by Ranae Rudd
I’ve tried to sing, “Heavenly Mother, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” but I always get stuck on that intangible word—prayer. Afterall, Gordon B. Hinckley said we shouldn’t pray to our Mother in Heaven, and I wonder what praying to her would look like. Is reaching out with my heart too prayer-like? If it is, how, then, do I honor her?
By honoring womanhood, I think some would answer.
What does that mean? I would respond. What does that look like? Getting married and having kids? Dressing feminine?
Perhaps I should describe the beginning of my obsession or desperation for and with Heavenly Mother and womanhood. Back before my older brother, with glasses pushed up his nose, uncomfortable expression twitching on his face, said I couldn’t use the word “frick”— which I learned from him—because girls don’t talk like that. Before I asked my dad what the purpose of women would be if we couldn’t have children, and he responded, “There wouldn’t be one,” as he fired up the computer, so nonchalant, so every-day-is-this-way attitude. Before my mom suggested, tentatively, kindly, with an ear to my heart, that perhaps, maybe, possibly, my depression started with that disease irresistibly Mormon: lack of husband and children.
But now that I think about it, now that I’ve listed it out, I can’t really find a beginning. Maybe my musings on feminine deity kickstarted after I served my mission in Florida where the words of a woman with five children from five different men—none of whom stuck around—clung to my mind like humidity and sweat clung to my body. She raised her five babies with her mother, and what did she know of her own father? Not much. He didn’t stick around—she knew that.
I hit a—what to call it?—breaking point? No, breakthrough, in college. We read “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and my American Literature professor, complete with glasses and button-up blue shirt, described how John treats his wife like a baby, but becomes a baby in the end. Words like “hypocrisy,” “feminism,” and “double-edge sword” rooted to the tip of my tongue. Finally, I could attempt to describe the culture- machine, grounded in patriarchal traditions and (perhaps) misguided, gendered belief systems that spun out phrases like “girls can’t” and “women should.” But why, why, in my very own belief system did we and do we praise and love a Father in Heaven but rarely discuss his wife?
Some will say there’s no material referencing Her, and some will say we don’t talk about Her out of respect. Both are wrong.
Granted, there’s more material directly related to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ than to Heavenly Mother. But one of the best overviews of our understanding of Her is “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido. I found this article after a friend recommended I read Mother’s Milk, a book of poetry about Heavenly Mother, and after scouring Churchof JesusChrist.org for any sign of why my own family and my local church rarely, if ever, discussed our Mother in Heaven. “‘A Mother There,’” offered free of charge by Churchof JesusChrist.org because Gospel Topics references it twice, proves Heavenly Mother can and should be discussed. Paulsen and Pulido gathered “important historical accounts that cast serious doubt on the specific claims that, first, a sacred silence has always surrounded this treasured Mormon doctrine [Heavenly Mother] and that, second Heavenly Mother’s ascribed roles have been marginalized or trivialized” (75). Their research shares accounts from apostles, prophets, and other Church leaders who describe Mother in Heaven “as a procreator and parent, as a divine person, as co-creator of worlds, as coframer of the plan of salvation with the Father, and as a concerned and loving parent” (76).
Is it unfairly sexist of me to say I’m disappointed the authors of “‘A Mother There’” and most (but not all!) of the sources they cite to discuss the Goddess are men? Why do men have the market on defining The Woman? Even the sources members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mostly trust are, by default, men, namely prophets and apostles. My questions in and of themselves are ironic. Afterall, the word woman comes from wife + man. Inherent in the word females (a word derived from, you guessed it, male) use to describe themselves is the male, not so for man, which has Germanic roots to mean “human being” or “adult male human being.”
I’m not talking about males and females in order to demand women get ordained to the priesthood. I’m not even attempting to make men feel guilty.
I just want to know my Mama.
I want to dissuade the misunderstandings that surround her. I want my sister, who, during a Come Follow Me hosted by my parents, emphatically said, “No, no, we think of Her as so sacred. We respect Her. Heavenly Father respects Her so much we don’t talk about her,” to know she can talk about Mother. I want my brother, the same one who cautioned me against using “frick” and who agreed with my sister, saying his institute teacher told him Heavenly Mother was too sacred to talk about (so it must be true), to know he can love and respect our Mother as much as our Father. He can teach his month-old daughter to love and respect herself and know one day she will be a goddess, a co- creator, a co-framer, a woman defined by whatever can possibly define God.
I am trying to respect Heavenly Mother, and I don’t know how to do that without knowing her. I try to understand Her by studying the imperfect accounts we have of her, but I do struggle to imagine what she’ll look like when I stand before Her on Judgement Day or the Second Coming or whenever the all-will-be-revealed day is, and honestly, I don’t want to. I want to step over the trap of creating the Goddess in my image and instead leap into Her arms, but the more I look outside of myself, the more statuesque she becomes: sculpted, frozen, a Greek Goddess created by man.
I do see her in my mother, who plays with tiring grandchildren. Fixes my dad something to eat. Advises my oldest sister on how to raise teenagers. Places a hand on my brother’s shoulder, asking about dates. Takes her own mother to the store or the doctors or a restaurant. And still strokes my face and asks about my day.
Because of my mother and because, when I try to undefine wo-man and am left with only wo, only woe, I selfishly, sexist-ly, hope when Mother does fully reveal herself, she comes to Her daughters first.
“Female.” The Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. 2019. OED Online. https://www-oed-com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/ Entry/69157?redirectedFrom=female#eid. Accessed 22 Oct 2019.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “Daughters of God” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 1991, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general- conference/1991/10/daughters-of-god?lang=eng. Accessed 22 Oct. 2019.
“Man.” The Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. 2019. OED Online. https://www-oed-com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/ Entry/69157?redirectedFrom=female#eid. Accessed 22 Oct 2019.
Paulsen, David L. and Martin Pulido. “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.” BYU Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 2011, https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mother-there-survey-historical- teachings-about-mother-heaven. Accessed 22 Oct. 2019
“Woman.” The Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. 2019. OED Online. https://www-oed-com.erl.lib.byu.edu/view/ Entry/69157?redirectedFrom=female#eid. Accessed 22 Oct 2019.