Heavenly Mother in the Life and Poetry of Melody Newey: A Dialogue (Part 3 of 3)
by Martin Pulido
As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, I have been trying to highlight historical and contemporary artists that have already portrayed or referred to Heavenly Mother in their works. This is Part 3 in a series discussing Heavenly Mother in the life and poetry of Melody Newey. For Part 1, go here; for Part 2, here.
PULIDO: Well, I may be wrong, but it seems like you’ve been building on themes in each of your Heavenly Mother poems that I’ve read thus far. The first you’ve written is “Missing God,” which notes only a vague recollection of Mother experienced through the natural world (“in the mountains”) and its musical communication (“the flute” which is also vague in the content of its communication). The communication from nature and the music in it continues in “Heavenly Mother Sings“: the wind, music made of grape vines and cherry blossoms, ballads in sea-swells, requiems on mountain tops. It adds even “internal music” – “hymns hidden in the heart as women going about nursing their babies.”
The music in “Heavenly Mother Sings” seems louder than the flute in “Missing God,” or at least more complete. You might say that the lone instrument from before has been replaced by an orchestra. The last stanza also gives us a spot for the agency of the divine feminine in the earthly realm, Her drawing us to Herself and Christ. In these two pieces you hint that the natural world is an arena in which we can experience to a certain extent God the Mother and the love of God. How do you think the natural world does so? Can you explain more of that here?
NEWEY: You have probably heard the words of Psalms 85:11, “Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” I have always found God in nature. Nature bears witness of its creator, so at least for me, it’s impossible to ignore the presence of deity there. Historically, prophets and wise people have gone into the wilderness to commune with God, a place where it is just themselves, God, and nature. This is the way it happens for me. And because the earth is often portrayed as feminine, it’s also been natural to meet Heavenly Mother there. Somehow physically working with the soil, digging my shovel into it, planting a flower, pulling a weed out of the ground seems to connect with this notion of truth coming up from the earth. I feel I am connecting with truth.
PULIDO: That’s interesting. What you’re saying reminds me of an article in the first volume of the Relief Society Magazine. In “Lessons in Home Gardening for Women,” Susa Young Gates claimed that “Gardening for women pays. It brings you in close contact with mother earth, keeps you young and spry, drives out blues and melancholy, brings the dawn and the stars to your doorstep, and opens an easy channel between you are your Heavenly Father and Mother. They were the first gardeners.” Gates obviously was referring to Eden, the garden prepared for man and woman. I can see how tilling the ground and directing creative growth in a certain direction could draw us to God the Mother. But what about the music constantly in your poems about Heavenly Mother?
NEWEY: Music seems to infuse everything I write about Her. I have no explanation for that. It just happens. It’s not something I have associated with the other deities. When I write about Christ, I don’t hear music. The music is very specific to Heavenly Mother.
PULIDO: Now, I’ve suggested that your exploration and understanding of Heavenly Mother has advanced since “Missing God.” And yet your most recent “Mother’s Milk” returns to the theme of an abscent deity. Is this a step back from “Heavenly Mother Sings,” a return to the sentiments of “Missing God?”
NEWEY: It’s different. In “Mother’s Milk” I became more aware of the suffering of others, while “Missing God” was very much about my personal experience. I have found the Mother enough to have peace. I am a grown woman now, having nursed my own babies, who have in turn nursed babies of their own. I’m at a very different place from where I was when I wept in my twenties. The milk I am weeping in “Mother’s Milk” is more for my brothers and sisters. And that is because there is still a longing, a sadness that we as a church, or as an earth, do not have Her. That is where the pain in this poem comes from; it’s about the vacuum in the community.
PULIDO: To me, “Missing God” seemed more cerebral, lacking the… well, emotional tones of “Mother’s Milk.” The latter shows the pain of the weaning experience, when a mother hides her breast from the infant. I’ve witnessed that recently with my two year-old Liam, and how upset (that’s an understatement) he initially was to not being breastfed a little over a year ago.
But you note how the Mother passes on the infant’s care to Christ, such that She does not leave the infant without comfort. That image makes a lot of sense, especially to those of us who have had an elder sibling take part in the raising of us. I had an elder brother that did so. I get it. The message seems to be that while the weaning hurts, one is not abandoned. Christ is there. This element is also expressed in “Heavenly Mother Sings.” I must say that I have yet to a see a poet tie Heavenly Mother as much to Christ as you have. Can you talk some more about that? What has led you to do so?
