A Mother There: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part 2

I hope all of you mothers had a lovely mother’s day. Before Church, my husband made me breakfast, and my kids gave me cute cards. At Church, I substitute-taught a class of a dozen rambunctious eleven-year-olds, and reflected that mothering my own two children is actually pretty easy by comparison. After Church, I had a nice videochat with my mom, and then Tony took the children to visit a lonely lady in the ward, and I laid out my blanket on the lawn and read The Secret Life of Bees. Lovely.

And yes, I also spent  some time thinking about my Heavenly Mother, and what I would say in this post. It’s funny, I didn’t realize until I became experientially aware of Her reality that there is a gigantic hole in the way I had been imagining God. All of a sudden, in the midst of a deluge of male pronouns in scripture and hymn and church discourse, all I could hear was a deafening silence about the feminine side of God.

To explain the powerful impact on me of that silence (indeed, that apparent absence), it might be helpful if I sketched for you a bit of Mormon theology. Like most of the rest of the Christian world, we believe in The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost. However, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught a version of the Trinity that was a little different from mainstream Christianity’s; namely that the three members of what Mormons like to call “The Godhead” are completely separate individuals, just as any three human beings are separate individuals. Further, he taught that the Holy Ghost is a spirit, but God the Father and Jesus Christ have glorified, perfected, and immortal physical bodies (yes, complete with parts and passions).

Joseph Smith described the spirits (souls) of human beings as the literal offspring of God. He taught that we lived with God as spirits before we were born, and that we are here on earth so that our spirits can be clothed with a physical body and we can gain experience and learn to choose between good and evil.  To top it all off, Joseph taught that God the Father had at one time lived a mortal life like Jesus, and like us. Our ultimate goal is to return to our home with God and eventually be not only with Him, but also like Him. A later prophet of the Church, Lorenzo Snow, put it like this: “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.”

Radical, I know. But also transcendently inspiring, at least to me. Just like our children look forward to growing up to be like us, we look forward to growing up to be like God. And the trials, pains, and joys of human life are the best possible preparation we could have as we progress toward that eternal goal. As Nietzsche once said (although he might be startled to find his words being used to expound on Mormon theology), “The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory theodicy ever invented.”

To continue my Mormonized version of Nietzsche’s admirable thought, when we view our life in light of Snow’s couplet, God really does become a “transfiguring mirror”; As we look deep into what He is, we see what we can become, and are transformed. In fact, Joseph Smith went on to say, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”

Somehow, the irony of reading that last statement as a woman took thirty years to really strike me. Who is this God I’m supposed to comprehend and someday become like? If gender is an eternal characteristic (which my religion vigorously affirms is the case), how can I possibly comprehend myself without comprehending the God(dess) who is my Eternal Mother?

Over the past year or so, I have contemplated those questions over and over, mostly with myself and my husband, because like I said, we barely ever talk about Heavenly Mother at church. A few weeks ago, when the Relief Society President (leader of the women’s organization) solicited anonymous questions for the Stake President to answer at a special meeting during Stake Conference, I thought I’d give it a shot. So on my little slip of paper I wrote, “Tell us everything you can about Heavenly Mother,” and then folded it up and dropped it in the box.

At the very least, I thought it might inspire an interesting class discussion. Sure enough, a few weeks later I sat in our Relief Society meeting listening as the Stake President answered a list of truly random questions. When he got to mine, he said he wished he’d had time to research the topic, but had been very busy. Despite lack of research, he was able to repeat off the top of his head the oft-heard idea that we don’t really talk about Her because “Heavenly Father has put her on a pedestal and wishes to protect her from anyone who might profane her name.” The woman sitting next to me chimed in that perhaps we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother because if we talked about Her too much, we might start worshiping Her, “like the Catholics have with Mary.”

I find both of the above-referenced ideas fascinating. Neither is a real doctrine of the Church, but both are widely held. The first, which is colloquially known in the Church as the idea of “sacred silence,” paints a sort of traditional Victorian picture of an idealized woman. I suppose we could stretch the interpretation to mean that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother agreed together that She should not be spoken of by Her children (although being a mother myself, I would find that an odd move for a divine mother to make). However, people putting forth this idea invariably cite the Father as the only actor, who has decided to protect Her by rendering Her invisible to Her children. No mention is ever made of how She might feel about the situation, let alone the idea that She might participate in decision making of this sort. It is odd to me that this is our picture of the essence of exalted womanhood.

The second idea disturbed me even more, though. The underlying premise seems to be that there is something unthinkably wrong about anything worthy of worship being female. I see no logical basis for this idea. If we worship our  Father, what could be inappropriate about worshiping our Mother? Is there something inherent about being female that makes Her unworthy of worship? Is She a lesser being, not quite as divine as the Father, a sort of demi-goddess? Or not divine at all? Is She perhaps just some lucky woman who ended up married to God?

In conjunction with this idea, Mormons sometimes bring up the fact that pagan fertility cults (presumably involving worship of a divine female figure) are roundly condemned in the Bible. I heard someone speculate the other day that perhaps the danger we’re trying to forestall when we avoid talking about Heavenly Mother is the impulse to turn her into a fertility cult. There seems to be a sense that worshiping a divine female figure tends automatically toward corruption and perversion. This is disturbingly reminiscent of Medieval beliefs about the inherent impurity of women’s bodies and the supposed danger of their corrupting influence on men, just as Eve had, according to their theology, “ruined” Adam. In a church that honors Eve and views her decision to partake of the fruit as one of the most important and wonderful acts in the history of the world, I find it strange that we would retain these ideas about womanhood.

