Wind Chime of the Feminine Divine

IMG_0132By Jenny

At the end of last summer, my husband bought a wind chime on clearance.  I love it.  I love the beautiful sound it makes as the wind travels through it.  One afternoon just after we hung it over our deck, my kids and I were sitting at the table eating lunch.  A gentle breeze swayed the wind chime to chant an unfamiliar melody.  Instantly, my kids were standing on their chairs yelling, “Ice cream truck!  Ice cream truck!”  I have to admit that I laughed at their ignorant reaction.  Their ears were not yet accustomed to the wind chime, so they associated its sound with something more familiar to them.

But I was humbled later in the afternoon when I heard the wind chime’s tune and walked into the kitchen to see who had left the refrigerator door open.  No, it was not the familiar warning that the fridge had been left open.  Through all of this, I started thinking about how our ears become accustomed to certain sounds and it feels safe to have those familiar sounds around us.  But if a new sound arises, it feels unsettling.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, it is an automatic reaction to grab your phone as soon as you hear the familiar tone. But the first time your phone rings after you have changed your ring tone, you are the last to realize that it is your phone.

One familiar sound for me has been the preference for male pronouns at church.  It sounds natural to say, “brethren and sisters,” “male and female,” “sons of man,” “all mankind,” etc.  The scriptures were written by men, interpreted by men, and most of the main characters are men.  Even our male God, who has just enough doctrinal room for female pronouns, is always referred to as “He,” “Heavenly Father,” “the Lord.”

My ears were so accustomed to these male pronouns that it was as if they didn’t exist at all.  I went to church, I heard the familiar comfortable language that I had been conditioned from infancy to hear, and I acted like a Pavlovian dog, eating up the message right on cue.  When I started hearing new sounds that came from a mother language, it was unsettling and a bit confusing, much like my new wind chime.  I started hearing about the “divine feminine,” “Sophia,” “Heavenly Mother,” She, She, She…I started thinking about They, God the Mother and the Father.  What a beautiful and powerful melody!

It was hard not to retain my natural inclination to the familiar sounds of my youth.  But with practice, the words began to flow naturally from my mouth.  Now I can say, “sisters and brothers,” without cringing.  “Female and male” no longer sounds backward in its order.  Most importantly, “Heavenly Parents” is the title that naturally comes out of my mouth without faltering over “Heavenly Fa-.”  Now when other people use male only titles or pronouns, it sounds like a cacophony to my ears.  But when I hear the familiar language of a feminist awakening, I have a natural reaction to it.  When someone says, “Heavenly Parents,” I am naturally inclined toward them.

So I can understand why members of my ward were uncomfortable when the mother tongue came out in my sharing time lessons.  I can understand why it so unnerved my bishop and Stake President that they took immediate and painfully devastating actions against me.  Just as I thought the new chimes were only a warning on my fridge, they thought my new words were a warning for a slippery slope to apostasy.  I spoke of Heavenly Mother and they silenced me because the sounds unnerved them.  Instead of listening and trying to understand where the sound was coming from, instead of attuning their ears to the beautiful music of the divine feminine, they instantly smashed my new wind chime to the ground.

Jesus often said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  In Church I have always heard that those who have “ears to hear” are those who are spiritually attuned to hear and understand Christ’s messages.    I think the same principle applies here.  Knowing and understanding the beautiful and powerful messages of the divine feminine requires us to become spiritually attuned to it.  Because these are not sounds we are used to, it takes practice, patience, and understanding.  My hope is that the words which describe the spiritual experience of women will someday be welcome and even commonplace in our Church.  I hope that someday our youth will grow up being perfectly comfortable and familiar with the sounds made by the wind chime of the divine feminine.  I hope that our leaders, who have heard the same familiar tune for so long, will listen and try to understand, before they silence.  There is a beautiful new melody waiting to be heard by those who have “ears to hear.”

Jenny

Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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11 Responses

  1. Em says:

    Thank you for this. One of the issues I think we have in the church is misunderstanding the comfort of the Spirit. If we feel uncomfortable, then the Spirit must not be there, ergo whatever caused the discomfort is not of God. I get that sense often when people mention going to other churches and proclaim that they could not feel the Spirit. I think that is probably false — my guess is that it is every bit as possible to feel the Spirit at Mass, if your heart is open to it and you seek it. The issue is that the discomfort of unfamiliar rituals, and feeling like you don’t know what is happening can make it very hard to feel the Spirit, so you assume the problem is with the rituals and not with your discomfort blocking the voice. I think it is similar with our language problem. Our discomfort with the unfamiliar leads us to assume that it must be wrong, and that awkward feeling is the Spirit telling us that it is wrong, when in fact that may not be the case at all.

