not in Primary anymore

heavenly mother’s paradoxical embodiment

Guest post by Rachael Rose

One day, when talking to a lifelong Mormon woman about the church, she told me that she prays to Heavenly Mother all the time.

Surprised that an orthodox woman would admit this, I said “But your leaders would call you blasphemous.”

“I know,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I don’t care. She understands me.”

 

I was twenty at the time, and it was the first time that I became aware of the variety of women’s relationships to the divine Mother- dynamic, living, and intimate. Church leadership would hardly encourage this reality, but even among the orthodox, Heavenly Mother finds Her way into our prayers, our questions, and our conversations.

The concept of Heavenly Mother, as we know, is the result of a simple extension of logic: if we have a Father of our spirits, we must have a Mother of our spirits. While this logic works to give Her a place in our cosmology, it also creates a unique version of divinity in which Motherhood becomes the primary mode of existence. Unlike Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother exists not through Her body, but because of it.

This difference, as simple as it is, has allowed a deep silence to surround Heavenly Mother, both from church authority and members. I think our silence does two things:

First, it bases her goddesshood on an antiquated version of femininity in which the woman is wife and mother first, and individual second. It reaffirms the sexism that reduces women’s identities down to silent bodies. She is defined by Her female body, rather than by divinity, compassion, or power.

Second, our silence erases Her from our collective imagination. Though doctrine teaches that she is an individual woman (or multiple women) with a body like ours, imagery of the divine has focused on God the Father and Christ, rendering the Mother invisible to us. And since we are discouraged from talking about Her, our spoken imagery, too, keeps Her hidden: Our silence disembodies Her.

So on the one hand, Heavenly Mother is defined by an essentialist view of the female body; but on the other, is denied a visible body in our collective imagery. And here is the paradox: Mormon doctrine somehow contains a divinity who is simultaneously defined by Her body, and denied embodiment.

This paradox hit me at Margaret Tuscano’s Sunstone lecture this summer, “Images of the Divine Feminine,” in which she showed us hundreds of images of goddesses from around the world. Some were sensual, some were warriors, some were intertwined with water or sky, and some were mothers – but all of them together revealed a feminine divine who was vivid and powerful, who was given voice and subjectivity by Her artists.

“Our access to Her -our understanding of Her,” said Tuscano,  “begins through symbol, myth, ritual, and art that images the divine feminine…Images can empower us or imprison us. They can liberate us and put us into contact with God and our best selves, or they can enslave us into narrow categories of our own making.”

With images of goddesses lighting the screen, it became clear to me that our silence surrounding Heavenly Mother, Her invisibility in our images, and our narrow conceptualization of Her role, are tied intimately together. We have rejected Her full participation in godhood and inscribed Her with classic sexism.

What would happen if we could pray openly to God the Mother? What if we began talking about our relationships with Her, the way the life-long Mormon woman did with me? What if we began making images of Her?

How would we begin to paint Her in our consciousness, giving Her life and subjectivity? How would she begin to speak?

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12 Responses to “heavenly mother’s paradoxical embodiment”

  1. Daryl

    I was actually having a conversation with my (earthy) mother last night about our Heavenly Mother and she is unable to see the ways we treat her brings and shows an inequality. This is all great and I relate and agree with it all. I think I’m at a point in my life where I am going to start praying to my Heavenly Mother and I hope she can give me the peace I’ve been needing for so long.

    Reply
  2. Kufre Ekpenyong

    FWIW, I’ve heard the story a someone whose patriarchal blessing told her to pray to her Mother in Heaven because a woman would be specially able to understand her unique concerns as a young woman.

    I wonder if Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother would be exactly of one mind and spirit or if they might each see things from different but equally valid perspectives.

    Reply
  3. Curtis Penfold

    I pray to Heavenly Mother. But I’m kind of unorthodox about my worship of God. I’ve also participated in Krishna worship at the Hindu temple, and I feel that Krishna is a manifestation of the Divine. As is Kali, Osiris, Christ, and Mary. They’re all just manifestations of the same Glorious and Holy One for me.

    Yeah, but that’s not very orthodox in Mormonism, as I said.

