This post was originally written on Sunday, June 24th, 2013.
Today I sat in church. The first speaker mentioned that she “has a bad tendency to question everything.” Something in my heart twisted a little.
I opened up my copy of Women and Authority to my bookmark, placed around the middle of Carol Lynn Pearson’s essay on Healing the Motherless House. A few days ago I had begun reading this essay, but was overwhelmed with emotion akin to despair at the statistics she shares about the struggles of women worldwide and throughout history, and I had slammed the book shut.
Today, I carefully opened the book as the first speaker went on to discuss how we shouldn’t ask questions because that means we don’t have faith. I grimaced a little as I saw the stats again that had upset me days before, found my place where I left off, and continued to read. The more I read, the more I thought about my relationship with Heavenly Mother. I found myself pausing often to craft, without really realizing it, the talk I would have given if I had been a speaker in church today. It would be one of a very different kind of faith, if it can even be termed that, and one about questions that cannot be ignored. Here’s a sort of summarized version of the talk I would have given.
I am still healing from, well, everything related to Heavenly Mother. Though I would never have been able to articulate it at the time, it was frustrations and anger at Heavenly Mother that most tormented me during the darker times of my faith journey. I would like to share some of my personal experiences with Her, partly because I have been thinking a lot today about how my relationship with Her is changing, and partly because I feel that we simply do not acknowledge Her enough, ever. Every single time I go to church or discuss Mormonism with people, I feel Her absence.
“We are children of a loving Heavenly Father [AND MOTHER].”
“God sent us down to earth because He [AND SHE] love[s] us.”
“I am so grateful for the knowledge of my Heavenly Father.” This one I can understand Her exclusion.
It feels very difficult to discuss my experiences with Her without going into a ton of detail about my entire faith journey, but I’m going to try to, because I want to keep this brief. Please understand that this account is enormously truncated and will read differently than if you and I were sitting on a couch discussing it in person.
I’ll just say that there was a time when I felt like I lived in a state of perpetual anguish over the nature of God, whether Mormonism was “true,” and whether I could “stay” in a church that I felt I was discovering was not the one I had been raised in and loved. During that time, I was reading the Book of Mormon multiple times a day, praying almost non-stop, attending and participating at church regularly, and trying very hard to seek answers anywhere I could find them through Mormon blogs, Mormon history books, and Mormon online discussions. I would frequently read my scriptures and pray before bed, then turn off the light and lie in bed, still praying, falling asleep still mentally and emotionally wrestling with God.
One particular night, I had had a very difficult personal scripture study. I remember laboring over each verse in which women were invisible, unnamed, relegated to the shadows of man-determined religious history. I verbally choked out a sincere prayer. I remember biting back tears, harshly chiding myself for allowing them to form, and swatting off the lamp by my bed before crawling in under the sheets.
My prayer seemed to have continued beyond my “amen,” as so many prayers often do. I still remember the pattern on my ceiling, the way the light from my digital alarm clock splayed across the room as I talked with my Heavenly Father.
Often during these nights of communing with and seeking answers from Him, I had asked Him if I could talk to my Heavenly Mother for a few minutes. I always felt as though my request had been granted, and it felt as if He stepped aside for a moment, and She moved into place as the recipient of my communications. I always felt like I could talk to Her, and though I never felt a direct response, I felt like She heard me, and it was always a comfort to me.
On this night, I remember literally writhing in pain at the inner conflict making me feel so distraught. I felt like Heavenly Father had hidden things from me, like He had allowed me to participate in something my whole life that might not even be true. I felt as though I was in the depths of very painful turmoil. I am aware that it might sound as though I am exaggerating this, but I think anyone who has experienced something similar in their own religious journey will understand.
In my moment of utter anguish, I asked my Heavenly Father if I could speak with my Heavenly Mother. “Please,” I remember pleading. “I just need to talk with my Mom. Just for a few minutes. I need to talk to Her.”
And very clearly, I felt a sort of push in my chest, with a resounding answer from Heavenly Father:
“Not right now.”
I was devastated, to say the least. I rolled over on my side in what I now recognize as me, in a way turning away from God in deep bitterness. What did it mean?
