Where is the mama?
Once upon a time my husband and I sat with friends in their Southwestern home, when their two year old daughter reached that point on the other side of tired, where her little child’s eyes began to be flooded with giant tears. The only thing that calmed her were stories told at bedside, and the promise of sleep.
When the mother, story-teller returned, I asked what kind of stories her daughter liked, and was given a real answer: She liked complex, dramatic stories. Always. The more complicated and dramatic the plots, the better. To demonstrate, the mother pulled out a large, heavy volume that had been in her husband’s family for generations. She tenderly opened the pages, revealing the most vibrant illustrations in hues of gold, and red, and blue, and green. She showed me some of her very favorites, and then she turned to the story she had just told, two times.
It was one I had heard when I was small. A mother goat leaves her young kids at home, after warning them about a sly wolf who would come to trick them. Come the wolf did, and despite the mother’s warning, the kids let him in, to very sadly be eaten. Fortunately, the mother goat returned just in time to cut her still-living babies out of the wolf’s belly. It is a grisly cross between Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs, I know. That grisliness was precisely my friend’s point, for that is the type of story her two-year old loves to hear.
Next my friend told me something else. Every time she reads her daughter a book or tale, the child asks, “Where’s da mama in this story?” because at two, she is young enough to know that there should be a mama there, but also old enough to know that there often isn’t. Another friend (and fellow Exponent blogger) once theorized that the phenomena of absent mothers shows up in children’s stories generally and Disney movies more specifically, because losing one’s mother is the scariest thing a child can think of, and, it can be thought by any child, no matter how young. As such, that storyline is able to speak to children in a way that others are not.
Among other things, it helps explain that touching scene in the book version of Peter Pan, when the lost boys have just presented Wendy with a house, and the twins cry, “And we are your children,” before they all fall on their knees, and plead, “O Wendy lady, be our mother.” In Peter’s words, what they needed was “just a nice motherly person.”
There is a part of me that thinks that Peter was on to something very important, and that his remarks may actually relate to the entire human condition. That same part of me has spent a substantial amount of time reflecting on the child’s question, “Where’s da mama in this story?” And every time it has led me to another series of questions, my own. Where is the mama in this theology? In this faith? In that Sacrament talk? Are we, like my friend’s child, young enough to know that there should be a mama there, but just old enough to know that there often isn’t?
That is how I feel: young and old at the same time, which newness and oldness bring forth other feelings. There is rejoicing and also mourning–the first because I know with Eliza that there is “a mother there,” the second because of the darkness of the glass, and the thickness of the veil: The absence of Heavenly Mother is one of the most frightening things that I can think of. It is something that I can understand. And, it speaks to me in ways that other theological story-lines do not. Indeed, it is forceful beyond belief.
This might clarify why I was so overcome by another quote and conversation, shared with me some time ago by one of my Philosophy of Religion classmates. The quote was from Meister Eckhart, who asked very simply, “What does God do all day long?” before answering even more simply, “God gives birth. From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth.” Someone restated, “The essence of God is birthing.” My friend affirmed, “I think so. It is odd that with all the birthing God does, i.e., birthing a Son, a Holy Spirit, and a creation, that God is called ‘Dad.’” “Rather than a mother?” I chimed in. “Rather than ‘Mommy.’ Instead of calling God ‘Abba,’ Jesus should have called him, ‘Mommy.’”
It tasted good to me in the way Joseph Smith said true things would. This leads me to believe that it contains something substantial, and not only because it makes the most beautiful and compelling story of all.