The genesis of this project was a conversation in 1977 and a series of podcasts and books last summer. The time between, actually, didn’t include much thought or concern except for one brief phone call in 1981. The richness of the past few months has brought a topic rarely discussed into the forefront of my thinking, while it has been there for others far longer.
The vignettes that follow include a few of my experiences but mostly those of others. If you have some, let me know. Perhaps we should write a book.
This is the third paragraph, and if you include the title, the fourth, and I’ve not named the topic. That’s called “burying the lede.” The practice is to be avoided, but the realization is upon me that I have indeed avoided the topic perhaps out of discomfort that it will misinterpreted, misunderstood, misjudged. I will start over.
Our topic is Heavenly Mother.
There. Said. Startled? That’s fine. We have a lot to talk about.
1977. Training for a new position as a CPS investigator, I had time every evening to visit with colleagues from around the Texas region where we were to be working. One man was not from our area, present because of some bureaucratic doings. I noticed he didn’t drink tea or Dr Pepper. This, of course, led to a discussion of why which led to a discussion of what Mormons (old word) call the Word of Wisdom. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about the church. A friend had joined years before, but her husband was military so I rarely saw her. And she didn’t seem particularly interested in sharing.
John did share. I can’t remember what he said about anything else, and I can’t imagine why he would have shared this: He explained that we had existed as spirits before were all spiritually born to a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, that we lived with them before we came to Earth, and that a veil remained so that we were here to walk by faith. It was not like anything I had ever heard before. The entire experience—meeting him, hearing explanations of life on Earth, receiving from him an object that confirmed the existence of a God who knew me—left a lasting impression but not a commitment to join John’s church. I was, however, observably happy, per my husband’s report.
1981. I did join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s a separate story. The vignette is a phone call. Although I can’t see Amy, our sweet-natured, strawberry-blond CPS unit secretary on the other end, I hear her worried voice, its intense sincerity, and imagine her eyes, her furrowed brow. Although we were friendly, she had never called me, so I was surprised at that. And she didn’t waste much time in pleasantries.
She said, “I can’t imagine what someone just told me was true, so I wanted to ask you directly. Do you believe God is married?”
I wasn’t sure how best to say “Yes” other than that, but the answer was the truth. I reflected on the 1845 hymn lyrics of “O My Father” by Eliza R. Snow:
“In the heav’ns are parents single?/ No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal/Tells me I’ve a mother there.”
Amy was never satisfied. What I found puzzling—and what remains at the core of this conversation—was the implication that a Heavenly Mother, or marriage in the eternities, diminishes God or holiness in any way.
2022. A very long time, with no vignettes in between. And during that time, I don’t remember discussion, much less controversy, about the topic.
The status quo was this: We know She is real and that She is there. We don’t pray to her. We assume we and/or the world are so wicked that the Father shields Her from us/it because limited information has been shared. (That assumption is false, by the way, or at least unfounded.) Alternatively, we have plenty to do trying to be (good, faithful, Christ-like) and cannot spare the time elsewhere.
Further, I assumed a Heavenly Mother was unique to the LDS faith traditions. Last year, I learned that wasn’t true. The Unification Church and the World Mission Society of the Church of God both happen to originate in South Korea and have extensive doctrine. In some ways there is overlap, but not usually. The term, then, is the main connection.
Then, the podcasts came. I listened to some that were recommended and found that a new generation of women looked at Heavenly Mother differently. Several different themes emerged:
- Her presence was with us from the beginning. A conscious removal happened long ago.
- Much of the lost knowledge is recoverable but requires trust in the scholarship of others.
- Artistic expressions of Her as a physical being are available in a variety of styles and media.
- The perception that we need Her now is palpable and frequently addressed in poetry and art.
In the fall, I knew also that I would be presenting an academic/scholarly paper in January for an alumni group of mostly smarter and better-educated young educators. All the time invested in research here, I decided to be brave and do the same topic for them. The paper will be published this spring. If you are so inclined, message me and I’ll email you a copy. (And to emphasize the group’s level, the first paper was on Darwin and something else; I understood about 10%. Mine is understandable.) The paper was well received. Our host was intrigued; she said, “All this time, and it never occurred to me that if there was a Father there had to be a Mother.” My work was done.
Several guiding experiences helped bring to what looks like an almost-conclusion.
First, on a Faiths in Conversation presentation from Thanks-Giving Foundation, with the topic of ethics and creation care, one speaker from the Native American Christian group answered my question about a role for the divine feminine in her belief system. This is her response: “As a Christian native, knowing the Bible, I believe there is a feminine side to the creator. In the Sioux tradition, there are healing ceremonies for many things. A group of people pray through sound and song, for air, water, creation. Specifics about how to address the feminine depend on the tribal tradition and practice. Some ceremonies are just for women and girls and very private. Creation—all these are combined.” That comment struck me as something that needed much more information than could be grabbed on a Zoom.
Finally, to the last vignette: Said with a broad smile, a greeting from a complete stranger at the gym knocked me over. I was walking into the pool, and he was coming out. It was random for him, instructive for me. It was, in fact, the great “That’s it!”
“Hey, ‘bout time you got here. I been here all by myself. Now that you’re here, they’ll have to straighten up. Shoulda been here all the time.”
Slightly rearranged, this became a framework for my paper. Parts of it are copied and pasted below without citations.
Where You been? No passages in scriptural texts refer to a Heavenly Mother. No evidence exists that any may have been removed. What takes the place of the missing history is supposition. One example comes from Margaret Barker, a Methodist theologian. For example, she concludes commentary on a Hebrew consonant shift (aleph/’ayin): “The line whole is then, and probably once was: ‘On the day of your birth, your Mother graciously offers you the splendid garments of a holy one.’ The Mother in heaven clothed her child with a glorious temple garment.” The “probably” weakens this argument.
References to a Mother in Heaven are widely found elsewhere, however: She has names that are not those of lone goddesses (Sophia, Shekinah, Wisdom, Asherah) and symbols (trees, water, serpents, bees). Carol Lynn Pearson, a well-known Latter-day Saint poet, published Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World in 2020. As a young student, Pearson asked anyone she thought wise, “Does God prefer maleness over femaleness?” She was continually rebuffed or told “Yes, He does.” Her search for the names and influences of that Heavenly Mother began in anger, but she says that anger was “the fuel, not the destination” and concludes that the necessity of a Mother is “not cosmetic but cosmic,” a phrase she has used widely.
I been here all by myself. The theme of separation builds on the loss of the Mother, whether it was done intentionally or accidentally. Both leave what some describe as “a hole in the heart” or the absence of “a God that looks like me.” In her collection Mother’s Milk, Rachel Steenblik writes poems that are spare and short, usually just a few lines. The mood remains haunting in a poem called “Amiri”: “When the Mother will not/ come to be counted, I count/ the void/She leaves.” Pearson also has this summation in a lengthy poem, “The Case of the Disappearance of God the Mother”: “Her name was stolen/But what’s in a name?/ We could eat bread if it had no name/but it would be harder to ask for.” French philosopher Luce Irigaray writes: “As long as woman lacks a divine made in her image she cannot establish her subjectivity or achieve a goal of her own. She lacks an ideal that would be her goal or path in becoming. Actual suppression or not, the longing is real.
‘Bout time you got here. Shoulda been here all the time. These sentences sound judgmental, as if the separation was the Mother’s doing. Pearson addresses this phenomenon in “A Goddess of the East,” referring to a comment by the Prophet Muhammad (“Paradise is at the feet of the Mother”) and forges it into a circle: “Everywhere She was perceived/ everywhere she was lost/everywhere she emerges again.” Paradoxically, She has always been everywhere while at the same time missing from discourse. I do not find evidence that she has been actively suppressed, however.
Now you’re here, they’ll have to straighten up. In the Baha’i faith, equality of the genders is a core principle. In 1911, Abdul Baha prophesied: “So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.” The need for balance has never been greater; the Baha’i ideal supports equality, not dominance. Again, not a paradox but a conclusion: If the Divine Feminine is essential, so is the Divine Masculine.
Natalie Cosby, an artist, has organized a DFW Divine Feminine Event happening this Saturday. It’s free. It’s at the Grapevine Convention Center. The program looks diverse in topic, if not so much in gender. I’m reading at 12:45 (may change). Check out the website. Consider attending for the art alone! I plan to report on the event next week. Stay tuned…