Mother in Heaven: some personal thoughts

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Like a (rough) stone rolling, the discussion surrounding female ordination has gained so much momentum that I don’t see it slowing down until it’s resolved. To paraphrase Lafayette’s splendid line from Hamilton, we’re never gonna stop until we make ‘em drop! Gender equality is today’s religious Zeitgeist—being massively inconvenient for the LDS church does not make it any less so.

The movement toward religious equality might be picking up steam, but within the Church itself? Folks, we’re not taking home any gold medals for being in the social justice vanguard. We’ve never made it past the tryouts. We’re just not built for speed. And most Mormon feminists understand that ordaining women is a matter of revelation. Far beyond “let’s make the church fair!” it goes all the way to “thus saith the Lord.” If this issue had a control knob, it would go up to eleven. Mormon knobs, for the most part, only go up to ten. In other words, it’s going to take a while to go one further.

But (I can’t believe I’m suggesting this) is it possible that we’re moving too fast on the question of ordaining women? Hear me out, sisters and brothers. Until we get some comfort on the issue of Heavenly Mother, are we putting the cart before the horse when we ask for guidance about ordaining women to the priesthood? That is to say, her priesthood?

Conceivably, we could chew gum and walk at the same time, but in the event that we can’t . . . no, I don’t want to be glib about this. I don’t feel even remotely glib. It simply seems to me that the proper order of things is to seek the Mother first and then invite her daughters to exercise her power on earth.

Maybe this seeking is being done, privately, by members of the Mormon church all over the planet—I’d believe it. It’s impossible to say, because it just isn’t discussed. Functionally, Heavenly Mother is persona non grata. Publicly, she’s been invisibled. But privately, things might be very different. I don’t know.

We’re called a peculiar people, and in some ways, boy are we ever. But in this particular thing, this impulse of ours to ignore Heavenly Mother, we are as commonplace as dirt. It isn’t unique to us—we’re just following in the footsteps of those who drove the Mother out, the Deuteronomists who purged the temple at Jerusalem of her divine presence. They were fundamentalist monotheists (the very opposite of Latter-day Saints, by the way) whose victory I don’t feel like celebrating any more. Do you? As far as I’m concerned, it’s been a fiasco. I don’t want to play/pray by their patriarchal rulebook, and our unique LDS theology liberates me from having to. Thank you, Joseph Smith.

And speaking of Joseph, neither do I feel constrained by his first encounter with the Father and the Son, of which, it does not hurt to remember, there is more than one account. He went to Heavenly Father with his question; if he had been granted a longer life, possibly he would have taken questions to Heavenly Mother. Maybe he did; we don’t know everything that was in Joseph’s heart and mind. He fully said as much. Joseph had a far more capacious understanding of our heavenly parentage than nearly all of his contemporaries. I love him for that.

The taboo against seeking our Mother is so strong. It took me 45-plus years to break it. Isn’t that amazing? We have the doctrine and I still couldn’t do it for over 45 years. Then it took a few more years to talk about it, which I rarely do.

I’m completely, one hundred percent, uninterested in persuading anyone to seek Heavenly Mother. Certainly nobody showed me the way. I was all on my own, there. Flying solo. It was a thing which, after years of church experience (seminary, BYU, temple endowment, mission, a vast array of callings, you name it) I refused to even consider . . . until at last, one day, I did.

Let me tell you what happened when I finally sought our Mother in Heaven: it changed EVERYTHING.

Without going into too much detail (that’s private!) it allowed me to tap into a deep source of wisdom and love that I never knew was available. It’s been like opening Pandora’s box, only what spills out isn’t all the ills of the world, but even more light, love, and desire for goodness. What emerges also is the realization that to ignore Heavenly Mother and ban half her children from exercising priesthood power is a great, great folly. It has made me more forgiving of weakness, but also less inclined to overlook things that are wrong.

Who acknowledges (doctrinally, academically, begrudgingly) divine parents, but then refuses to speak to, or of, one of them? What’s the impulse behind that? Unlovely food for thought.

From day one, Mormonism has required its members to have their own experiences with God. It also created a persistent problem by revealing God the Mother, but then whisking her behind the draperies. Is it ironic that Mormonism taught me how to approach the very problem it manufactured? Not really. I think it’s poetic.

It turns out that Heavenly Mother is not a problem at all: she’s the solution.

EmilyHB

Emily HB is a hausfrau living in Utah with delusions of grandeur & survival, a writer of books, a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.

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39 Responses

  1. Mark N. says:

    I’m of the opinion that the Church leadership would just as soon that the topic of Mother in Heaven be relegated to being a footnote in Mormon history, just as the Adam-God theory/doctrine (which I find to be very much intertwined with MiH) has been. I really don’t think you can have the one without having the other. But that’s just my opinion.

  2. MDearest says:

    The confusion over what doctrine we have about our Heavenly Mother is tied to the messiness of our doctrines about polygamy. We can’t have institutional clarity about one without cleaning up the other. In my experience, the majority of the guys in charge just don’t care to address either of these. But you are correct, the silver lining to this ugly cloud is that we’re free to experience Her, to whatever degree we can, without the interference of error-prone dogma.

    • EmilyHB says:

      MDearest, I like the way you frame it. In my experience, this is not something the brethren can authorize you to do, discuss, or teach. One recognizes that one is ready, and then one proceeds accordingly.

  3. Johanna says:

    Deseret Book has just published a book for children about Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. They are both on the cover (and he beardless) You can preorder it now from DB and read a review of it at http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleDeseretBook.html

    • EmilyHB says:

      What a gorgeous-looking book. I wish I could get my hands on a copy RIGHT NOW!!

    • Emily U says:

      Valerie Hudson’s review is an example of the reason I am ambivalent about Mother in Heaven. Referring to homosexuality and trans-sexuality, she writes, “I ask, in all sincerity, is it possible that all these new worldviews are gaining ground because we have kept Her hidden for so long?” I think worship of Heavenly Mother and expanding our theology of her could result in expanded female power and priestesshood like EmilyHB talks about. But it could just as easily not result in those things, and serve as a tool to further write LGBTQ people out of a place in Mormon theology.

      • EmilyHB says:

        just read the review. I have to admit that it upset me deeply. sometimes I wonder if I was, indeed, born yesterday — it would never occur to me in a million years that Heavenly Mother’s increased institutional visibility would just be another way to oppress her gay children. using her in that manner strikes me as incredibly cynical.

      • Emily U says:

        It upset me, too. And I know using the book to support these ideas is the last thing the authors would want.

    • Johanna says:

      EmilyHB, as you say, it really is a gorgeous book, and I mentioned it in hopeful demonstration that though She may have *been* invisibled, She is slowly becoming more visible, and not just privately. She was also mentioned in this month’s (–I think it was this month’s) Ensign and Friend magazines. I haven’t read the New Era to know if She was mentioned there as well. Here’s another review of the book, but the best way to get a feel for it will be, of course, to read it yourself.
      https://www.mormonwomen.com/2016/08/book-review-heavenly-families-earthly-families/
      I’m hoping The Exponent II is planning to review it and look forward to more discussion about this unprecedented visible-ing of Heavenly Mother.
      (And kind of unrelated, thanks for your thoughts in this post. I had a similar faith path where suddenly, after many years of ambivalence or uncertainty about Heavenly Mother, She was suddenly integral and inseparable from my faith. The biggest growth in my faith has come not from having her become a fixture in my Godhead, but from realising I can trust the personal revelation I’ve long believed in and experienced to reveal my own answers for myself about such things, much like you mention.)

  4. Michael says:

    I appreciate the positive way you have presented your ideas. Nothing in what has been said or not said at the pulpit prevents anyone from pursuing their own interest in Heavenly Mother. I have been richly blessed for my own yearnings. As someone who once faced a priesthood “ban” I have learned to allow myself questions on anything that concerns me—yet I spare myself emotional hurt by not sharing with anyone where I might be stung. Priesthood Power that Blesses individuals is NOT limited by one’s gender. It comes by exercising faith in the ways authorized by The Spirit, and the roles will vary. If I do not contend with leaders and instead focus on my own spiritual journey, I can receive whatever is meant for ME . African Americans who learned that kept their testimonies through the “ban.”

  5. Violadiva says:

    When Ordain Women first came out as a thing, this was my initial reaction, “I don’t want Priesthood, I want Priestesshood, and i want Heavenly Mother to give it to me!” Makes sense to me 🙂
    There are also the accounts of Joseph Smith seeing Adam and Eve, and Heavenly Mother and Father. I wish we could teach more freely about those visions, too!

    • Johanna says:

      Violadiva, I have tried to find those accounts, unsuccessfully (um, googled it a while back.). Do you have a suggestion for where to find them? I’d love to read more about them.

      • Violadiva says:

        It’s in the accounts of his visions with Zebedee Coltrin and Sydney Rigdon (I think I read it from the journal of Abraham Cannon?) As with the multiple accounts of the first vision, there seem to be multiple accounts of this as well, sometimes it’s Adam and Eve he sees, sometimes God the Father and Mother.
        Fiona’s interview and Dialogue article might be good places to start.
        http://religionnews.com/2016/06/21/mormon-founder-turned-over-priesthood-keys-to-women-says-deseret-book-author/

      • Johanna says:

        Violadiva, thanks for the lead.

      • H says:

        Here’s the source for Joseph Smith’s vision of Heavenly Mother:

        Abraham H. Cannon recorded in his journal that Joseph Smith invited Sidney Rigdon and Zebedee Coltrin to “accompany him into the woods to pray.” They experienced a succession of four visions. Cannon wrote, “They did so [opened their eyes] and saw a brilliant light surrounding a pedestal which seemed to rest on the earth. They closed their eyes and again prayed. They then saw, on opening them, the Father seated upon a throne; they prayed again and on looking saw the Mother also; after praying and looking the fourth time they saw the Savior added to the group” (Abraham H. Cannon Journal, Aug. 25, 1880, LDS Archives; cited in Linda Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” Sunstone, 1980, p. 79).
        https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/115-6-78-87.pdf

  6. Sarah says:

    Beautiful and I definitely think is a great step. Thanks for writing. As a convert I actually tapped into Heavenly Mother before tapping into Heavenly Father — She is what converted me to theism to begin with. I love Her power and I love Her peace and I wish others could feel it so wholly. I wish the Church would offer more studies of Her and inclusiveness in manuals etc.

  7. EFH says:

    I love the doctrine of the existence of the Heavenly Mother – The Divine Feminine. I do believe that women and girls can get official access to priesthood only through her. In antiquity and the primitive religions, the female goddesses had only girls and women as priestesses to perform the religious rituals. Because of this background, I think that this is the case in our doctrine too. We as females cannot become priestesses to a male God and administer HIS power.

    The establishment of a doctrine on her would bring great things even if the church might use it to oppress minorities. The gospel and doctrine are difficult because so many principles juxtapose each other. We believe in Heavenly parents and in the principle of love and that all need to be saved via ordinances. And yet, we prevent others from accessing them. On the other hand, if there is only one version of eternal heavenly couples – male and female – how should we support our LGBT brothers and sisters in accessing the temple ordinances? I do not have answers to such questions. I just realize that no matter what, our social and political understanding is not fully supported by religion. And perhaps, it is meant that way.

    • KB says:

      I agree with your view of the Divine Feminine. I don’t know what form it will take, but I know that in the afterlife, we will have priestesshood. I also know that as women, we have a unique spiritual power that has been passed down to us by our Heavenly Mother. I wish we were given more information on this in an official church capacity, but I know it to be true even though we don’t talk about it, and that brings a lot of meaning and joy to my life. I see it in myself and my sisters and in the stories told throughout world cultures–women are “magic”, so to speak, in our own way.

  8. I think this fear or disinterest in knowing Heavenly Mother is a direct result of our male-only priesthood, which we inherited from the sexist time period when the church began. If women were in the highest ranks of our church, I think they would seek inspiration about Heavenly Mother. Many men are too comfortable with the status quo.

    • EmilyHB says:

      April, that makes intuitive sense to me. What has never made sense is the data that shows that more LDS men say they’re comfortable with the idea of female ordination than LDS women (I don’t think that the difference is spectacular, but even so . . .). Of course we have generations of internalized misogyny to work through, and I know what that looks and feels like. Maybe I’m wrong about the numbers?