NEWEY: As I mentioned above, this was a natural course for me – I found Christ and he connected me to Mother, just as He connects us to Father. He is our brother in mortality, our advocate, our tangible connection to the intangible God who is our home. I can’t really talk about Her without also including Him any more than I can talk about God the Father or the Holy Spirit without including Jesus. They are One.
We can lose our connection to the Savior in millions of ways. To whatever degree we find ourselves worshipping something or someone other than Christ, we also lose our connection to God the Father and Mother. I don’t know if that makes sense. But, for me, even our worship of God the Mother can’t supplant our worship of Christ in mortality. Some of the discussion and push for Heavenly Mother feels a bit “fringy,” moving us away from LDS doctrine and smacking of pure Goddess worship. There is a place or phase for thinking about the Mother solely in the evolution of how we see God. I think that’s natural. I’ve been through that already.
As I understand it, our work here is to make our way to Jesus Christ. That is it. I interpret the first great commandment as an invitation to know Christ and to love him with all our hearts. And by doing this, we come to better know and love our truest selves and our neighbors as well. As we do this, Jesus, through His example and through the spirit, helps transform us. No one else has power to do this. Not even our Mother. She and God the Father have granted that power to Christ here on earth. He holds us in His care while we dwell in mortality, then, as we accept Him as our Savior and surrender to his care, he returns us to the presence of our loving father and into the welcoming arms of our mother. Simply put: We can’t fully know Her without first knowing Him.
The image of weeping mother’s milk refers to a mature understanding of the sorrow of not having a mother present in our lives. .. a Divine Mother. I have become more aware of a relatively large number of people who are missing this in their lives. It troubles me. It hurts my heart, not only for my sake, but for my sisters and brothers on the planet. So when I think about it, “Mother’s Milk” is my way to tell my sisters and brothers who are missing Heavenly Mother that Jesus will really help them in that longing and in that weaning process. He was the one that brought me to Her, and I believe he will bring us all back to Her and to the Father.
PULIDO: I think there’s a lot to be gained from your approach. We need to see the image of Father and Mother in Christ, that He is Their gift, and that in reading of the actions of Christ we can find many wonderfully feminine traits. Kathryn H. Shirts’ “Women in the Image of the Son: Being Female and Being Like Christ” comes to mind here, and I think your poetry pioneers her suggestions best. So how has your understanding of Heavenly Mother changed since first writing “Missing God“? It’s possible it hasn’t.
NEWEY: In many ways she is still a mystery to me, as she is to most people. But, I’m not missing her as much as I was back in the early 90’s. I feel her presence or her influence at unexpected times and in unexpected places. And I feel it more frequently than in the past. It’s interesting because I wasn’t raised with the idea of Heavenly Mother anywhere in my life, but that has changed. And it feels good.
PULIDO: I can sympathize with that. I think a lot of us are experiencing an “awakening” regarding the divine feminine. She is slowly becoming part of our personal and communal religious consciousness as latter-day saints.
NEWEY: Right. My belief that she is there, my awareness of her presence, and my experience with Her has increased over time. As you’ve seen, it’s come out in my writing. These experiences with God the Mother have become more frequent and potent, especially in the last two years. They are not thunderbolts and massive revelations, but come in quiet moments. And yet they are undeniable, based on the way they are presented to me. When I have a witness of the truth, I accept it as it comes. That tiny experience at Bridal Veil Falls was a drop in the bucket, and a lot more has been put in there since then. While my prayers are naturally directed towards Heavenly Father, I have felt during a prayer the impression from Heavenly Mother that she is going to take care of certain specific requests or need. Again, this has surprised me, but I just accept it and feel grateful.
PULIDO: That’s wonderful. It really seems like your relationship with Her is maturing. Before we close up here, I have to ask, can we expect to have new poems from you submitted to the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest?
NEWEY: Yes. Also, I’m working on a collection of poems about images of God. Heavenly Mother poems will be included in that collection. I hope to find a good home for it, a receptive publisher.
PULIDO: We hope you do too. Thanks for making the time for this dialogue, and good luck in your future endeavors.
Martin Pulido is a businessman by day, LDS scholar by night, who has extensively researched Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. He co-authored the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” with David Paulsen, and has organized the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest with Caroline Kline. The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and over $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit www.amotherhere.com. The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah.