This is an excerpt from a talk that was given in our Sacrament Meeting on Mother’s Day. We loved the talk so much that we asked if we could share it with our audience on LDS SMILE. It addresses issues from “Sacred Silence” to how we should worship our Heavenly Mother
Photo Credit: Marissa Perez
“A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven”
I’ve been asked by the bishopric to speak about our Heavenly Mother. I am so exited and honored to have this assignment. For this talk, I will rely on two references. First, the published essay on Heavenly Mother found on LDS.org and second, a research article published by BYU Studies in 2011 called, “A Mother There:”.
BYU Studies is a journal of research published by BYU. On it’s board sit general authorities who can veto, edit, or alter doctrine that might be inaccurate before it is published in the journal.
The article was written by two BYU researchers, David Paulsen ‘ Martin Pulido. They sought to review every mention of our Heavenly Mother in any church publication from 1830 to the present. They found over 600 statements by General authorities and believe there are even more.
Paulsen Pulido stats that the purpose of this article on our Heavenly Mother is to “avert possible confusion, misunderstanding, or contention in general”. This is my goal in my talk today.
Sacred silence: Many Mormons feel that they can acknowledge that Heavenly Mother exists but cannot talk about her. “Some Latter Day Saints see discussion of our Heavenly Mother as inappropriate believe that respecting her sacredness requires silence, as if to speak of her is to risk offending God.”
(Paulsen ‘ Pulido, 2011) Speaking of her may indicate whether you are righteous, orthodox or obedient (Cassler, 2011, Square Two). Scholars have referred to this cultural idea as a “sacred silence” surrounding our Heavenly Mother.
These ideas are taught in primary, youth programs, Sunday school and by local teachers or leaders, but they are not doctrine. This is not what our apostles and prophets teach. In my youth and primary days, I was told that our Father in Heaven loved and valued Heavenly Mother so much that he wanted to protect her from the disrespect that humans often direct to God or Jesus Christ.
This was very confusing and counter intuitive to me. To describe such a powerful woman, a goddess, in such a way that it seems she is too fragile to handle criticism. This just doesn’t
make sense to me. However, our prophet, President Hinckley provided some reassurance when he taught that “none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her” (1991).
We do not need to be silent. That is a cultural idea that is not supported by the General Authorities, which means speaking about our Heavenly Mother is not unorthodox, or subversive or disrespectful and I hope it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable today.
Disrespectful of Father: I have heard the concern that speaking about Heavenly Mother displaces our rightful worship of our Father but this is not true. When I love and worship Christ, the son, does it mean I am displacing the rightful worship of the Father. No. Of course not. We can see divinity in both. Acknowledging and loving one, does not diminish the other.
President Rudger Clawson (Quorum of the Twelve, 1910) clarified this when he said, “It doesn’t take away from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Skewed image of Heavenly Mother
The cultural “sacred silence” around our Heavenly Mother creates skewed ideas about who she is and what she does. Yesterday at lunch I was talking with my mom and sister in law about this talk. My mom felt baffled that there would be enough information on our Heavenly Mother to fill up a whole talk. My sister in law told me she imagines a women sitting in a celestial spa eating bon bons. Another friend told me she images a women tucked away, forever having children but not involved in the real work of parenting those children or taking care of other family needs. I don’t think any of these ideas are accurate.
I also believe that skewed or missing understanding of our Heavenly Mother contributes to an overall skewed understanding of the role of women in our society, in our church, and in our families.
The Importance of Gender
So, why does it matter to know our Heavenly Mother? Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are perfect examples, isn’t that enough? Does it matter to have a female example of divinity? Maybe it does.
In the Proclamation on the Family we learn that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity.” That means I was a woman before this life and I will be a woman after this life. Because I believe that to be true, I yearn for a clear example of what a divine woman will look like. I yearn to know my Heavenly Mother. I want to see ‘her image in my countenance.’
I want to feel her love and her support. I want her in my life. Today. Women speak up. I sometimes see women in the Church who are living below their privilege. Women who feel incapable or weak. This is common enough, that Elder Nelsen devoted a conference talk last October to plead with the women of the Church to “speak up and speak out”. He said, “My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insight and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out. We need each married sister to speak as “a contributing and full partner” as you unite with your husband in governing your family. Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. We brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence.” (Nelson, Russell, “A Plea to My Sisters, Conference Oct 2015).
I interpret this to mean, that yes, gender matters. That woman have something unique to offer in the work of gospel and the work of salvation, and I yearn for clarity on how that uniqueness looks, and I yearn to know more about the woman who is perfect in that uniqueness.
I want to know my Heavenly Mother so I can strive to be like her.
What benefits come from acknowledging a Heavenly Mother?
Knowing more about Heavenly Mother can both empower and nurture women. Acknowledging our Heavenly Mother can change the way we see ourselves as women in our families, in our church and in our eternal destinies. It can also change the way we feel soothed during life’s struggles and trials. To truly remember, each day, that we are godlike, is powerful. It adds perspective to our sorrow and struggle and it orients our focus and effort.