      • I think that has to do with the fact that when you ask a man, “Do you think women should be ordained?” you are asking him about his opinion about ordaining other people. Asking the same question of a woman is equal to asking, “Do you think YOU should be ordained?” and we have been taught that we are prideful and greedy to want that for yourself, so it is a loaded question. I think that research tells us more about gendered social taboos than abut how either men or women feel about the theology

  9. Catherine S says:

    I agree with you that female ordination has become inevitable (though I still have doubts about it happening in my lifetime, and I’m in my late 20s!) but I disagree on the kind of ordination. I am not interested in a gender segregated Priesthood/Priestesshood regime where the men serve the dominant male God and women serve the subservient female God. Even if Heavenly Mother is not considered subservient, I still don’t like the idea of a segregated priesthood. That is the situation we’re in now and I don’t think it’s healthy.

  10. Dan says:

    Don’t women recieve the priesthood in the temple? And isn’t that priesthood given to them by the laying on of hands from other women? I don’t think these issues are doctrinal. I think they are cultural and will take a lot of time to change. I think we can take a chapter from the playbook of so many other slow changing issues from church history and appreciate that there are much larger issues and forces at play. God is at the helm and giving us what we want where we want it has never been his MO. As we move this issue forward I think its critical that we fully understand the doctrine so we aren’t preserved as uniformed.

    • Andrew R. says:

      No they don’t. They are anointed to become, at a later time, priestesses unto their husbands. No priesthood is conferred, no priesthood authority bestowed. Only a promise that if faithful it will come.

  11. Sally Peters says:

    I didn’t “seek” Mother in Heaven, but so often after praying, it is a women’s comforting voice that I hear.

  12. Ronkonkoma says:

    There is no female deity responsible for our salvation. I fear a lot of feminists are going to lose their exaltation. I see a lot of posts denigrating the temple and the church. When you are a faithful member of a church, you promote it, share it, and spread it. This is for whom exaltation is for, the faithful.
    Not for those who malign and denigrate the temple and church doctrine nor for those who promote homosexual behavior and goddess worship
    You think you can stand before God at the last day after a lifetime of doing this and still claim your exaltation?

    • nrc42 says:

      The patriarchal model of “exaltation” sounds worse than hell to me and a lot of other people. So if that’s what I’m going to lose, that’s beyond fine with me.

    • nrc42 says:

      As I understand it, the only deity responsible for our salvation is Jesus, who is – yes – male. But that does not stop us from having a relationship with our Father.

    • Maja says:

      I understand your concern for people’s salvation, but I feel as though that should not be your concern. People have agency and, as they earnestly seek answers, through prayer and scripture reading, are entitled to personal revelation. That is what makes our church unique. There is only one who determines our “faithfulness” and it is best left to Him who knows all.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Maja, having “concern for people’s salvation” and determining others’ “faithfulness” are not the same thing.

        Missionary Work, Reactivation Work, Family History and Temple Work are all about concern for people’s salvation.

    • KB says:

      The doctrine of or belief in a Heavenly Mother doesn’t erase central church teachings like Christ’s Atonement, the power and importance of our Heavenly Father, and key principles like repentance, mercy, and justice. You can believe in all those things together.

  13. Melody says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

    I woke this morning with one word on my mind: Mama. It was the Eternal Mama. I said it aloud several times and it came as a child’s plea. I believe many women and men hold this plea deep in their hearts – consciously or unconsciously- and I love that we are normalizing her presence more and more with posts like this.

    Last week I included her in my testimony. .. my witness that I believe in Heavenly Mother, in whose image I am made. I’ve included her before and I imagine I’ll do it again because it feels blasphemous not to.

    “There’s a crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in.” I believe Cohen was right. And I believe there’s a crack in the massive dogma within our beloved religion that is widening every day. Thanks agin for your thoughtful words here. What a gift to read this Sabbath morning.

    • EmilyHB says:

      Melody, once in VERY long while, someone in my ward will bear their testimony on Fast Sunday and mention Heavenly Mother (I can only think of two times this has happened in nearly three years) and I feel shock waves rippling through the congregation, in a thrilling, deep sort of way.

      Love the Leonard Cohen lyric, by the way!

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