If you’re new to the conversation, you might want to read Part 1 and Part 2 first.
My next thoughts about Heavenly Mother have a lot to do with our conception of the afterlife, and how we will live there. Mormons have been described as having “the biggest heaven and the littlest hell.” One of the things I love about my faith is that it describes a God whose boundless mercy includes many people denied salvation by the tenets of some other faiths.
The Mormon idea of heaven is expansive, nuanced, and mind-bogglingly beautiful (in my opinion. Anyway, it tops my list of ideal future destinations). Among other things, it makes provision for groups sometimes relegated to heavenly disenfranchisement, such as people who have lived and died never even having heard of the Gospel, those of other faiths (non-Christians/non-Jehovah’s Witnesses/non-Muslims/etc.), and unbaptized babies.
In fact, Mormons don’t really believe in hell at all, at least not in the conventional sense, as a miserable dwelling eternally populated by multitudes of wicked people. We believe most everybody who has ever lived on earth will go to one of three “Kingdoms of Glory.” In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
KJV, 1 Corinthians 15:40-42
Joseph Smith expounded on this rather tantalizing and cryptic passage in an 1832 revelation canonized as Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, expanding it into a comprehensive description of what to Mormons are known as “The Three Degrees of Glory”; in other words, Heaven. While he does mention fire and brimstone for the very few who absolutely insist upon it by denying the Holy Ghost (an esoteric and extraordinarily difficult feat, evidently not even attainable by most people), every one else will enjoy a beautiful and happy existence, and some measure of the presence of God. The three degrees of glory allow for variation in what we choose to become, but a generous God has prepared a house with “many mansions,” and one of them is just the right fit for you.
However, to achieve one’s full potential and actually grow up to be like God (as I discussed in Part 2) rather than simply living in heaven, one needs to be married. How interesting is that? The highest degree of heaven can only be reached together. Apparently, there is something transcendent about uniting oneself completely with another person. As far as I know, this idea of marriage as the ultimate vehicle to human (and divine) perfection is an exclusively Mormon idea (again, correct me if I’m wrong, since I do find this subject fascinating).
Mormon marriage “for time and all eternity” is called sealing, and must be solemnized inside a temple. It can be performed (as Tony’s and mine was) simultaneously with legal marriage. But if you’re already married through a civil ceremony (or a different religious one for that matter), you can go to a temple later and be “sealed” to your spouse. Even if you’re already dead, your practicing Mormon descendant can take your name to a temple and seal you to your spouse by proxy. In fact, this is the reason we’re always researching our ancestors and doing “baptisms for the dead,” which are then followed by sealings for the dead. We want them (and everyone who’s ever lived on earth, for that matter) to have the same opportunity to accept Christ, be married forever and become like God.
While we’re on the subject of marriage, I’ll confess that I was one of three people on the planet who didn’t watch the Royal Wedding last year. So a few weeks ago, when the Royal Anniversary came around, I thought I’d celebrate by catching up. It was an absolutely lovely wedding, and I enjoyed every minute of it, especially the beautiful John Rutter choir number. I was especially struck by something the Bishop of London said during his sermon: “In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation.” From a Mormon point of view, it would be a very literal sense. Just as every baby is a god in embryo, every wedding carries the potential of a divine, eternal union.
For me, that idea has two implications. First, my most powerful image of God is as a loving Mother and Father. For most of my life, I imagined God as my Father. He was the eternal listener, who always had time for me, and always approved of me, whether I approved of myself or not. It’s my most familiar and automatic response to reach out to Him in my mind when I feel lost or overwhelmed.
When I “discovered” I had a Mother too, it was as if I’d suddenly raised a crystal to my eyes and seen the pure, white familiar light burst into rainbows. I didn’t know what to do with the sudden secret I had inside. I felt as if God had been reborn inside of me, like a delightful new friend I’d never met, who nevertheless seemed somehow familiar. I wasn’t sure what to do with Her, or even how to picture Her. What is a goddess like? I still feel like I’m newly in love with Her, and making up for lost time. But now I picture them together, standing side by side, sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping and holding each other close, as they look down on me and the rest of the world they’ve created. My conception of God has become a full and beautiful balanced unity of deep and equal love; the ultimate happily-ever-after. I feel like I belong to my Heavenly Parents in a way I never felt before, as if some missing piece of the puzzle has finally clicked into place. My relationship with God has deepened immeasurably.