Does Heavenly Father control who Heavenly Mother talks to? Why didn’t He let me talk to Her? Or let Her talk to Me?
Did my Heavenly Mother not want to talk to me? In my moment of most sincere pain, did She decide not to speak to me? Was She just “trying to do what was best” for me? How is abandoning a child during their moment of desperation right?
It felt like a betrayal. It felt as though She was not the Mother I had been yearning and aching for- either She is controlled by Her husband, or She chose not to even listen to the prayer of one of her daughters when she most needed it. I felt rejected, confused, and angry.
There are no answers that satisfy my heart for why my Heavenly Mother was not a part of my life. I find it extremely difficult to understand the concept of a loving Heavenly Mother who either chooses not be involved or understood or a part of Her children’s lives, or who is kept from participating by Her male counterpart. I was very bitter that the deity I was supposed to (logically) look up to as the role model for my gender was nothing but a hoped-for shadow in the annals of the church to which I belonged. Nothing but a few scanty references and warning about it being inappropriate to pray to her. There was plenty of evidence for past worship of the feminine divine, but my religion, which had such potential to be at the forefront of revealing new doctrine about Her, our Mother in Heaven, had ignored Her.
And She had made no efforts to be known. I still feel that if She wanted to be known, She could have made it so. She is DEITY, after all; holding her to any lower standard denigrates the position She does hold. God the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. Their wife and mother, known only by those titles, known only for her relationship to men, either chose not to come or was kept from coming. Those are simply the only logical conclusions.
About a month after that prayer in which my request to speak to Her was denied, I decided to say a very different prayer, which I wrote about here. I prayed to know if God existed, and did so without any anticipation either way. I did not receive a confirmation from my prayer that God did exist, and I left the prayer with a peace in my heart that God was not there. I was comfortable with the understanding that perhaps I had simply created the religious experiences I had felt I had, having been conditioned as a Mormon to expect certain feelings. But I didn’t do anything about it because I felt that it was possible God was real, but perhaps was not as I had always thought He/She/It/They were, and I wasn’t sure if perhaps staying in the church might still be a good idea.
Eventually, I decided that I would end my association with the church after leaving BYU unless I had experiences that confirmed to me that God did exist and the church was true. I privately considered myself an agnostic leaning atheist- I wanted to always be open to the possibility of God existing, but I did not think He/She/It/They did, and
- I knew that I did not want to and will never fake a religious experience just to bring myself comfort.
- I do not need religion to be a good person. I have a strong moral compass and make decisions based on if I think they are right, and I can do so without relying on religion. I do not need Heavenly supervision, a threat of punishment, or a promise of reward in order to want to be a good person.
I came back to BYU in January a new person. It was one of the most formative months of my life. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was making decisions not because some other worldly being was whispering things in my ear. I was doing things for me. I was serving people because I wanted to serve people, not because I was anxious to be obedient to some strange Being who refused to allow me to know Their true self while still demanding fealty. When I woke up everyday, I smiled and scrambled out of bed because I was excited to go about my day being my authentic self, no longer tormented by questions of how I “should” be or what I “should” be doing. I could finally hear my own voice, and it felt really good. I was still navigating a lot of things. But that month of January was when I really got to know myself better.
Life went on, and every once in a while, something would happen. I would be hiking, and I’d look out over a majestic view of a valley in the mountains, and I’d feel something. Just… something. And because it had been many months since I had believed in God, and many months of not seeking after or trying to be in tune with “the Holy Ghost,” it always caught me off guard. I allowed the feeling to sink in, but did not question much into its source.
But those feelings came more often, always unexpectedly, and sometimes more strongly than others. I began to wonder if they came from outside of me. Perhaps “God” is not a person- we have simply anthropomorphized this force, this energy, so that we can understand It better. Perhaps “God” is an idea- something that we need in order to set our sights on loftier goals of Being. But something curious was happening, because I felt something feminine in many of the “somethings.” It’s difficult to articulate because I actually personally do not usually feel a connection to the feminine or feminine things. I wouldn’t really describe myself as feminine or wanting to be. I’m just not interested in classifying things or dividing the world into masculine and feminine things. I think it’s an entirely outdated concept of perceiving society and the world. But I couldn’t deny something feminine, something womanly, something motherly, in those “somethings.” I still did not push to inquire. But my mind was opened a little.
