IN MY FOUR DECADES as a Latter-day Saint, I’ve not known a man who craved a relationship with Heavenly Mother, even if I’ve know men who’ve acquired the interest. The desire to understand the divine feminine abides largely in the hearts of women. As the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organize their messages for this weekend’s General Conference, many LDS women are bracing against what seems the inevitable, official, widespread retrenchment of our Mother God. But to my sisters in the gospel I say, they may push her into the empty corners of their own faith, but they can’t push her into ours. They may think She won’t hear their prayers, or that saying Her name in prayer will disturb Heavenly Father, but that has no bearing on our lived experiences of connecting with Her. They may belittle our connection by calling it our imagination but we know better. We have claimed and will continue to claim Her as our own, our Mother. We don’t need–and have never needed–their permission to be fully Her daughter.
The first time I heard the LDS doctrine that a Heavenly Mother exists, my soul quieted. I can still feel the stunned silence of the moment, the way all fight left me and my soul broadened. There is a God like me… I didn’t need to study its truth, nor to pray about it, because I felt it ring one lovely, reverent note in my spirit, freeing me from a religious existence that I’d only known as ordered by men and given me through men. I was 14 and Catholic. Mother Mary was as close to divinity as a woman could get, and she achieved this status by giving up her body and soul to an ethereal Being who I was taught to address as Father, as a male. Mary mattered because she delivered a male God to the world. As a teen, I perceived God as a distant, impersonal, and often harsh Being I had to worship or else, to obey or else, to honor or else.
I didn’t realize it back then but I can now see that it wasn’t until I first heard the words “Heavenly Mother” that my God became capable of loving without bounds. The reverence I felt in that moment was overpowering, empowering, and I understood that God was as much like me as God was like any man. Everything about my worldview shifted.
And then quickly shifted back. I joined the LDS Church at 17. Even though I had that moment of soul-broadening reverence–a connection–associated with God the Eternal Mother, I forfeited it. I was told to forfeit it by men who held the “true priesthood.” In Catholicism, priesthood belonged to the few men who led the parish. In Mormonism, it belonged to every male, 12 and older–but it also belonged to God the Father. Without priesthood, this God to whom I was taught to pray would have no power, no authority, no jurisdiction over the spirits of men. The gender and priesthood divides in Mormonism are one and the same, and each is insurmountable as a woman. It has always been the most respected priesthood holders in Mormonism who have insisted Heavenly Mother be tucked away.
While still fresh in the LDS Church, I was admonished by these leaders (and others) that She is too sacred to talk about and instructed that my prayers were only to follow the pattern established by Jesus in the New Testament, a prayer I knew by heart and had repeated each time I’d used my rosary. They taught me that it wasn’t Her job to run the earth and that She had some other eternal purpose that couldn’t be interrupted by her mortal children. (I figured that purpose out later.) I willingly aligned myself with the teaching of the men in Salt Lake City.
But I never stopped thinking about Her, looking for Her, waiting for Her. When dating in the 1980s, my litmus test for the young men I dated was “What do you think of Heavenly Mother?” When they said She is too sacred for discussion, I knew this guy wasn’t my guy. I wanted a husband who thought beyond what his religious leaders told him to think. I wanted to be supported as I explored the nooks of my new faith. She was the greatest nook there was, and yet, in so many ways, I didn’t dare explore the doctrine. I behaved.
It’s only been in the last few years that I revisited my adoration for Heavenly Mother and even more recently that I let myself express my love and gratitude to Her, through direct communication with Her, sometimes as part of a partnership with Heavenly Father and sometimes without any intercessory of any kind. The moment I first uttered her name in prayer was very much like the first moment I heard Her name–a peace flowed through me, something I now can recognize as a connection with my spiritual Mother. I expect LDS leaders would tell me I imagined it. I will tell them I couldn’t imagine it. LDS women aren’t imagining it; they are testifying to it.
Apparently, our highest male leaders don’t yet yearn for this connection. It’s likely that, at General Conference, we’ll get more of the type of sentiments expressed recently by Elder Dale G. Renlund who said, “It’d be wonderful to sit back and make up all kinds of comforting doctrine [about Heavenly Mother], but Latter-day prophets are constrained to not do that.”
That’s an interesting word choice–constrained.
Constrain, a verb. To compel or force (someone) to follow a particular course of action.: “children are constrained to work in the way the book dictates”, “Latter-day prophets are constrained to not do that.”
synonyms: compel, force, coerce, drive, impel, oblige, prevail on, require, press, push, pressure, pressurize, urge, bully, dragoon, browbeat, railroad, bulldoze, steamroller, hustle, twist someone’s arm, strong-arm
I can’t help but think the word would be better employed in the following sentence: “LDS women are constrained to do as Church leaders dictate.”
I don’t believe for an instant that Heavenly Father bullies, coerces, pressures, or browbeats church leaders into ignoring Heavenly Mother. Nor do I believe He constrains them from studying the Divine Feminine, hidden in the standard works, nor from reasoning about Her, nor praying for more light and knowledge, nor praying in ways that include Her. Nor do I believe they can constrain any of us from seeking and finding Her.
What I think is that it’s convenient for Church leaders to draw public attention away from the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. For multiple reasons. For one, the doctrine makes the LDS church unlike other Christian sects and that carries its own set of complications. But also because the underbelly of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother–the ideas of eternal polygamy and eternal procreation–create a bleak immortal future for LDS women, and they’d rather women not focus on that.
Some LDS women set all that on their proverbial shelf, but others cannot. I cannot. What I’d like to see is an open discussion about Joseph Smith’s view of the nature of God and the spirits of men (specifically see pg 615) occur in direct and specific relation to the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. What I know is that light and knowledge are never found when doctrine (contemporary or historical) is hidden or avoided, no matter the reason. I also know that a generosity of feeling toward those tasked with the difficult job of leading is generally as wise as is doing what one knows is best for oneself and one’s faith practice.
To my LDS sisters who’ve found connection with Heavenly Mother, be reassured that they can’t take that away from you. Your testimonies are valid. To those who want such a connection–and especially to those who need one–don’t be afraid. No one can constrain you from loving your Mother in ways you know mothers appreciate, from leaning on Her as your guide and support, or from acknowledging Her struggle to nurture women when the patriarchal systems of mortality deny or hide Her. This isn’t an either/or–either God the Eternal Father or God the Eternal Mother, either you behave like the daughter of Heavenly Father or like the daughter Heavenly Mother. You are both. Some day our leaders will figure that out. In the meantime, and as the scriptures say, seek and ye shall find. If so inclined, bow your head and listen for Her footsteps.
…God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself: intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement. The first principles of man are self existent with God; that God himself finds himself in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was greater, and because he saw proper to institute laws, whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself, that they might have one glory upon another, in all that knowledge, power, and glory, &c., in order to save the world of spirits. I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life, that are given to me, I know you taste it and I know you believe it. Joseph Smith, April 7, 1844
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One thought on “On Being Heavenly Mother’s Daughter in an Era of Retrenchment”
I don’t care one whit about trying to convince male leadership to bring more Heavenly Mother into the Church — for a lot of reasons, one of which is that they aren’t seeking it anyway.
What I do care about is convincing LDS women that they don’t need male leadership to do that at all. We don’t need them to and we shouldn’t wait for them to.