Praying to the Mother . . . (not that one)

I tuned in to Catholic Talk Radio during my commute yesterday — ah, the joys of Sirius. Two topics caught my Mormon ears.

1) The host reviewed the Mormon missionary brouhaha in Colorado and urged forgiveness for the “kids” who made this “terrible mistake”: “Let’s show them that we practice the forgiveness and mercy that should exemplify our faith.”

2) Does the language from this commercial sound familiar (paraphrased from memory)?

Children do best with a strong mother and father in their life . . . Is anyone born without a mother? Of course not.
Does it make sense, then, that we would have a loving Heavenly Father, but no mother to call upon?
Thankfully, God did not leave us motherless.
Tune in to [my show] to explore the wonder and beauty of calling upon Holy Mary, mother of God — Mary, who the angel bowed down before saying: “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with Thee.”

In heaven, are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare . . .

As I’ve noted here before, the concept of a Heavenly Mother is a formative aspect of my faith. When I picture of God, I tend to think of a combination of Father, Mother, Brother — of a connection to deep, familial love. But I am not unsympathetic to Lynnette’s discomfort with this slim doctrine — to the extent that our lack of knowledge (and many members’ inherent discomfort with the idea) almost encourages “projecting”: She is a blank slate for our hopes, fears, and stereotypes.

But what of Mary? I know that we don’t “Hail Mary” — though if you want to hear the rosary recited with incredible dignity, tune into Mother Angelica’s daily recitation on cable — but do we honor her as Gabriel did? Should we?

Have you spent much time thinking about Mary? What do we do with her? Is she just another woman in the scriptures? (And do you ever envy the Catholics’ access to a tangible feminine divine?)


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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16 Responses

  1. Paradox says:

    I was once told that there are still plenty of scriptures and revelations that are kept from us because we aren’t ready to receive them.

    I’d like to think that more about Heavenly Mother is written among them somewhere.

    And as for Mary, I don’t think there will ever be a time when we’ll see her the same way Catholics do. But at the same time, I think if/when we learn more about Heavenly Mother, Mary’s role will also fall into place.

    Sucks having to wait, doesn’t it.

  2. Caroline says:

    To me, “God” encapsulates both Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father. So I love to address all my prayers and thoughts and ideas to God. Like you, Deborah, the feminine divine is a hugely important part of my spirituality.

    As for Mary, I do have Catholic envy. I love the way she is talked about, prayed to, painted, sculpted, discussed, touched. She is a real divine female presence in Catholic people’s lives. I miss having that in my LDS faith.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    I, too, have heard that there are doctrines we’ll have to wait for, that we aren’t ready to receive. But I’ve also heard that we have all the revelation now that we need for our salvation.
    I find these ideas contradictory.
    If information about our Heavenly Mother is not pertinent to our salvation, then how important is the role of women in the eternities? Why is having a divine role model not essential for women here?
    And yes, I do envy Catholic’s their praise of Mary. Is that quote about the angel bowing to Mary in LDS scriptures? I don’t recognize it.

  4. JohnR says:

    I did more than envy the Roman Catholics–I co-opted Marian devotion for a while. I prayed the rosary fairly regularly, primarily as a meditation on and a connection to the feminine divine than as an actual petition to Mary. I still consider the Hail Mary prayer is one of the most moving invocations.

    Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

  5. m&m says:

    But I’ve also heard that we have all the revelation now that we need for our salvation.

    Here’s my take on this. What is necessary for salvation is to come to Christ. We know about Him, His mission, His ordinances, His gospel. Salvation comes only through Him, through a focus on Him so that we can then someday enjoy a godlike life…whatever that may look like. We don’t need to know about the specifics of what that life is like to have enough knowledge to be saved. (Not that we don’t WANT to know, but that isn’t the same as having that knowledge essential for our salvation.) His salvation is for all of us, regardless of gender.

    I read the words in the scriptures about how our hearts and minds can’t imagine what awaits us if we are true and faithful, and I think that we won’t be disappointed. If we can’t fathom the wonder and glory of it, I suppose we can’t really understand much about the specifics of it all yet, either. Whenever I feel my mind starting to wonder what an eternal womanly role looks like, I go back to that anchor. As Elder Maxwell used to say…God promises all that He has if we are true and faithful. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “there isn’t any more!” 🙂

    That’s some of what helps me with these kinds of questions. FWIW.

  6. Alisa says:

    “We believe [God] will yet reveal many great and important things, partaining to the Kingdom of God.” This Article of Faith brings me a lot of hope. Not only are there more revelations to come, but *great and important* ones. Who can say what these will be? What we do know is that we don’t have it all yet.

    I think there is value in seeing feminine virtue in the Godhead, whether that’s viewing “God” as both an exalted man and woman, viewing Jesus as a mother figure (see earlier ExII post on Julian of Norwich), or seeing, as the Catholics do, Mary as part of that structure.