I had not thought through my experiences with Heavenly Mother, and how I had many residual sort of abandonment issues from my prayer that night and her ongoing non-involvement (or non-explicit involvement) in my life and pretty much everyone else’s.
I was forced to grapple with my tucked away bitterness sort of all at once and when I was with a group of Mormon feminists. Many times while people were speaking, I felt the same sort of “something” again, but these times it was so powerful that I would physically stop taking notes, look around, and voice my confusion in my head. It was so sudden and vivid that I could not continue what I was thinking about or doing. After so long of not feeling anything spiritual, I was, to put it bluntly, a little scared. I was kinda freaked out. Definitely caught off guard. And 1000% confused. What the heck was happening?
A few hours later, while I was still a little shaken up/confused at these new experiences, a woman got up to give a prayer. I wondered as I saw her bow her head if she would pray to Heavenly Mother. My mind flashed back to my rejected request. She began, “Our Heavenly Father…”
In my head, I bitterly threw out there, “Oh, is she going to say ‘Our Heavenly Mother’ as well?”
The woman continued “…..and Our Heavenly Mother.”
Immediately, with my eyes still closed and my head bowed in prayer, I cocked my head to one side and tossed out the thought, “Oh, so, do you want to talk to me NOW?”
To which I immediately felt a response, returned with every bit of sass and fiestyness with which I had conveyed that sentiment and which I wish you could hear the tone:
“Yes I do, daughter.”
My eyes FLASHED open. My jaw probably dropped, but who knows. I was completely taken aback. And I had no idea what to do with what I had just experienced.
All the old feelings of bitterness washed over me. Why now? Why would You JUST NOW seek out a relationship with me? When I had for so long sought after You and tried to understand why You didn’t seem to want me? Why did You reject me that night? Why do You allow Your children to live out their days with nothing but a “truth is reason, truth eternal” to remind them of Your vague presence? Why do You allow Your daughters to live in Your shadow, forever stuck on the sidelines just as You seem to be? Why have You not revealed whatever truth there is about You?
There was a difference in that this time, the bitterness felt more impatient than painful. Head shaking, you-could-have-made-this-easier frustration. But Her response was more than “something.”
Later that night, I received a blessing from a woman, which she pronounced upon my head according to her faith in Jesus Christ. It was the most spiritual experience of my life, and one which I hope to share in more detail at a future date. The part of that blessing that I want to share right now is this:
Part way through the blessing, given to me by a woman with whom I had had maybe 3-4 casual conversations with ever, she paused, and said something like, “I don’t know if this will make sense- it seems kind of strange. But I can see Heavenly Father standing there, with Heavenly Mother standing behind Him and a little to the side. She is very tentative. I feel like She wants to have a relationship with you, but, She … She fears being rejected by you. I’m not sure if that makes sense?”
At which point the tears were streaming down my face, the still-fresh memory of Her sassy comeback to my snippy prayer storming through my mind, along with all the baggage of my frustrations with Her.
I still have not let go of all my frustrations, and I don’t know that I need to. I think She understands that most of them are justified. But since that incredible blessing, I have felt a small connection to Her. I now converse with Her sometimes, usually with sass which I personally feel She enjoys. I rail against Her with my questions, which I feel She also enjoys. I still struggle to understand and accept such a heteronormative, embodied set-up of deity that the implication of a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother present when God as a force or idea embracing all genders makes way more sense to me. But I have come to understand and accept many possibilities for God, some of which include-
- Perhaps Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother really are “they twain shall be one flesh.” Meaning that God has both masculine and feminine characteristics, and our society/culture has not been able to connect with God’s feminine side, something we need to work on. We have still anthropomorphized God so that we can better understand It.
- Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother really are separate and distinct personages, but they are simply our Heavenly Parents for our world, and other Heavenly Parents are not the same male-female arrangement.
- God is still just an idea, but chooses to mess with me in a way that will help me grow. This might sound callous and terrible to people, but whatever, it makes sense to me and I’m somewhat okay with it.
I still have a lot of questions. My “faith” is unorthodox. But this is the story of how I am coming to know Her. And it feels really good.