While none of the above ideas are officially sanctioned by the Church, the functional silence about Heavenly Mother serves to reinforce them. I know that there are a lot of women in the Church (and men too) who aren’t bothered by the current lack of information and emphasis on Heavenly Mother. I’m not seeking to invalidate their experience, or tell them they ought to be bothered when they’re not. But for me, the connection between Her identity and my identity as a woman is too powerful to ignore.

One day, while pondering again Joseph’s statement about comprehending the nature of God, the realization hit me forcefully that until I recognized the feminine as fully divine, it was impossible for me to recognize the feminine (myself!) as fully human.

Next time I’ll discuss my thoughts on how our ideas about marriage tie into Heavenly Mother. In the meantime, I’m curious about how you feel. Is the idea of a divine feminine important in your faith? Do you feel a personal connection to a female God? Or is it something for which you don’t really feel a need?

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8 thoughts on “A Mother There: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part 2

  • May 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm
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    I’d like to read your poem about the Divine Mother — For 16 years or so I’ve been convinced that God is the Divine Mother.

  • Pingback: A Mother There: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part 4 – updated — Casteluzzo

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  • May 18, 2012 at 8:24 am
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    As for your questions, I’ve never felt a need for a divine feminine. I know people on the outside probably think “poor, submissive woman made to be quiet in the church,” but I’ve never really felt that way. Maybe because I refuse to play that part and am too outspoken for my own good. I just never felt God made me as some second-rate human. And, in reality, I don’t even get that impression from the Apostle Paul even though many use his words to show me how bad I have it in my Christian faith. *shrug*

    I’ve read articles about the feminine side of God. How he labors and delivers and Jesus how he uses a metaphor as a hen gathering her chicks. I don’t get the impression God hates the females for being emotional creatures. Goodness, who said emotions are bad things? The God of the Bible is a rather emotional being so I refuse anymore to allow any Muslim (as they tend to be the ones who use this argument the most on blogs I read) to make me feel bad for being a woman with emotions. As if men and their logical brains (whatever) are somehow superior.

    Back to Eve…see, you can say Eve was tempted by the father of lies if you believe the serpent was the devil in the form of a snake. Adam, on the other hand, succumbed to the words of a “mere” woman. Who is the fool here? And how many men do we know who think with their sex organs and follow the harlot?

    So, yeah, don’t talk to me about the logical male brain and how superior it is to women and their fickle emotions.

    *yawn*

    (Sorry…I’ve read too many degrading articles and blog posts on this topic.)

  • May 18, 2012 at 8:14 am
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    I greatly enjoyed this post. Lots of interesting, fascinating things! Now you have me curious about your ideas of Eve since you stated “wonderful acts” in relation to her disobeying God and eating the fruit. Do you mean to say rebellion against God is a good thing? I’m in no way blaming Eve alone for condemning humanity or calling all women temptresses as some have done. Insulting!

    The whole idea of the Heavenly Mother not being talked about for the first reason strikes me as very cultural – maybe amongst Arabs and others. But I’ve heard how many times you don’t acknowledge a man’s wife and daughters. In a conversation a man would never inquire how “the missus and the girls” were doing. Almost like we are supposed to forget the females in order to honor them. The same with calling women Um [son’s name]. It’s almost like forgetting their identities [Dania, Amina, Sarah] honors them. Which I must admit I don’t like, but that’s not my culture.

    I contrast that with Proverbs 31 and the man and children who praise the wife/mother in that story and her works bring her praise at the city gates (vs. 31)! Obviously King Lemuel doesn’t mind talking of his wonderful mother … is he not honoring her by singing her praises?

    As I read this I was curious how you deal with the Jewish notion (and also Islamic one) that God is One. Trinitarian Christians oft get criticized for “soft” polytheism because some mistakingly believe we have three gods: Father, Son, Spirit. Yet it seems Mormons truly do believe in more than One God (Yahweh, Allah) especially since you introduce a Goddess and become gods/goddesses yourselves. Do you think the notion of God as one (the Shema) is wrong or just for Jews and Muslims?

    I’ve always heard God is spirit (John 4:24) so He doesn’t not have a body like we do although the Bible does often give Him attributes such a mouth and arm and pictures Him seated on a throne. I’ve often wondered if that is for our benefit since we visual things in human terms and pictures, and “spirit” is rather hard for us. Jesus, of course, is – in my beliefs – God incarnate so there’s that.

    Please know I’m not criticizing by asking and observing these things. I’m truly trying to learn more now that you’ve piqued my interest by your wonderful post! :)

  • May 17, 2012 at 11:07 pm
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    I get to choose the music for Sacrament Meeting and I considered “O my Father” since it is the one hymn that mentions our Heavenly Mother. However, since I wasn’t going to be in our ward, and since I wasn’t sure any of the congregation would pay attention to the words beyond the title, I decided against it.

    This is something that has, at times, been a big focus of my thinking. It used to trouble me, but it is now one of those things that I hope to understand better once this life is over. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • May 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm
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    You have me thinking and acknowledging I have never really thought about this. I know I am not going to change and start praying to my Heavenly Mother, but I know she is there. I know my relationship with my Heavenly Father is one of the most important relationships I can have and need dearly. I truly count on him for so much, perhaps everything. Thinking about my place as a mother, my relationship with my children is also among the most important and enduring relationships I can have. And truly I would be at a lose without it. I wonder how our Heavenly Mother feels not being included. Maybe she counts on Heavenly Father keeping Her updated. If I miss a conversation with one of my children, I make Craig repeat as much as possible. I know She loves us. I don’t have an answer to how this all works, but I know I am a spiritual offspring of 2 parents of which I am grateful for. Thank you for the insightful post – thinking is always good.

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