Let’s begin with an excerpt from a Mother’s Day 2013 talk:
“We can learn a lot about this aspect of patience–as enduring (well) difficult yet formative periods of our lives–by analyzing the story of Joseph in Egypt from a psychoanalytic perspective. After his fabled coat of many colors was torn away,(–which might represent the umbilical cord)Joseph was thrown into a womb-like pit, and then reborn into an Egyptian captivity. There he started out as a lowly, household slave, but, through his diligence, climbed the slave ladder to become Potiphar’s overseer. Joseph found opportunities even while wrongly imprisoned. His administrative talents caught the eye of the warden, and his gift for interpreting dreams made enough of an impression on Pharaoh’s butler to lead to his release, whereupon he became the Pharaoh’s chief adviser, the veritable prime minister of Egypt. After saving Egypt from famine, Joseph is eventually reunited with his family. Let’s pause here to analyze one highly significant aspect of the story so far: Joseph had to leave his parents behind–and specifically his mother, who dies before the Israelite family reunion–before he could achieve full maturity. The parallels both to missionary work and our earthly experience as Latter-day Saints are striking. …
“As I indicated before, I find it extremely symbolic (as well as extremely tragic) that Joseph’s mother Rachel dies before she can see her beloved son again. I’m going to teach people that they are literal children of God. On Mother’s Day, as we celebrate the special nurturing work performed by mothers, I am preparing to say goodbye to my own mother for a very long time. God–God the Father, the one we pray to–will be my new and exclusive nurturer, will succor both my physical and emotional needs. When we left the preexistence to come to Earth, we probably bade a similar farewell to our Mother in Heaven, not to see or to talk with her again until we had brought to pass “the work and the glory” (Moses 1:37) of the Father. I believe we see in the story of Joseph a type of the Plan of Salvation, a type, even, of Heavenly Mother. We read in Isaiah a further example of separation from the mother as a metaphor for our fallen state ([Deutero-]Isaiah 50:1). Joseph leaves Rachel behind to bring about the fulfillment of the patriarchal Abrahamic covenant, which he did in two ways: first, by ensuring the survival of Jacob/Israel’s descendants, the Israelites; and, secondly, through the descendents of his son Ephraim, who are primarily responsible for bringing about the literal gathering of Israel in these the latter days. If we, too, have the the patience and the faith to leave our mothers [“]for a season[”], we can achieve great things–even if, like Joseph, we aren’t around to see all of them come to fruition–and become more mature individuals as we do so.”
Okay so that was kind of a lame attempt. Intended to break the silence on Heavenly Mother without running afoul of the hierarchy; indicative, I think, of the dismal state of Mormon feminist politics, in spite of the recent “Let Women Pray” “victory”.
It is perhaps a truism to say that the Eternal Mom has become, over the last 20-30 years, more of a battered symbol in the cyclical conflict of feminists with Church authorities than an authentic part of the modern-day Mormon religion. But it needs be said and re-said, taken as a point of departure, for it aptly captures the lay / hierarchy, potential / practice binaries that continue to dominate Reform Mormon thought.
It needs to be stated that where most Christians–indeed, monotheists–insist on a God without and beyond gender, the invention of a Mother in Heaven was merely a necessary corrective to Joseph Smith’s revolutionary (hu)man God, not a radically feminist theological departure. And, further, that the doctrine merely reifies the gender binary, including the essentialist / Victorian trope of Woman the Nurturer, posing problems to MoFems who’d prefer to join the rest of Western feminism in leaving it behind. The self-congratulatory rhetoric–”Yay we’re so prog ‘cuz hmuthz”–needs to stop, as long as, once again, She remains practically unincorporated into our rituals (in a broad sense,–though the temple could certainly stand an injection of Goddess as well).
Though we certainly don’t need always to take a combative tone, the fact is,–we are in a war against our own establishment; against, in the case of hmuthz, remarkably unsophisticated interpretations of the scriptures (the LDS.org link to President Hinckley’s 1991 talk is mysteriously down, but his reasoning was basically “the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray to the Father”–never mind both the Book of Mormon and New Testament versions of the Lord’s Prayer were written in a context in which Mother in Heaven effectively did not exist). I won’t fully theorize here the radically reduced conception of the hierarchy that needs desperately to be a thing, but I will urge all discontented Mormons everywhere to stop looking to white male octogenarians for the balm your wounded soul desires: If/when you have questions, don’t take them to General Conference; take them to Heavenly Mother.