    • Ziff says:

      Well said, Em. I completely agree. People will say they feel uncomfortable or feel the Spirit leave because of anything that’s out of the ordinary. So long as sexist practice is our ordinary, there are going to be a lot of people uncomfortable when it’s ever challenged.

  2. michael says:

    Sweet thoughts! I also wonder

  3. Caroline says:

    Love this post, Jenny.

    “Now when other people use male only titles or pronouns, it sounds like a cacophony to my ears. ”

    That is exactly my experience now. I wish I could turn it off sometimes. It’s awful to sit in church and be perpetually antagonized by language that excludes women. The only ways I have found to deal with this is to sing the hymns inclusively and to never refer to God as He.

    “My hope is that the words which describe the spiritual experience of women will someday be welcome and even commonplace in our Church. ”

    Amen to this! I make sure I speak about Heavenly Mother to my kids. I need to do a better job of doing it at church. Because inclusive God language will never become commonplace if people like myself don’t step up and take risks by mentioning Heavenly Parents and Heavenly Mother and Father whenever I can. I love knowing that you have been doing such good work in your ward, and I am outraged that your leaders have given you a hard time about it. Heavenly Parents is mentioned in the Proclamation, for goodness sake! There should be no problem with referring to HM in church.

  4. Cherie says:

    Your post makes me want to be more open about the belief in a Mother Divine.

  5. Violadiva says:

    I’m so disappointed that you were released for teaching pure, true doctrine 🙁

    But I think your point is very well taken. Tuning our ears to language of the potential of women is very important! Priestess, Prophetess, Goddess.

    I teach singing time in our ward Primary, and knowing that I wanted to teach the verse about Anna the Prophetess to “Follow the Prophet”, I started talking to the kids about Prophetesses way back last fall when we were doing Christmas lessons. We had a part for “Anna the Prophetess” in our Christmas pageant.
    I haven’t yet taught them the verse, I plan to start next week, but today I read to the kids about “Miriam the Prophetess” in relation to the story of Moses parting the Red Sea. One little 4-year-old from the front row yelled out, “Oh! Like the lady who was at the temple when Jesus was a baby!” He heard the word “Prophetess” in the context of Miriam and Moses and drew the connection of the same title to Anna. I was blown away. I’m quite sure I never heard the word “Prophetess” as a Primary child. But I was beyond thrilled that this little guy will grow up known the word, that it’s familiar to him, and that he knows it means “a woman who testifies of Jesus Christ.” (okay, okay…it was my son….but that doesn’t make me any less surprised and pleased…..)

  6. Cherie says:

    Deborah was the most well known female prophet. I do not use the “ess” as it is distracting for people with bias. She was a judge in Israel and received instructions from God to his People.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great post, Jenny. I really like your points about what we expect to hear and what sounds unusual. I’m sorry that your church leaders were made so uncomfortable by your discussion of women in a non-submissive role.

  8. Suzette says:

    I’ve had a similar experience when learning to speak with the feminine. Now it is familiar to me – and to my primary children.

  9. Naismith says:

    One does not have to be a feminist to prefer that kind of language. I always sing “The world has need of willing folks…” when we sing that hymn.

    This year’s Valiant manual states, as the first objective in the second lesson: “In the premortal life we were spirit children and lived with our heavenly parents.” Later it adds, “During this premortal life our heavenly parents taught us the gospel and the plan of life.”

    So talking about heavenly parents is Right Out of the Manual.

    In the lesson about Christ’s childhood, they mention Anna as being a prophetess. And in the manual about church history from a few years ago, the lesson on “Witnesses See the Gold Plates” mentions Mary Whitmer.

    So I find the Primary lessons themselves very positive about teaching Heavenly Parents and strong female role models.

  10. Liz says:

    I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it, Jenny. I hadn’t really considered how jarring some of this new language could be to people, and how threatening it could seem. I still think that introducing this kind of gender-inclusive language is important, but I will definitely be more careful and caring about how I do it. Thank you for this!

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