And there’s a second implication to really seeing God as a married couple. The way we see our Heavenly Parents and their perfect marriage will be mirrored in our own marriages here on earth, not to mention in other relationships between men and women. From this perspective, the fact that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother becomes troubling on a new level, and the questions I asked in my last post gain added meaning, becoming starkly relevant to our view of the relationship between the sexes. I’ll repeat them for you here:
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?
The strangeness of our silence about Heavenly Mother is brought home to me when I read The Family: A Proclamation to the World, a statement on the importance of the nuclear family, presented to the Church by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1995. While never officially canonized (except by certain members, who glue it into their scriptures), this document has become central in the discourse and focus of the Church. It is often quoted during General Conference, as well as over the pulpit in our weekly local services and Sunday School. We’ve been encouraged to display it in our homes, and I have my copy duly framed and hanging in my living room. A few years ago, my mom even led a family challenge for us all to memorize it.
You can read it in its entirety via the link I posted above, but I’d like to talk specifically about a couple of key ideas. First, it does discuss gender roles. For example, it proclaims that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” In that light, isn’t it strange that while we talk all the time about our loving and nurturing Heavenly Father, we never mention our loving and nurturing Heavenly Mother? And if the presence of mothers is so important to the development of children, why is our Heavenly Father constantly portrayed as a devoted but single parent, doing all the nurturing on His own? Why have we been told (also by President Hinckley) that it is “inappropriate” to speak with our Mother? These are not questions I ask lightly. They are important not only in my life now, and my relationship with God, but also for how I imagine my eternal destiny.
Here’s the male side of the Proclamation: “fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” Although surely unintended by the leaders of the Church, that little word “preside” causes problems in the families of some members, who view the husband as the “President” of the family, and the wife as just a counselor (or perhaps the subordinate Relief Society President). For example, my mother-in-law informed my husband that it means when he and I are contemplating an important decision and have a difference of opinion, he’s entitled to make the final decision himself, regardless of what I think.
It seems that this same attitude of ultimate male authority must inform some people’s idea of God. After all, the structure of our church is completely hierarchical, and dominated by males. We have the prophet, his two counselors, and the quorum of the twelve, all male. This sort of structure is repeated on a local level, with a stake president, his counselors, and twelve men of the high council presiding over several wards, which are in turn presided over by a male bishop and his two counselors.
It’s understandable that many members extrapolate this model onto the family, and equate a husband/father with a prophet, stake president, or bishop, giving the “man of the house” authority over all the members of his family, including his wife. Perhaps if we were to speak of a Heavenly Mother, equal in authority and power to Heavenly Father, and fully half of the supreme power in the universe, we might have a healthier model upon which to base a marriage of what the Proclamation also describes as “equal partners.”
In the sealing room of every Mormon temple, two huge mirrors hang opposite one another. The bride and groom can stand together and see their reflections going on and on forever in both directions. One set of reflections flows on into the future, a promise of children and future generations. The other set flows backwards, symbolizing parents, grandparents, and ancestors all the way back to the archetypical Adam and Eve, and then beyond that to our Heavenly Mother and Father. Sometimes I picture Them like that, standing and looking into the mirrors themselves on some long ago day when they first promised forever to one another. And I like to think that someday, by contemplating Them and Their eternal union, we can learn to mirror its divine perfection in our own relationships.
10 thoughts on “A Mother There: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part 3”
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Before I respond to the part of your post (which was actually from your last post) that I feel most desire to comment on, I want to say that you write beautifully! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, questions, and so forth. Sometimes I feel silly in my blog asking questions. It’s nice when I get to see others do it. 🙂
I was writing my response right here, but then it got ridiculously long… so I’m writing a POST that is a response. I hope you’ll take a minute to read it. 🙂
or couples like me and my husband who never wanted children?
By the way, do you believe Jesus and Paul were married? I just thought of that since marriage is so important to your faith.
Also, how do gay couples figure into Mormon theology? And divorced people? And couples unable to conceive?
