Heavenly Mother Resource Guide
With the inclusion of Heavenly Mother in the new Young Women’s theme, I hope and suspect that there will be even more interest in learning about–and feeling close to–Her. I’m not going to pretend that this guide includes every possible source, just that it includes my favorites and the ones I go to when people ask me for recommendations. I hope you’ll share your own favorites in the comments.
From the Church/ish:
“‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.” Written by David Paulsen and Martin Pulido. Researched by Martin Pulido, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and a whole team of people. Published by BYU Studies. This is the article that opened up everything. Its premise is simple: Heavenly Mother is sacred, but She can be spoken about and has, by many past and present church leaders: here is some of what they said + where the myth that She is too sacred to speak of originated. (Hint: it was not from a general authority.)
“Mother in Heaven.” Gospel Topics essay. Published by the Church History Library. At just six paragraphs long this essay is short but hugely important. It gives us an institutional, First Presidency, approved place to send people (or ourselves) wanting to learn a bit more about Heavenly Mother. I am 100% sure it wouldn’t have been possible without the BYU Studies article, and not only because it borrows from it so heavily.
“Behold thy Mother.” Written by Jeffrey R. Holland. Published by the Church. This is not even close to the first General Conference talk including Heavenly Mother, nor is it the last. It makes my list because it explicitly said “Mother in Heaven” for the first time in over 20 years. (The last was Gordon B. Hinckley, not yet prophet, in 1991.) It also has these beautiful words: “To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.’ To Mother Eve, to Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, to Mary of Nazareth, and to a Mother in Heaven, I say, ‘Thank you for your crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity.'”
New Young Women’s theme!! Announced in October 2019’s General Conference. The reason for this list. It gloriously begins, “I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” And I am. And you are. (That is, if you’re a woman or girl).
“The Mormon Concept of a Heavenly Mother.” Written by Linda Wilcox. Published in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, University of Illinois Press, 1992. Also published in Sunstone. This is one of the first things I read on Heavenly Mother and to this day it’s still one of the most important. Linda worked for the Church History Library and traced how the discourse on Heavenly Mother changed over time.
“What I First Learned About Heavenly Mother.” Written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Published by the Exponent Blog. I first presented this to my Brooklyn Relief Society sisters as part of a beautiful Women of Faith Lecture Series, started by my friend, Mara Kofoed, of About Love. And then I wrote it down. It literally includes the first things I learned about Heavenly Mother via my full-time research for the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There.”
“Heavenly Mother is a Black Woman: Exploring a Mormon Womanism.” Written by Janan Graham-Russell. Published by By Common Consent Blog. Janan first presented this at a Faith and Knowledge conference at Harvard Divinity School where she was/is also a student. She is one of the best theologians we have and this post helps illuminate why.
“Before the World Was, She Was: Book of Mormon Lesson 17.” Written by Fiona Givens. Published by the Mormon Women Project. This post is from a women-written series alongside Sunday School lessons. In it, Fiona, introduces non-Latter-day Saint biblical scholar Margaret Barker’s work on Wisdom literature, Heavenly Mother as Wisdom/Sophia and the Tree of Life, and parallels Margaret and Fiona see in the Book of Mormon. It speaks right to my mind and heart.
“The Eternal Heavenly Mother: Shattering a Sacred Silence Through An Examination of What Church Leaders Have Taught About Her.“ Written by Allison Welch. Published by SquareTwo Journal. This is similarish to the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There” but in blogpost form. It also includes more recent sources both from church leaders and artists. It’s also just really, really lovely.
Mother Wove the Morning. Written by Carol Lynn Pearson. Published like so many other of her important works, by herself, 1995. This book is a play. A one-woman play, made up of 16 roles tracing a divine feminine across culture and times. CLP performed it herself over and over. Amber Richardson and a team of seven other women brought it back to life just a year or so ago with Carol Lynn’s blessing.
Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families. Written by Bethany Brady Spalding and McArthur Krishna. Illustrated by Caitlin Connolly. Published by Deseret Book, 2016. Did you catch that? DESERET BOOK PUBLISHED! Obviously also hugely important. This children’s book isn’t *just* about Heavenly Mother, but She shows up on almost every page, sometimes with that meaningful identifier and sometimes included with Heavenly Father via “Heavenly Parents.” The authors also include quotes from church leaders to support their words. And the art. The art is a dream. (If you’re familiar with Caitlin Connolly’s work, you already know that.) + it’s the very first time a painting of Heavenly Mother made it on a Deseret Book book cover.
Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. Written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press, 2017. I accidentally fell into writing tiny poems about Heavenly Mother shortly after my first child, a girl, was born in 2013. And then I couldn’t stop writing them. Until I could. Until I suffered extremely bad postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my second child. And then when I got treated, I started again. I didn’t know that I would publish them or that they would be meaningful to anyone besides me, but I did and they are. Or at least readers tell me that they are. That they make them cry. The secret is sometimes they do the same for me. They’re also illustrated with simple, but meaningful line drawings by Ashmae Hoiland. Most of the drawings are of women and girls in our families who are important to us.
Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. Edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido. Published by Peculiar Pages, 2018. I started internally (and sometimes externally) saying “Wow!” from the very first pages of Susan Elizabeth Howe’s remarkable introduction and didn’t stop saying it until the end. It’s an edited collection of Heavenly Mother poems starting with the very first in our faith tradition. It’s not by Eliza R. Snow, but W.W. Phelps. Hers is third. 🙂 And it goes until the 2010s.
I Gave Her a Name, Black & White edition. Written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press, 2019. I wrote this after Mother’s Milk when poems and ideas kept coming. I thought of mine as an open canon. 🙂 I finished it after moving to China and learning my brother died. I wrote and wrote and edited and edited in the late night and early morning hours when I should have been sleeping, but couldn’t. Around the same time, my illustrator, Ashmae was diagnosed with MS. She told me that she thought it would be a book that was made from grief and that that would be ok. She’s right on both, though it’s not an only sad book. (Far from it.) We also both think it’s better than Mother’s Milk. Her art in it is fuller. It takes up more room on the page and goes beyond our own kin to nature and women who inspire us.
I Gave Her a Name, Deluxe, Full-Color edition. Written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press, 2019. As soon as Ashmae sent me the first paintings to look at, I knew that I wanted us to publish them in color. They are art. Real art. And they deserve it. At the same time, I knew the cost point would be so much more in color (and it is). I didn’t want to take the accessibility of the book from those who might not be able to spring for full-color. We remarkably were able to print both, and I’m still so grateful.
The Tree at the Center. Written by Kathryn Knight Sonntag. Published by BCC Press, 2019. Kathryn has degrees in poetry and landscape design and uses both in her poems about the Divine Feminine and ecology, centering on Heavenly Mother as the Tree of Life. Her poems are longer than mine and may not be as accessible as mine, but they are 100% worth the effort.
One Hundred Birds Taught me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God. Written by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2017. This spiritual memoir of sorts is part of the Maxwell Institute’s beautiful Living Faith series. It was also their first full-length monograph by a woman. Ashley’s writing is some of my very favorite in it’s tender, vulnerable, poetic nature. I don’t even mind that she makes me cry on almost every page. Heavenly Mother is just one part of this story, but She’s there, threaded through.
Model Mormon: Fighting for Self-worth on the Runway and As an Independent Woman. Written by Rosemary Card. Published by Cedar Fort, 2018. This is another recommendation where Heavenly Mother is just one part of the story. It makes my list because Rosie weaves Her in so naturally. Like it’s normal. Because it is.
A New Constellation. Written by Ashley Mae Hoiland. Published by BCC Press, 2019. Ashmae wrote this book in the weeks following her MS diagnoses from that place of being on the verge of changes she was just beginning to understand. We see Heavenly Mother even more directly here than in her One Hundred Birds, in some of the most beautiful passages.
Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. Edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. Published by Oxford University Press. This is a 40-year literary history of Mormon women’s writings in chronological order. It lets us trace questions and themes, such as Heavenly Mother. It anthologizes important pieces elucidating the longing and hurt of not having Heavenly Mother present, including Carol Lynn Pearson’s landmark poem, “A Motherless House,” and Chelsea Shields’ post”Dear Mom,” first published here, at The Exponent.
Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood. Written by Melissa Inouye. Published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book, 2019. I admit that I haven’t read this book in full yet, but thanks to its very generous editor who told me the page numbers for every single reference to Heavenly Mother/Heavenly Parents, I did read those, and they are plentiful and significant. Again note the publishers. That also feels significant.
A Thoughtful Faith Podcast. 206: Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother: Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Interview by Gina Colvin. Hers is the loveliest, smartest voice and any interview she gives is worth listening to. I’m honored I got to share some of my first poems with her on this one.
Mormon Women Project Podcast. Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. Interview by Meredith Nelson. This might be my favorite podcast chat I’ve ever been part of, and it strangely has a lot to do with the fact that we had *so many* technical difficulties. By the time it worked, it felt like a miracle, and we had tried so many times, I couldn’t be nervous anymore. I also remember that Meredith asked thoughtful and warm questions.
Q.More Podcast. Episode 3: Heavenly Mother. Interviews by Rosemary Card. Rosie chatted with myself and one other woman. Just one of the topics covered addresses why so many have been hesitant to talk about Heavenly Mother for so long. She is a very familiar and friendly host in the best way. If you’ve read her book, Model Mormon, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In it she writes the friendly way she speaks.
A Mother Here: Art and Poetry Contest. Award-winning and select contest poems here. Award-winning and noteworthy gallery pieces here. Co-founded by Martin Pulido and Caroline Kline. 2013-2014ish. What I appreciate so much is that Martin and Caroline felt the dearth about Heavenly Mother and did something positive about it. They organized the contest, yes, but they also organized sponsors to donate money to be able to offer cash prizes to encourage even more people to submit something. And submit something people did. I don’t know the numbers for the art pieces, but do know that literally hundreds of poems were submitted. A curated selection of both art and poems are up on the website, making this resource a treasure trove. Some of these are also published in Dove Song, mentioned above.
Seeking Heavenly Mother. Co-founded by Kayla Bach, Emily Peck, and Charlotte Shurtz. Joined by photographer, Sarah Cox; art curator, McArthur Krishna; content creator, Ellison DuClos; and Tumblr Admin, Elena Hirst Call. A website (+ Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook group). The founders wanted to create a space both for Latter-day Saints to learn more about Heavenly Mother and to contribute new work. Because of this goal, they aggregate old and new sources. You can find their submission guidelines here.
Our Mother in Heaven. @ourmotherinheaven. An Instagram and Facebook group. As part of their goals to “ponder, share, and reflect,” they offer lovely quotes from church leaders as well as lovely sayings from themselves + short guest posts (with an accompanying picture) by other individuals. They’re always inspiring to read.
Seeking Heavenly Mother. @seekingheavenlymother. Associated with the website seekingheavenlymother.com. Their profile reads: “Seek. Find. Know. A gathering place for content about our Heavenly Mother.”
Womb Sisters. @womb_sisters. As per their profile, they’re an online and in person “community for women of faith to grow in sovereignty; mind, body + spirit,” and their September theme is “Weaving Your Sovereign Identity.” They occasionally hold retreats and other meetings. If you ever get the chance: GO.
Etta Kay Art. @ettakay.art. Artist name: Heather Kay. Her profile shares that she is a Montreal based, Vancouver Island-born artist, Latter-day Saint, and feminist. Her current series is titled “Mother in the Desert” and is available in her online shop, www.ettakay.art/shop/yearning-for-connection.
I would be so honored if you shared this list with others, and I would love to see your favorite Heavenly Mother resources down below. xo, Rachel