This is a post that has been germinating inside of me for a long, long time, and the week of Mother’s Day seemed like the perfect moment to let it flower.
As you may or may not know, the Mormon conception of God encompasses both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. However, for whatever reason, we almost never talk about our Heavenly Mother.
The relative absence of my Heavenly Mother didn’t really bother me much growing up. In fact, when I thought of Her at all, I thought about Her as a sort of special, beautiful secret, and something I found aesthetically pleasing about my religion. To me, She was more of an idea than a real person; certainly She didn’t seem as “real” as God the Father or Jesus Christ, whom I heard about every week at church, and with whom I was encouraged to develop a personal relationship.
Fast forward to approximately a year ago, when I was living in Tunisia. We’d had a serious marital shakeup, then a couple of difficult financial years, and several international moves. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. So for a couple of months, every morning I would walk down to the beautiful Hammamet beach, sit on the shore above the water-line, and just be still, looking out at the crystal blue sea and sky. After a while, I started to bring along a notebook so I could write down my feelings and try to sort through them.
And then one day I began to write poetry. I remember learning in a philosophy class in college that the Greeks believed poets had a kind of madness sent from the gods, which enabled them to write things that they did not know or understand themselves. That’s how poetry has always been for me. I am often surprised at the things that flow from my pen. I read my own poetry in the same way I read other people’s, because both tend to yield layers of meaning I didn’t know existed on the first reading (or writing, for that matter).
Much of the poetry I began to write on the beach in Hammamet dwelt on religious and Biblical (or Book of Mormon) themes. Among others, I wrote about Eve, Mary, Jesus, Noah, Lehi, and Sarah (with whom, for obvious reasons, I’ve always felt a kinship). I felt how their struggles and triumphs mirrored and illuminated mine. And then one day it happened. A divine female presence appeared in one of my poems.
After I’d written it down, and then polished up the rhyme, meter, and internal assonance and consonance till every word was perfect, I just sat and stared at it. There She was, unaccountably, but undeniably. I hadn’t set out to write a poem about Her. She had just appeared, unbidden, like a rare pearl unexpectedly washed up on the sand at my feet.
It was a strange experience for me. The absence of discussion about Heavenly Mother at church is nearly absolute, and many members believe the subject to be actually taboo. I felt I’d done something unwittingly subversive. I mean, we have this one hymn we sometimes sing (called, ironically, O My Father) that mentions Her, and occasionally a speaker will throw out the phrase “heavenly parents.” But a cursory search for “heavenly mother” on lds.org yields exactly 15 results. For perspective, a similar search for “heavenly father” comes up with 14,226.
This is the climate I was raised in, and I think it’s a fairly typical experience for Mormons. Who writes poems about Heavenly Mother? The people who run Sunstone Magazine, and complain that women never pray in General Conference, and agitate for the removal of the “gender ban” on the Priesthood, that’s who. Not I.
But somehow, I had done it. And I hadn’t just done it. I had read it, and I had felt it, and there She was, no longer just an idea, but suddenly as disconcertingly real as God the Father, as if She had somehow breathed life into Herself.
I didn’t quite realize it then, but my life changed that day. My eyes were opened to a world I never knew existed before.
Ten years ago, I spent a year and a half doing nothing but teaching people about God, and watching them awaken to the delight of knowing Him. But I never knew how it felt to really yearn and wonder if God was there, until the truth sank deep into my heart that “God” means not only my much-loved Father, but also a Mother I was only beginning to know.
That awakening has been the beginning of a journey that has changed not only the way I see God, but the way I see myself and everything else. There’s lots more I have to share, but the rest will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, if it accords with your belief system, I invite you to spend a moment this Mother’s Day honoring your Heavenly Mother in whatever way seems most meaningful to you.