Thanks for sharing this. I find it all rather fascinating even if it’s really different from the monotheistic idea that I’m used to. I read about goddesses on my pagan friends’ blog (I have two former Christian friends who are now pagan) so it’s not overly-weird to read it here, I guess.
Since you believe most everyone will go to heaven, why do you bother telling people about your faith? Aren’t we good enough to be in heaven without having to adopt extra gods? or being sealed forever? or having to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet? or having to do good works? What if we simply want to accept Jesus’ work on the cross as the only thing necessary for salvation and realize our good works stem from abiding in Him not as a means to earn a higher level of heaven? “Without me you can do nothing,” Jesus tells us. He tells us to abide in Him and He would bring forth good fruit in us. Why do we need to accept LDS doctrines? I’m curious why the need for LDS missionaries – is this not a waste of time and resources that could be used to feed the poor or fight sex traffickers or provide clean water or mosquito nets that would save thousands of lives? Maybe you believe you are encouraging people to marry and be sealed for all time and that idea is worth going into all the world and preaching to every creature? Is this why Mormons are all over the world?
My mom’s family has several missionaries so I try to understand the missionary mindset, but it makes more sense to me when I feel like they want to tell people about Jesus so HE can save them from hell. But if there were no hell (by the way, I’d love for y’all to be right about this!! truly!) then I wouldn’t bother. If most everyone is OK just as they are, why leave family, go to another land and tell people their faith isn’t good enough (which can be insulting if you think about it)? Maybe “going to hell” is a bad reason to share your faith and yours is better? But what is it? You have to be LDS in order to have the BEST heaven? I’d join LDS just because their hell is so small, but what if you are wrong about that and hell is bigger than we think? I always heard Lucifer wanted to be like God and this was what caused his fall. You have to understand why it’s difficult for someone like me to accept the notion that Mormons *want to be like God.* Or be gods…how is that different from Lucifer? Or maybe you believe Lucifer isn’t so bad and we have wrongly pegged him when he, too, will really be in that big wonderful heaven. Do you?
Thanks for allowing my questions even if you don’t reply. At least I could ask them, and I appreciate that.
Really enjoyed this post!
Sarah, I will think the beautiful thoughts about my Mother in Heaven. I will think about being a mother in heaven and as much as I love the idea of saying “we are daughters of our Heavenly Parents”, I am old-fashioned and too scared to change my words. I know I will have an eternal family, but I will play it safe on earth unless we have some divine intervention with our Prophet to change this.
I liked that article you cited in the June 2012 Ensign, Mom. I remember when I was younger and would hear that the 12 Apostles made unanimous decisions, I always thought…weird, I guess they are all the same and think the same. I didn’t realize until I got married that sometimes it can take a lot of talking and understanding (and sometimes compromising on your original position) before you can arrive at the unanimous decision.
The nurture point from the proclamation was well worded. How in the world does she nurture us if we follow official models?
We have started praying to them united as Heavenly Parents in our home because my children had flat out asked why she was not included and I had craved to do so for so long so was thrilled for it to come as a suggestion out of the mouth of babes. I still get confused with the “thy” word, is it “thines”? My daughter is also often asking when she will get to meet “the beloved daughter.” A beautiful question and I hope with a beautiful answer. Anyway, this is probably my chief struggle, the fact that this issue is not addressed in an official way and the fact that so many people (both men and women) do not feel this craving for knowledge and a relationship of/with our mother.
And just to throw out the absolute weirdest time that Heavenly Mother is left out, in the Young Women’s theme. “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him…” So strange. So easy to say we are daughter of Heavenly Parents and we love them, and everything else that follows in the theme about strengthening the family and making covenants in the temple would not be dissonant to me (and brainwashy sounding in that monotonous drone that only teenagers can master) if she were present in the first sentence.
June 2012 Ensign: Counseling Together in Marriage By Randy Keyes gives a great definition on ‘presiding in the home’. I feel a little misunderstood, but just because that’s how my marriage has sometimes worked, doesn’t mean that it’s OK or that I have all the answers. It’s been a learning curve and still is. I’m willing to learn a better way. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts and feelings on this subject.