    I may not know a lot about my Mother in Heaven, but I do know a lot about Mary. She was obedient, and she called herself “the handmaid of the Lord” (how I love that beautiful phrase!). She prompted the Savior’s first miracle, and she was with him until the end. Those are traits I can see and lock on to, as well as try to emmulate in my own life.

  7. Deborah says:

    Lovely comments, all.

    John: I benignly dismissed the rosary for years — all that “vain repetition” stuff — but then I happened upon it being recited by Mother Angelica and was deeply moved. Each time she repeated the prayer, she seemed to be discovering it anew.

    Alisa wrote, “I may not know a lot about my Mother in Heaven, but I do know a lot about Mary.” This mirrors my recent thoughts. I suppose we don’t know a lot about Father in Heaven, either. The gritty details about the Christian God come from the choices, words, and emotions of Jesus.

    Mary — present at the Savior’s birth and death and surely the most formative earthly figure in his life — provides a vivid example of a type of female divinity. She had unparalleled communion with God.

    I wonder if, in our church’s discussion of motherhood and womanhood, we wouldn’t be wise to include more reflection on Mary . . . . More specifically, I think *I* might find more peace by letting go of pondering about Mother in Heaven and spending more time pondering the Mother of God — especially since the Marian tradition provides ample images, art, articles, prayers, and scripture to allow for a depth of study I cannot hope to have regarding Mother in Heaven.

  8. Deborah says:


    “And the angel came in unto her and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.” Luke 1:28

    From that respectful greeting (Hail), we can extrapolate that while typically mortals bow before angels, here the reverse dynamic is in effect.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I wonder if, in our church’s discussion of motherhood and womanhood, we wouldn’t be wise to include more reflection on Mary

    Excellent point! Now that you mention it, I wonder why we don’t do this more, too. Are Mormons worried that we might start to worship Mary (or be perceived as worshipping Mary) as the Catholics do?

    Lots to think about. Thanks for the post, Deborah!

  10. m&m says:

    I suppose we don’t know a lot about Father in Heaven, either. The gritty details about the Christian God come from the choices, words, and emotions of Jesus.

    Well said. Elder Holland reminded us of this.

    And I love that Sister Holland invites us to ponder the patterns and teachings in the scriptures and the temple to seek to understand more of these things that we ache to understand. I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t be inviting us to do this if she hadn’t found that effort fruitful. 🙂 So, add to Mary all the other women in the scriptures, and the patterns of family, marriage, parenthood, etc. that are taught in our doctrines and scriptures and temple.

    Did y’all read cjane’s post about the hourglass theory over at Segullah? Such an interesting example of what personal pondering can yield with questions that don’t have official answers. Of course, that means our answers won’t ever be official (and sometimes answers come in God’s own way and time), but I can’t help but think that there is a lot we can learn from the process of searching, pondering, praying, and pondering s’more. And doing lots of listening. And waiting. (I had an aha come this week related to something I have wanted to understand better for about two decades….)

  11. D'Arcy says:

    “I read the words in the scriptures about how our hearts and minds can’t imagine what awaits us if we are true and faithful, and I think that we won’t be disappointed.”

    But what if we are disappointed? What if the same questions that plague us here continue to be answered in a way that continue to plague us? What if the doctrine about women’s roles continues to be more of the same? What if I can never be ok with that? Will all my issues just be magically solved in heaven? I don’t know if I can wait that long for the answers.

  12. Maria says:

    I attended part of a Marian retreat with a law prof (former nun) friend of mine last year. I’ve actually been meaning to post on it for a while…just have never had the chance.

    The entire day was fascinating…from being the only non-nun (or former nun) there to the variety of workshops on Mary’s different attributes and how we can apply her example to our everyday life.

    Nothing I heard the entire day long in any way contradicted LDS beliefs about Mary…it just left me with the question as to why we don’t hold Stake RS workshops devoted to Mary and emulating her attributes (in the same way I went to youth conferences planned around “becoming like Nephi” etc.). There is a ton of material from the scriptures/modern day prophets that could be used as the foundation for the workshops…and how affirming for women to be able to have an actual person to model their lives after.

  13. Deborah says:

    Maria — I’d LOVE to hear more about the retreat, if you still want to post on it . . . .

  14. Azúcar says:

    I really love Mary.

    Maybe it’s centuries of catholic blood, but I do. Just thinking about her makes me feel deep emotions.

    I understand why there is not more devotion to her in our church. When you think of how Marianism evolved–as a way to co-opt pagan beliefs to legitimize Christianity–and the over emphasis in her role as an interceder, in part displacing the role of Christ, I understand. However, this by no means we should not revere her and hold her sacred.

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