Leaving Eden

 

"Two Souls" by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

“Two Souls” by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I have a secret to tell: I mourn not being able to be the Mormon woman I was always taught to be, that I was always told I would be, that I was always patted on the head for my righteous desires to be as a young woman. I wanted to have the lovely home, the quiver full of children, homeschooling, every meal homemade with love. I would lie awake at night when I was engaged to my husband, envisioning a life of fresh muffins in the morning and a constantly clean bathroom (admittedly, this one is still on my wish list).

I know the dream is idyllic and was completely unattainable from the start, but I still mourn the possibility. I never asked for my faith to take a dramatic shift, held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope rather than anchored in certainty. I never asked for my mind to be so thirsty for more knowledge and information that the easy answers stopped working. I never asked for the postpartum depression that followed my births, making motherhood an excruciating tumble into the abyss of despair rather than a joyous journey in those first months and years. These are not the things we simply pick out of a lineup of potential experiments like cans on supermarket shelves. These experiences choose us and we learn how to stumble our way through as gracefully as possible.

But every day as I work to reason and share my heart with others about the experiences that have brought me to Mormon feminism, I am confronted with the woman that I once thought I would be: the woman who believes so easily, who finds joy and fulfillment where she’s told she would, the woman who is that Mormon woman. I mourn her despite the fact that my life experiences have caused me to cry out, “Please stop defining me by a biological process that, while bringing light and life, also brought utter darkness! Please stop telling me that I ‘just don’t understand,’ when my mind spends countless hours of every.single.day mulling over, praying over, writing over, and pondering over these things! Please stop telling me that I just need to have more faith when I’ve exercised all that I have in me and still, somehow, try to keep my faith together.

I mourn her because her life had a well-laid path and straight-forward answers. When belief was easy, she didn’t have to spend so much of her energy finding footholds. I mourn her because her life was not conflicted: read, pray, follow the prophet, endure to the end. Check, check, check, check.

One night as I shared the profound sadness in my loss of innocence with a friend, the picture became clear. Much of the time when we speak of the story of Adam and Eve, we forget how radical the underlying message is–in order to truly live and progress, we must choose knowledge. We must choose a life of paradox and pain. We must choose to have our eyes opened. We must leave the Garden. We must leave what we thought was the ideal, the simple and well-laid path, in favour of life.

I wonder if Eve, in those moments of toil in the lone and dreary world, ever looked back on Eden in the way that I look back on the woman I was always told I should want to be. I wonder if she thought, “what if my eyes had never been opened? What if I could have continued on peacefully without having to struggle, without being removed from the certainty of God’s presence? What if I had just done what I was supposed to do? Why did I seek out this knowledge?”

But like Eve, we go forward. This is the work of women. Forward, ever forward, eyes constantly lifted to heaven for more understanding, a space in our hearts for that piece of us that could have been continuously content but chose choice, uncertainty, and the height and depth of human emotions.

Forward, ever forward, with faith held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope.

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Guest Post: In Light, Part II

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetby Ash Mae

Today as we played in a park near our house, I told Remy it was almost time to go inside.  He said, “But mom! The clouds are broken!  We can stay out!”  It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me, but then I realized that he was so excited because the clouds had indeed broken up their grey ominous position above us, pulled apart like two damp cotton balls,  and the familiar blue of sky came through. We could stay out.

There are so many words from the whole spectrum of Mormon folks in the last week, and partly I feel apologetic for adding any more. Metaphor is fairly abundant these days.  I am a poet, and so they are like warm toast before bed to me, but lately, even I feel tired of them.  Perhaps then, I was so moved by Remy’s thought about the broken clouds because it was a simple and honest observational statement. Nothing more. The word broken-which so often implies the necessity for fixing back to an original state before it is good again–was turned on it’s head by my three-year old son who saw the brokenness as a means for great hope.

And so, metaphor I guess it is, we cling to what helps us make sense.  Or simply, I am looking around, in a state of mother-ness, in a state of prayer, in a state of too little patience, in the state of a child who knows so little, and I do see clouds threatening torrential downpours, but I also see the places where the clouds are shifting and behind it all is that earthy, comfortable blue sky, or in this case, hope.

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A Golden Thread

Remember when we were children? Remember how sometimes when we were sad we stopped what we were doing, plunked ourselves down in the dirt or on the grass and just cried? We didn’t have to explain it to anyone and most especially we didn’t explain it to ourselves. We just experienced the sadness when it came. And after it was over, we got up and went back to doing whatever we were doing. I did that today. I sat at the edge of a river where the dirt was cool and damp. My sit-bones felt like they met an old friend in that dirt.

I can’t tell you how many times I sat in sadness while I was growing up. But I can tell you that the act of acknowledging grief healed me then as it did now. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t try to figure it out. I just felt it. Maybe the sound of the water helped. Maybe making space for solitude or the prayers of loving friends gave me a soft place to land on the riverbank. Whatever it was, I felt both wounded and healed in the space of an hour.

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“Let Her Enter”

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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Guest Post: Mormons, Garments, and Body Image: A Survey

By Nancy Ross

Jessica Finnigan and I are conducting research into body image and garments. We’ve had an abstract accepted by a journal and now we’re in the survey stage. Please help us out by taking this survey.

