her mind. She can’t imagine that God simply forgave her.

There’s an ocean of pain just below the surface in Maria, which is brilliantly portrayed throughout the movie. Early on, when Maria insists on apologizing for being late to dinner, the Reverend Mother says, “If it’ll make you feel better.” Then, as she’s leaving for the first time to go to the Von Trapps, she sings, “Oh, what’s the matter with me?” She’s always referring to her faults. She obviously sees herself as a failure as a nun. That’s why she can’t make sense out of what’s happening at the gazebo.

All this comes together to paint a powerful picture. Maria is an ideal Christian, in accordance with Romans 10:9 and Matthew 7:21. But her faith is young; she has yet to fully lay her sin at the foot of the cross. So when God gives her this incredible blessing, it totally confuses her. She didn’t ask for it. She even thinks she shouldn’t have it.

It's the most beautiful display of grace in cinema.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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