Sunday, August 4, 2013

Heavenly Mother

I'll start with just the basic description from Wikipedia -- which more-or-less encapsulates everything I've ever really known about her.

In Mormonism, Heavenly Mother or the Mother in Heaven is the mother of human spirits and the wife of God the Father. 
Although there is no clear record of Joseph Smith teaching of Heavenly Mother publicly, several of Smith's contemporaries attributed the theology to him either directly, or as a consequence of his theological stance. An editorial footnote of History of the Church, 5:254, presumably quotes Joseph Smith as saying: "Come to me; here's the mysteries man hath not seen, Here's our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen." In addition, a secondhand account states that in 1839, Joseph Smith had told Zina Diantha Huntington, after the death of her mother, that "not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but 'more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven'."[6]:65 
In addition, members of the Anointed Quorum, a highly select leadership group in the early church that was privy to Smith's teachings, also acknowledged the existence of a Heavenly Mother.[6]:65–67[7] Also, the Times and Seasons published a letter to the editor from a person named "Joseph's Specked Bird" in which the author stated that in the pre-Earth life, the spirit "was a child with his father and mother in heaven".[8] 
In 1845, after the murder of Joseph Smith, the poet Eliza Roxcy Snow, published a poem entitled My Father in Heaven, (later titled Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother, now used as the lyrics in the popular Latter-day Saint hymn O My Father), acknowledging the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

And that's about it. A mention or two of her in the manuals of the church and nothing more except the kind of "folklore-doctrine" that gets passed around but doesn't satisfy. (Though, for an interesting historical survey of the teachings about her, you can go to BYU Studies for a great article.)

This last week I went to a Sunstone symposium presentation on Heavenly Mother. It was beautiful and touching and I wanted to mention a few of the ideas that resonated with me.

The first that there are others out there who also hunger to know our Heavenly Mother. This was emphasized over and over by the first presenter -- and she read this touching post from The Exponent: 

Dear Mom,
It was hard growing up without you. I love Dad and he was really good at a lot of stuff, but it wasn’t the same as having a mother. I knew you were out there somewhere, but I couldn’t talk to you. I couldn’t get advice. I couldn’t see what I was going to look like when I got older, or what a lady is really like. I only knew what Dad said they were like and I never seemed to relate much to his flawless descriptions of selfless, compassionate, spiritual women. I mean I like all of those qualities. I want to be like that, but I also have another side. A tough, adventurous, foul-mouthed, chase the boys, win the competition, ask a lot of questions, pity no fools, side. In fact, I’ve always imagined you with a little smirk leaning over the kitchen doorway secretly encouraging this other side while you dispassionately say, “Now child, behave."
But that is all there is. My imagination. Because I don’t really know anything about you. I don’t know what you do or who you are. I don’t know if you are powerful and strong or submissive and meek. I don’t even know if you remember or even care about me. All Dad will say is that you exist and that I’m not supposed to talk about you. I don’t know what that means. My brothers say it is because you are so fragile that if we talked about you and said something mean it would be bad. That used to make sense to me. I just accepted it as normal. I mean I didn’t know any different. But I just had my first baby. A daughter. She’s the greatest thing in my whole life. When she laughs it feels like my heart is skydiving, when she cries it feels like my heart is breaking. I would do anything for this child. I have given up large parts of my body, my career, my love life, my time, energy, and self for this little girl. And I would do it again. Over and over. 
But I would never abandon her. I would never leave her. I would never willingly choose to end communication with her. Or ignore her during her difficult moments–the times when she is begging for a mom. 
It was hard growing up without you. I needed a mom to teach me about boys, sex, modesty, my body, heartbreak, hormones, friendships, love, death, and life. I needed a mom to help me through my pregnancy, labor, birth, nursing, and all the sleepless nights and hair pulling days. No matter how thoughtful Dad was he could never come close to understanding this stuff. He could never understand what it feels like to belong to a family where the women are silent and the men make decisions. Where femininity is a caricature of personhood. Where no matter where I go, what I do, or who I talk to I am a girl first and a person second. 
I’m a mother now. What used to suffice now stings. I don’t care any longer what excuses people have made for you. You should have been here. You should have cared. You should have helped me in my difficult moments and taught me how to be a sister, daughter, mother, friend, aunt, cousin, wife, grandma, and woman. You should have helped me with the things that Dad and brothers didn’t understand. You should not have abandoned me. I will never do that to my daughter. I will do anything it takes to keep her safe, to protect her, to support her, to encourage her, to help her, to teach her, to love her. Anything. There are no excuses that satisfy my heart of why you are absent from my life.
Your Heavenly Daughter

I used to blame church patriarchy for the absence of Heavenly Mother in LDS doctrine and rhetoric. Then I realized that I am treating her exactly like I don’t want to be treated: as silent support staff for the real work of men. If I treat her like a God, like someone with power, position, and priestesshood, then new feelings emerge. I feel angry. I feel sad. I feel abandoned and confused.
We want to know her -- as our mother, to feel her take on an active roll in our lives. We as women also want to know her in order to know ourselves:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God” (Teachings,345). In other words, one of the foundation stones of the restored gospel is a knowledge of what kind of being God actually is. But not only do we need to understand what kind of being God is, we must come to know God. In the same sermon from which we just quoted, the Prophet Joseph further stated, “If any man does not know God, . . . he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle” (Teachings, 344). In His great high-priestly or Intercessory Prayer, the Savior confirmed that life eternal was to “know . . . the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [the Father] hast sent” (John 17:3). 
Thus everything of sacred significance connected with our future rests on both our coming to know about God the Eternal Father and, ultimately, our coming to know Him. “If men do not comprehend the character of God,” said Joseph Smith, “they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings, 343). God and men are of the same divine, eternal species, and if we do not comprehend the nature of God, we cannot appreciate our divine parentage nor the very real potential we possess to become like our heavenly parents. (source)
Doesn't it seem so much more difficult to understand your divine potential as a woman without a feeling of what it is to be a divine woman? Without knowing, through shared experiences and a growing relationship, the character and personage of She to whom we resemble and are meant to become like? If I cannot comprehend her -- can I comprehend myself?

We are taught that She exists but  to go about knowing who She is and building a relationship with her is something we have to figure out for ourselves. However, as the second presenter so aptly put it, without clear instruction from authorities of the church "she becomes what we want her to be what we need her to be -- and isn't that what religion is anyway?" Not that we necessary create doctrinal truths to offer up to the world about Heavenly Mother. But instead, by sharing our hunger for her and what we find as we seek after her, we open the door to experiences that can enrich our lives and resonate with others -- through the confirmation of the Spirit we can begin to know Her.

It's a journey I am happy and hopeful to turn to.

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