    Reply
  4. Vicky

    I’ll admit, I accepted the whole “Heavenly Mother is protected by our silence” spiel for most of my life, until recently, when I started wondering why our Divine Mother would need “protection” from the world’s slander. Is She not equal and as powerful as our Heavenly Father? Does She not deserve our worship and reverence? It worries me that this might be my fate too in the eternities– to sit on an unaccessible pedestal, silent and invisible.

    Thank you for the post, Rachel– informative and thought provoking.

    Reply
  5. Kyla

    When I heard that we didn’t talk about Heavenly Mother because Father didn’t want her name profaned, my first reaction was anger. For all the women in the world who’ve been profaned, would not Heavenly Mother empower us and bear up our cause against the unrighteous, gender specific hate crimes against our sex? But as I thought about it, I started to wonder if sex is the reason She might choose to merge Her identity so wholly and completely with Her Husband that they are one complete being, now made male because the bringing forth and upbringing that is maternal in nature has been accomplished in the premortal and will be resumed once we graduate from this life, during which time it’s up to us to nurture each other and have faith and prove ourselves. While She may not (metaphorically) physically/in a manner we can directly feel be holding our hands, I know that she has a powerful and critical role in our earth lives, but the inherent feminine quality of the Elohim is not so directly active at this period of our journey to divine adulthood.

    Reply
    • Curtis Penfold

      While I find your idea interesting that a Heavenly Mother is no longer important in this part of our lives, I feel that would be similar to saying that now that you’re in college, your mother is no longer important.

      Also, if a male and female merged together, they’d be intersexed.

      Reply
      • Dolores

        The one year wait and the reluctance to canghe that has always seemed to me like an attempt to ensure that a temple sealing doesn\’t become simply an after thought to a worldly\’ marriage ceremony. We, as LDS, have a tendency to build up these kinds of ritual situations. Look at what had happened to missionary farewells and baptisms (in some locations) before the Church stepped in to curtail the kind of one-upsmanship that does and did occur. I think that some in positions of authority within the Church might be afraid that were it relatively easy to get this permission, we might see an escalation in wedding displays, with costly public ceremonies, followed by extravagant receptions, with a perfunctory temple sealing after the fact when the couple gets around to it . There already is pressure to put on a suitable\’ reception that can put severe financial pressure on families. Strongly encouraging the marriage itself to be in the temple at least reduces that pressure (somewhat(.

  6. Ja

    Gender is eternal. Heavenly Father and Mother are one in purpose. Embodiment is not eternal. Isn’t there a member of the Godhead that does not have a body? Aren’t we all created in the image of God?

    Reply
  7. Arka

    Thanks ARJ and annegb. And John M., I’m not faaliimr with that suggestion from Elder Packer, but it seems like a beautiful idea. I think my parents would be touched by such consideration.I think it’s also important that family members who cannot enter the temple because they are not members of the Church know that there are others who are members of the church but may not be able to attend the sealing because they have not received their endowment or because there simply may not be room for all who want to attend.When my parents dropped me off at the Missionary Training Center before my mission my mother was in tears and felt like the other mothers couldn’t understand or that it wasn’t hard for them because they knew it was coming. But one of the other mothers explained that even though she had years to prepare for this moment, it still didn’t make it easy. It helped my mom to know she wasn’t alone in her feelings.

    Reply
  8. Chelsea

    Thank you for this enlightening post! I am not LDS, I am in fact in seminary to be a Lutheran pastor. I am passionate about bringing the divine feminine back into our religious language and consciousness, and wondered if there was any talk in Mormon circles about the exclusive language for God I have heard (Heavenly Father). I googled “mormon feminists” and found you! Before reading this, I did not even know that Mormon theology included a Heavenly Mother figure. It is very refreshing to hear that She exists in your theology, and am so glad to read about Mormon women wanting to bring Her into the limelight. Traditional Christian theology has focused heavily on God the Father, even though God is known as gender-inclusive/gender-neutral. I am glad to know there are women and men working on this in the LDS church as well. Keep fighting the good fight!

    Reply

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