A Mother There: Finding the Divine Feminine, Part 4
- Note to subscribers: I accidentally published this when I was only halfway done (yes, my worst blogging nightmare). Please ignore the first post and read this one -
Up till now, these posts have mostly concerned my own personal journey toward understanding and appreciating the female side of God (for background, see posts 1, 2 and 3). I wanted to start out that way because many of my ideas and beliefs about Heavenly Mother have come through thinking about Her and seeking personal heavenly guidance. Much of this guidance has come through prayer and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Some of the most beautiful insights came from my Patriarchal Blessing.
For my non-Mormon friends, a Patriarchal Blessing is another one of those delightful eccentricities I love about my Church. The Bible recounts how at the end of their lives the Patriarchs (e.g. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph) would call their families together t0 give their children blessings of inheritance and lands, along with counsel and guidance. The Prophet Joseph Smith instituted a similar practice, appointing a Patriarch for the Church at large to give blessings to all the members.
Now that the Church comprises millions of members all over the world, each geographical area has its own Patriarch. A Patriarchal Blessing assigns the member to one of the tribes of Israel (either by adoption or through literal descent) and also includes special warnings, counsel, and information about one’s life mission. The idea is that the Patriarch has been given authority by the Prophet to speak to the recipient on behalf of God, and so the Blessing is a divinely inspired guide to one’s life. Almost like an extra chapter of scripture, written just for you.
I was seventeen when I got my blessing, and getting ready to go off to college. I went to the Patriarch’s house with my family, and after chatting for a few moments, the Patriarch invited me to sit down, placed his hands on my head, and began speaking. It’s hard to describe, but as I listened it was as if I could see the things he spoke of unfolding in my mind. I glimpsed my potential as a daughter of Heavenly Parents, and I felt so loved and wanted by Them. Like all Patriarchs, he recorded the Blessing as he gave it, and sent me the transcript a few months later.
I hadn’t read my Patriarchal Blessing in awhile when I started thinking about Heavenly Mother last year, but it occurred to me one day as I was thinking about Her, that She was mentioned in my Patriarchal Blessing. The contents of a Patriarchal Blessing are personal, and not meant to be shared except with close family, so I’m not going to actually quote from mine. And at the time I received it, I had given Heavenly Mother about as many thoughts as the number of times I’d heard about her at Church (which is some number not too far from zero). But I was struck by how She was mentioned in the Blessing just as matter-of-factly as Heavenly Father. I also noticed that every time she was mentioned, Her title was capitalized exactly the same as Heavenly Father’s.
That might seem strange to point out, but it’s actually not. You see, modern Church publications seem to go out of their way to avoid capitalizing heavenly mother even when she is mentioned in the same sentence as Heavenly Father. I am not making this up. For example, here’s a quote out of the children’s manual:
Explain that we all lived in heaven with Heavenly Father before we came to this earth. We are his children. That is why we call him Heavenly Father. We also lived with our heavenly mother and all the rest of Heavenly Father’s children. Everyone who has been born on the earth is a child of Heavenly Father. We do not remember living with Heavenly Father, but we know we are his children because we read it in the scriptures. (See Primary 2: Choose the Right A, Lesson 3: I am a Child of God)
If you click the link, you’ll find that the lesson I referenced has 25 mentions of Heavenly Father, and only the one I quoted for [H]eavenly [M]other. When I read it, what I see between the lines is that we feel very comfortable talking about our Heavenly Father and our relationship with Him. However, the uncapitalized “heavenly mother” thrown in as a bit of an afterthought with “all the rest of Heavenly Father’s children” bespeaks a certain discomfort with the subject, as if we’re not quite sure what to say about Her.
I can appreciate that the disparity bothers some people not at all, and if you are one of those people, your feelings (or lack thereof) are perfectly valid. But for me, it hurts my heart. And so the mentions of Heavenly Mother that I imagine She must have so graciously inspired the Patriarch to place in my Blessing a decade and a half before I needed them, meant very much to me. She’s not portrayed in the Blessing as “deep doctrine” or something “not essential to my salvation” (both common Mormon dismissals of the idea of Heavenly Mother). She’s a plain and simple reality, as real as Her male Counterpart, and equally respected, revered, and capitalized.
As well as utilizing my personal prayers and Patriarchal Blessing in my search for Heavenly Mother, I’ve also consulted some other sources for information about Her. In fact, I’ve looked for Her in every place I could, and come across some really beautiful things. Although various personal and group blogs written by Mormons are replete with personal experiences and insights about Heavenly Mother, most of my favorite resources tend more toward scholarly articles.
For example, BYU Studies recently published an interesting survey of the available quotes from General Authorities about Heavenly Mother, which you can find here. Notable among the conclusions of authors David Paulsen and Martin Pulido is their stated opinion that the documentation that they present debunks once and for all the damaging notion that we are commanded (or even encouraged) to keep a “sacred silence” about Heavenly Mother.
Another fascinating resource is Kevin Barney’s whimsically (or not) named article, How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated). A common reason that Mormons cite for not speaking more about Heavenly Mother is an apparent dearth of scriptural information about Her. In his article, Barney discusses the most obvious places in the Scriptures where we can gain insight into the character of our Heavenly Mother, and learn some surprising things about Her. For example, I had no idea about the rich tradition of Wisdom Literature, both Biblical and extra-Biblical, which has been studied for millenia as an exposition on the Divine Feminine.
Those interested in Barney’s discussion of the ancient Hebrew Goddess may also want to read Daniel C. Peterson’s article, Nephi and His Asherah, published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Peterson explores how the theme of Asherah, the Hebrew Goddess of the Old Testament, appears in the Book of Mormon as a trope in Lehi’s dream. He, like Barney, also mentions the Biblical Wisdom Literature, and its connection to Heavenly Mother.
Both Barney and Peterson cite the work of Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar in the UK who has written extensively on the ancient Hebrew temple. Her writings depart substantially from traditional Christian views, and coordinate remarkably with modern L.D.S. ideas about the Temple. For Barker, the Divine Feminine was an integral part of temple worship in Solomon’s Temple. This page has links to many of her articles (if you don’t know which to start with, I recommend Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?), as well as a devotional on ancient temple rituals that she gave at BYU in 2003.
I have wept with joy over reading some of the articles I’ve linked above. None are necessarily prescriptions for what one must or ought to believe, but they provide much food for thought and opportunity to consider the ways in which we talk about and characterize our Heavenly Mother, and invitations to delve more deeply in the Scriptures to enhance our faith in and communion with God. For anyone else who desires more knowledge and understanding about our Mother in Heaven, I hope that they will prove as nourishing a fountain of light and understanding as they have for me.