When the topic of women’s bodies comes up within Mormonism, we’re usually referencing some element of modesty culture. But for many of us, our bodies and our religion continually interact every day through the wearing of garments. Both men and women wear garments, but men and women have very different experiences with their bodies and we hypothesized that men and women may also have very different experiences with their garments as well.

A lot of people have been asking why we would research such a taboo and personal thing. Don’t we know that asking questions about people’s underwear is inappropriate? I can’t speak for Jessica, but I can tell you that my relationship with my body and my garments have changed a lot in the ten years since I’ve been endowed.

Over time, my experiences with my garments have changed, largely as a result of changes in my body. When I went through the temple for the first time, I had a very positive experience with the initiatory, the ordinance associated with receiving garments. Thereafter, my garments were an extension of that positive experience. I was also surprised that garments had such short sleeves and weren’t calf length. I had been dressing hyper-modestly for years in an effort to not offend God and I was relieved and excited to wear short-short sleeves. Initially, garments freed me from my excessive modesty. They were almost liberating and a sign of my sincere commitment to the gospel and to God.

But they never stayed in place, with the legs always rolling up and the lacy necklines trying to climb out of my modest shirts. The lace was always itchy and the waistbands dug into my skin. I got rid of all of my feminine hygiene products with wings.

Despite difficulties, I still saw them as holy. Pregnancy changed my body and I tried to find garments that would accommodate my growing and changing form. My new state left my body feeling extra sensitive and the poorly-placed seems and limited fabric options of maternity garments led me to buy my preferred fabric in much larger sizes.

When my daughter arrived, I tried to continue wearing my bra over the garment top, but it just didn’t work. Even my most traditional and believing relatives said that nursing tops were a waste of money. That summer, temperatures rose to 117 F and I wore skirts daily to promote air circulation around my swollen legs. Pregnancy and childbirth had not been kind to my body.

At that time, garments became a hair shirt that I wore to fulfill a religious duty. I had never seen them as a sacrifice before, but the sacrifice of wearing them in extreme heat with a swollen body was a difficult physical sacrifice on a top of the many I was making with a breastfeeding newborn. I knew that I could not take a break from them because to do so would be to lose my temple recommend, a symbol of my worthiness before God.

At that time in my life, I felt I had little worth. My garments were a symbol that God was demanding and ever-present. I didn’t like my garments or my duty to wear them, but I wore them anyway. I struggled with my body and I struggled with my garments and I felt that God was in the mix somehow.

Today, my relationship with my garments is different from what it was then. My body is scarred with the marks of pregnancy and childbirth, but its general shape has returned to normal. With my garments, the legs still roll up, the lace is still itchy, and I still can’t use hygiene products with wings. I am still committed to the gospel, and even to wearing garments, but I do not see God in my garments anymore and I am happier for it.

Nancy Ross is a life-long member of the LDS Church. She is an assistant professor in art history at Dixie State University and conducts social science research on Mormons in her spare time.
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What if Christ Had Doubts?

Doubt

 

 

 

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46.) Common LDS interpretations of this scripture and the event it chronicles include: an expression of belief even in the face of great pain (Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done, Robert D. Hales, Oct. 2011) a moment where God removed himself in order to let Christ finish the Atonement alone and the great faith Christ showed in that moment of loneliness (He Lives! All Glory to His Name! Richard G. Scott, April 2010) In every discussion of Christ’s death on the cross, he is presented as a perfect example of faith.

But what if this scripture documents a moment of fear instead of a moment of faith? What if, in that moment, Christ doubted his mission, his calling as the Savior, his position as the firstborn son of God? We believe that Christ experienced everything we do; does that include doubt?

I believe there is room to interpret this scripture as an expression of doubt. To say “why hast thou forsaken me?” suggests that the speaker believes he has been abandoned. He did not ask “have you left,” but “why did you leave?” At such a pivotal moment, to feel abandoned could very easily have led to doubt not just of God’s presence but of everything he was dying for.

In my years of involvement with several Mormon feminist groups, I have been told many times that my questions and doubts were a sin. I’ve been told that “obedience is the first law of heaven,” that “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done” and if I were really following God, I wouldn’t be asking these questions. If you look at the Ordain Women Facebook page for 30 seconds, you will find comments reflecting these attitudes. Doubt is viewed as a sin by many church members. And church leaders encourage this attitude in some ways. The Aaronic Priesthood Manual contains the quote “when the Prophet speaks… the debate is over,” encouraging the youth of the church to obey blindly. In April 2009, Elder Kevin W. Pearson presented doubt and disbelief as the same thing, and he also stated that feeling doubts was a choice, implying that to question is choosing to lack faith. In short, having questions is presented as an incorrect  or sinful choice to make.

But Christ did not sin. He died sinless, allowing Him to atone for the sins of others. So if Christ doubted, it cannot be a sin. We can say we are following Christ when we have questions and reach out to God for answers. If Christ doubted, those of us who question are in good company. We are not sinning when we doubt, because Christ doubted and did not sin.

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