Thursday, June 01, 2006

I've a Mother There--Our Mother in Heaven

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

The references to her tend to be vague, but throughout the history of the Church, we have been taught that we have a Mother in Heaven.

Looking at the quote above, the leaders in 1995 once again alluded to our “heavenly parents,” obviously consisting of our Heavenly Father, and presumably of our Heavenly Mother. But all through the history of the restored Church, her existence has been affirmed.

The first real indication of her being may have been during the King Follett Discourse. In that supreme dissertation on the nature of God, Joseph Smith made it clear that God was once a man. But he continued to grow and progress until he became our God and Father. We, being children of God, are filled with the same potential: to one day be like God (see my essay My Father, My God, part I for further discussion in this vein). Through celestial marriage, men and women joined together may receive the same exaltation that their Father before them received (D&C 131:1-3). Taken as a whole, these doctrines logically conclude that there is a Mother in Heaven.

From thence, Church leaders and other prominent figures have made remarks, written songs and poetry, and in other ways portrayed our Heavenly Mother. Eliza R. Snow, one of the great hymnists of the latter days, wrote “O My Father,” of which penned lyrics President Wilford Woodruff said that were inspired .

In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason: truth eternal
Tells me I've a mother there.

We even have cases where Church leaders have come out and explicitly made mention of her.

“They come from their eternal Father and their eternal Mother unto whom they were born in the eternal world, and they will be restored to their eternal parentage” (Journal of Discourses 18:31, Wilford Woodruff).

“We have a mother in heaven. We are the offspring of God. He is our Father, and we have a Mother in the other life as well” (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.191).

But the doctrine was never made official until 1909, when the First Presidency made an official declaration on the nature of mankind.“All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” (The First Presidency--Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund, The Origin of Man, 1909)

Though inconclusive, there are hints in the scriptures of her existence. Let’s look at a biblical example first. But to analyze this, we will first recall that in John 1, Christ is called the Word, or the Word of God. “Word” is personified in Jesus Christ. He represents God the Father and was sent to Earth to fulfill his Father’s will, much as our words represent us and declare our will.

Is it possible that other divine beings are represented in a similar way in the Bible? It is certainly possible, and many have postulated their theories along these lines. “Wisdom” is personified in Proverbs 1:20-33 and Proverbs 8. But Wisdom is given feminine titles: she, her, etc. Wisdom is also given maternal traits, looking upon mankind as a mother mourning for her wayward children

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:

She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,

How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my

hand, and no man regarded;

But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my

reproof. (Proverbs 1:20-25)


In the creation accounts, we also learn an important truth: God made man in his own image, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27; Moses 2:26-27; Abraham 4:26-27). We also know that the creation was not an act by the Father alone. Modern day revelation tells us that Christ, Michael, and even all of us took part in the creation of humanity. Is it not logical that when God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26), “us” could have included his wife? And while man was created in the image of Heavenly Father, cannot one reasonably conclude that woman was created in the image of Heavenly Mother?


And numerous apocryphal/pseudapigraphal writings show that ancient sects of Judaism and Christianity believed in a feminine aspect of God or actual legitimate Goddess. The evidence of her existence is certainly there, both from ancient and modern sources.


But now we come to a controversial point. Why is she not mentioned explicitly in any canonical writings? Why is she not worshiped along with the Father? Why are those who have prayed to her, such as Janice Allred, excommunicated for their actions? Does this represent sexism on the part of our leaders? And if mothers are supposed to nurture, why, in this world where we need to feel the love of God so badly, are we not permitted to pray to our Divine Mother and feel her love and comfort?


There are many who are ready to quickly accuse the Church and its leaders over such things. But let’s take a quick look at the matter, trying to keep a more objective viewpoint.


The prevailing theory for our Mother’s silence is something along the following lines: God has his name and existence abused by mankind. He loves his wife dearly and doesn’t want her to receive the same abuse. Since knowledge of her existence is unessential to our salvation, he chose to have her remain anonymous in order to ensure that she is treated with reverence. It is to this theory that I subscribe.


Many still consider this seeming imbalance as unfair. We, as Latter-day Saints, do know of her existence. Why do we not make use of such knowledge through prayer and worship? I, myself, do not know. I do know that we are commanded not to.


But if we have a heavenly Mother as well as a heavenly Father, is it not right that we should worship the Mother of our spirits as well as the Father? No; for the Father of our spirits is at the head of His household, and his wives and children are required to yield the most perfect obedience to their great Head. It is lawful for the children to worship the King of Heaven, but not the “Queen of heaven” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 159).


Elder Pratt further states that “we are nowhere taught that Jesus prayed to His heavenly Mother.” In fact, nowhere in the scriptures is any prayer or worship of our Mother indicated. In a Regional Representative Seminar, President Hinckley stated that he could find “nowhere in the Standard Works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven….I have looked in vain for any instance…[of] a prayer to our Mother in Heaven.” He went on to say that he “consider[s] it inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Cornerstones of Responsibility”).


There were some adverse reactions to then First Counselor Hinckley’s words. But what must be remembered is that the brethren are our spiritual leaders. They are whom God has chosen to receive revelation on the nature of God, worship, and Church policy. It is not our place to correct them, even if we disagree.


Women in the Church are seldom in the limelight. The priesthood is given to men, the leadership is largely given to men, the breadwinning is affirmed to be the man’s role. But does this diminish their value? I do not believe so. President Hinckley recently stated that Church doctrine states that men and women are equal, and that he actually shows a little favoritism towards his daughters (Ensign, November 2004, “The Women in Our Lives,” Gordon B. Hinckley). Though a background role may be more humble and seemingly unappreciated, it is often the backbone of any great work. The women of the Church are equal and essential. So is the relationship between our Heavenly Father and Mother.


We may still appreciate, adore and love our Mother in Heaven. The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star once stated, “It doesn't take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother….We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype” (“Our Mother in Heaven,” 620). With this knowledge, I feel it becomes almost an obligation for someone with knowledge of their Eternal Mother to love her, though caution still must be used to keep our adoration in proper order. But when one thinks about it, we owe our eternal lives to her as much as to the Father. We should be grateful for her gift of life.


Is our Mother in Heaven demeaned by the Church’s official stance towards her? I do not believe so. In truth, I don’t know the answers to most of the questions I posed earlier, and I would be grateful for any enlightenment. All I know is that I do love and adore her. I am grateful for the part she took in my creation, and for all the unseen work that I am sure she performs. I look forward to day that I meet her and her Eternal Companion, my Heavenly Father, to be held tightly in their arms.


When I leave this frail existence,

When I lay this mortal by,

Father, Mother, may I meet you

In your royal courts on high?


Further Reading

Wikipedia entry on Heavenly Mother

Feminine Mormon Housewives blog on Heavenly Mother

"Restoring the Ancient Church," A FAIR article with a portion on the ancient evidence of Heavenly Mother

"Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology," a Sunstone article from a more liberal standpoint

Greater Things webpage on Heavenly Mother with many links

Lightplanet article on Heavenly Mother with some good quotes

"The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven," a chapter of the book Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism

14 comments:

mathoni said...

Nice post. I have to say, I've pondered about Her too. One tidbit of insight I gained from Elder Marlin K. Jensen, spoken in no official capacity except as my mission president. He said that women are the ones more likely to prepare things, make the place look nice. He suspected Heavenly Mother would be there, ready to give us the best greeting in the universe when we return home to our heavenly parents. I like that idea.

As for my own thoughts, I wonder if you've thought about the concept of one as it applies to gods. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are considered one god, even though we believe they are three personages. They are one in purpose, united and each individual is equally able to speak for the other three. There is no disunity there.

In the same way, we are told that when a man and a woman marry, they are to leave their father and mother and cleave unto each other and none else. In fact, they are to become one flesh. I suspect Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are one in every meaningful way, including as co-creators. And so, if one is created in the image of God, that would include Heavenly Mother, as well.

I kind of like the idea that we are only meant to worship the Father. I think that's how it's meant to be. But that does not diminish the Mother's role (or potential role) in an individual's life. But I definitely don't understand everything.

Does the church try to hide Heavenly Mother, because it is controversial? This would be akin to not really talking about becoming Gods or practicing polygamy in the next life. These are there in our belief system, but we don't actively talk about them right now.

Or is it because we are to be respectful toward Her? Or both? Or some third option that is completely different? Again, I don't know. But She is real and She's helping prepare the mansions for us when we return to Them in the next life.

Anonymous said...

Eliza is usually given credit for the revelation of a heavenly mother . . . as her poem is so widely know. The idea, however, was not original to her as her brothers and the Pratts had commented on the issue previously. A revelation of this magnitue came from the church leaders and was communicated around Eliza; she was not the one who received the revelation for the church.
J.A.T.

cchrissyy said...

"He loves his wife dearly and doesn’t want her to receive the same abuse. Since knowledge of her existence is unessential to our salvation, he chose to have her remain anonymous in order to ensure that she is treated with reverence. "

The reason this expaination rubs me wrong isn't that it keeps HM out of sight, but that it credits the decision to HIM and HIS point of veiw. As an exalted Godess, fully united and partnered with heavently Father, I'm sure our Mother in Heaven has the strength, intellegence, and perspective to have made the decision herself!
I undertsand, from our earth-based point of veiw, we only ever see HF acting or deciding things. but let's remember that up there, it's not the case. They're equal forces of power. He's not Her God, but Her equal.

Anonymous said...

Mathoni,
Very nice post. I'm writing this all down.

I don't go as far as cChrissyy has and I wouldn't agree with all of her comments- especially since they seem to directly counterdict P.P.Pratt's quote. However, I don't agree entirely with the 'out of respect' theory either and here's why.

Two weeks ago in SS, I was listening to a lesson about taking the Lord's name in vain. The lesson contained a lot of warnings about how totally offended God is at someone who swears. It listed several negative consequences of taking the Lord's name in vain, including the fact that His feelings would be hurt, your relationship (prayers) would be stiffled as you had cried 'wolf' too many times, etc. For faithful observers who know about this commandment, it truly would be a great sin to start blaspheming Him. Sin committed knowingly and maliciously is very different from sins of omission, and sins of commission acted upon with less knowledge. (See Talmage's Essays on Mormonism).

For the average 7 year old girl who simply uses the Lord's name in vain as a catch phrase unwhittingly, I can't imagine that God- the ultimate Father- wouldn't have thicker skin than that. Wouldn't he??? Seriously, what parent doesn't undertand a kid who speaks and doesn't knwo what they are saying? Even when kids are angry at US, who doesn't understand a disgruntled kid? What mature adult doesn't have a sense of humor or thick enough skin to understand and evaluate a certain circumstance -act accordingly, and then get over it?

I realize that we give Him MORE reverence by following the commandment, and I realize he gave it to the Israelites to help them focus on the lower laws.

However, I got to thinking about how many times He must hear it and how He must understand all the thoughtlessness, ignorance, frusteration, angst or other emotions associated with it. I'm sure that sometimes he sloughs it off, or chuckles. Sometimes He puts His Hands on His hips and shakes His head at us, and sometimes gets torked about it. I can't imagine a HM not having the same type of maturity. (My mom does, doesn't yours? Actually, mine is really quite a clever psychologist.)

Here's another possible theory. Perhaps it has something to do with our mortal probation and our walk of faith.

And

Perhaps in our mortal condition, HF knew that with apostacy, denegration of truths, etc., that we wouldn't be able to undertand a large plurality of Gods, (why- we get the three that we have all mixed up all the time and have for centuries- even Nicia couldn't iron it all out). Perhaps they wanted to give us ONE CLEAR calling card, especially since they knew we'd be calling in emergencies???

-J.A.T.

Mark N said...

My bishop is married, but for some reason, the church doesn't automatically make her a part of the bishopric. This same reasoning allows me to believe in a heavenly mother who, while being very real, isn't involved in directing the plan of salvation on this earth to the extent that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are. She may have been intimately involved in the creation of my spirit, but at this point in the plan, she doesn't have much, or any, responsibility for my eternal progression, at least not to the extent that the Father does right now. For some strange reason, this bothers me not in the least.

mathoni said...

Interestingly, if your bishop were not married in the temple for time and all eternity, he could not be a bishop, nor could he hold higher leadership positions in the church. Nothing above branch president, as I understand it. Heavenly Father would not be in the position he is in today if he were not married. So, as far as we know, that is her only role that somewhat directly affects us. Heavenly Mother makes it possible for our God, our Father, to be the god and father He is (and unofficially, I still think She's the one planning the reunion celebration for the next life).

By the same token, I believe our Saviour would also not be in a position of godhood without a wife. Perhaps in the premortal world, he could, but then, he was special in a lot of ways. But becoming a mortal, he had to be baptised. He also had to get married. Mary Magdalene? Some other woman? Who knows? That's all speculation. But it is not likely that the being who had to be baptised, despite His perfection, didn't have to be married. But that's for another essay.

darth_ender said...

I am excited by the quantity of feedback this essay received. By the way, J.A.T., I think you may be thinking that mathoni wrote this post. I am mathoni's brother, and my handle is darth_ender. Though mathoni has a few more posts to his name than I, I try to be a productive participant. But then, you may have only been referring to his comment. If that's the case, disregard this first paragraph :) I just hope that my post pleased you as well as his comments did.

I like the idea that mathoni's mission president gave. That really is a neat thought, and though it is not doctrinal, it is one of those ideas that I would be more than happy enough to accept as true. Writing this essay has made Heavenly Mother more personal to me, and I really do look forward to meeting her again.

Cchrissyy, I agree with you about 95%. I agree that Heavenly Mother is just as capable and intelligent as Heavenly Father, and I am certain that the decision was a mutual one. I suppose I could have been more sensitive in my phrasing. However, even in an equal partnership, one must sill preside. Ideally, on earth, the husband presides, despite their equality. I believe it is the same among our Eternal Parents. Father presides. I don't believe this is negative for women, whether earthly or Godly. They probably have counseled together on all their decisions, but in the end, it is the Father who says, "Make it so."

This may seem sexist, and I, being a male, am insensitive to the greatness of womanhood. I hope I do not give that impression. I could devote an entire essay to the greatness of women one day (and I just might). However, the setup of the family and presidencies are patterned after the same Celestial setup. I do not understand God's reasoning for a number of things, but I trust that he knows best, and that he has things set up as they should be.

Thank you, though, for your comment, as I feel it is very true. I just want to be clear that I believe that their roles are clearly defined, and that he presides.

cchrissyy said...

well, you've got me in the less-defendable position of insisting that "presiding" means very little among true equals. Also, my beleif in what it means to be exalted and married does not match earth very well, as I think man and woman must grow and perfect until they are one totally united force and we can't properly say either one is doing somehting seperate of the other. So, here i go, taking a point that she's equal and can make her own decisions about relating to Earth (priestess, goddess and queen, you know!), and I had to take it further to the, they're really so united now, they're one force, one power...


Erastus Snow in JD 19 discussed how Adam was created in God's image and named *before* being split apart into male and female. he goes on to say this:
“what,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that Deity consists of man and woman....In other words, there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way. I have another description: There never was a God, and there never will be in all eternities, except they are made of these two component parts; a man and a woman; the male and the female.”

darth_ender said...

Sorry I haven't replied for so long. I've been terribly busy.

Truthfully, I find no disagreement with Erastus Snow. Father and Mother exist because they are united. I think our disagreement comes from the role presiding. I don't find it an unequal yoke, though you do.

Perhaps I can give some reasoning to my thought. The prophet is an essential role in the smooth flow and proper handling of the Church. Yet, trutfully, so is the nursery leader. One might have responsibility over more people, but that doesn't diminish the value of the role of the other. Nor are people of different roles more important than others. I was a Sunday school teacher and first counselor at college this past year. My roommate was Sunday school president. Is he more important, more valuable, or superior to me? He may have more prominence, but I don't think that makes my role any less valuable.

Of course, that is my opinion. I don't mean to be demeaning or anything. I just don't see it as a lessening of Mother's role. I just believe that Father presides, and yet maintains an equal partnership with her.

Again, sorry for taking so long. I don't even know if you'll return to read this.

cchrissyy said...

I lost the link for a while and so your reply was early, far as I'm concerned!

darth_ender said...

I feel I should make an extra clarification. The prophet and the Sunday school teacher are both essential to proper function of the Chruch, but obviously the prophet holds more responsibility and is more prominent to the public eye. It is obvious that Heavenly Father is far more public as well, but I don't mean to say that Heavenly Mother doesn't bear equal responsibility. It just seems to me that even in an equal partnership, someone must still hold the final say. And in this case, I believe it is Heavenly Father. But in Celestial Realms, I don't feel any disagreement would take place anyway.

Kiskilili said...

I actually believe the SS teacher has less responsibility, is less important, and is subordinate to the prophet.

And it seems to me that in an absolutely equal partnership, no one has the final say--both parties speak together.

Debbie said...

jWhat a great post! I just found your website and it won't be my last time. :)

Bored in Vernal said...

I know we've been told not to pray to her, but I, for one, would like to somehow have more contact with my Mother in Heaven. I feel that she is part of the Godhead in the sense that she and Heavenly Father make up "Elohim" (a plural term). I don't know that most men feel the need for HM to have an active role in their lives. But I think women should not be discouraged from seeking her out in some manner.
I love the image of HM in Linda Sillitoe's poem:

Song of Creation

Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever.
Mother's hand
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home.

Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
Mother clashed
fire free from stones
and breathed it strong and dancing
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.

He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
Her finger flickered
hummingbirds
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow,
a waterfall of flowers.

And if you live long, my child,
you'll see snow burst
from thunderclouds
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother & Father laughing,
listen to Mother & Father laughing,
behind the locked door.

I love this poem so much because it depicts the unity of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother without diminishing the value of either one. Neither are they in conflict with their co-creative powers, but rather in harmony. So often when we as women try to assert our strength, we come into conflict with men and priesthood. Heavenly Mother as pictured in this poem can give us a positive role model to follow of competence, power, and sexuality.