Acknowledging our Heavenly Mother can change the way men see the contributions and abilities of the women around them. To see women as divine and future goddesses or ‘goddesses in embryo’ as Joseph Smith might have taught, might alter the way women are allowed to contribute, make decisions and lead in their homes, in their callings and in the Church and in everyday interactions. President Rudger Clawson (Quorum of the Twelve, 1910) said “we honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype”. (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Acknowledging our Heavenly Mother can validate and include women in the Church who are not traditional mothers, but still have a divine nature in this life and a divine destiny after this life. Woman without children can equally seek to emulate a Heavenly Mother.
So, who is our Heavenly Mother?
In the church essay on Heavenly Mother found on LDS.org we read that “The doctrine of Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-Day Saints” (Heavenly Mother Essay, LDS.org).
Is it a Distinctive to the LDS Faith? Yes, it is rare in Christianity to even consider a Heavenly Mother. The closest approximation is the Catholic esteem and worship of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Believing in a Heavenly Mother is definitely distinctive belief of Latter Day Saints.
Is it a Cherished belief? I hope so, but I haven’t seen much of this. My goal in discussing our Heavenly Mother today, is to share how much I cherish this doctrine and to encourage others to find a way to cherish her in their lives. I cherish this doctrine because it both empowers me and nurtures my soul.
I cherish the warm, safe and nurturing experience I envision with our Heavenly Mother. While human life is full of sorrow, a perfect mother could calm those fears and soothe sorrows and strengthen her children for the challenges ahead. I cherish this doctrine because it helps me orient my way in this life and directs me to a divinity I look forward to and want to be worthy of. I feel empowered when I hear about Heavenly Mother. I feel strengthened to work harder as a mother, and a wife and woman and I feel confident that I can be successful.
DOCTRINE OF HEAVENLY MOTHER
To better understand our Heavenly Mother, I will briefly discuss six different things we know
about our Heavenly Mother:
1 – Heavenly Mother exists
2 – Heavenly Mother is a procreator and a parent
3 – Heavenly Mother is a wife
4 – Heavenly Mother is a divine person
5 – Heavenly Mother is a co-creator of worlds
6 – Heavenly Mother is a co-framer of the Plan of Salvation
#1 – Heavenly Mother EXISTS
Modern day prophets from 1830 to today, teach that she exists. In a statement from the First Presidency in 1909, we read, “all men and women are in similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of deity” (Heavenly Mother Essay, LDS.org). In the Proclamation on the Family (1995) we are taught that “All human beings – male and female – are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such each has a divine nature and destiny.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Elder John Widtsoe wrote, “The glorious vision of life hereafter …is given radiant warmth by the thought that… we have a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
She exists! And for me it does give a radiant warmth to think of a mother who knows me and loves me.
#2: Heavenly Mother is a PROCREATOR and PARENT
Perhaps the most easily understood role of Heavenly Mother is her role as a procreator and parent. Heavenly Mother helped to create our spiritual bodies. Neither the Father or the Mother could beget our spiritual bodies alone. President Joseph F Smith (1916)stated that our heavenly parents together “propagated that higher order of beings called spirits”.(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido) In addition to helping to create, our Heavenly Mother parents her children in the premortal and mortal realm.
A Premortal Parent. Elder Packer has taught that each of us “lived in a premortal existence as an individual spirit child of heavenly parents” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)where we were reared and nurtured. Our Heavenly Mother was with us in the premortal world. She knew us, spent time with us, taught us and loved us.
Orson Whitney (1929) said, “ln the development of our characters, our Heavenly Mother was perhaps particularly nurturing” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido) and President Kimball taught that, “knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less? (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Here we see a doctrinal understanding that our Heavenly Mother has unique character traits and strengths. Unique strengths that she shares with us and unique strengths that her daughters can emulate and seek to perfect in this life. Perhaps some of these are similar to the unique character traits Elder Nelsen was talking about when he said that the ‘brethren cannot duplicate the unique influence of women’.
A Parent in our Mortality. Mormon leaders have said that Heavenly Mother’s involvement did not end with premortality but continues while we are on this earth. President Harold B Lee (1963) taught that, “Sometimes we think the whole job is up to us…We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us. “(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Elder Ballard taught that “our heavenly parents love and concern for us continues to this very moment.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido) She is involved in your salvation. Now. Today. She knows you. She loves you.
Thinking of my heavenly parents helps me when I make decisions as a mother. I imagine how our loving parents might look at their children in similar ways to how I see my own children. Zoo story. Recently, I took all four of my kids to the zoo for a preschool field trip. It was exhausting. One of my children was lost about 90% of the time. Luckily it wasn’t always the same child but I spent most of my time trying to find the missing child who was never really lost, just distracted or had just wandered off a bit. The time at the zoo went like this: Walk to animal exhibit. Look around for missing child. Walk around looking for missing child.. Find child. Corral kids. Herd kids together and walk to the next exhibit. Stop. Look around for the new missing child. Walk around looking. Find the child. And so on.
I wondered how this might be how our Heavenly Parents see me. How I get distracted in life and slow or stop all progress toward my goal or get lost. And how patient they must be in waiting for me to get back on track or to even remember what I was trying to accomplish. I am comforted to feel that my heavenly parents will keep looking for me. Every time. And that we move together in this life with all of our brothers and sisters.
#3 Heavenly Mother is a WIFE
References to our heavenly parents make it clear that Heavenly Mother is considered the wife of our Heavenly Father. George Q. Cannon (1884) said, “God is a married being, has a wife…We are the offspring of Him and His wife”(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido). Elder Roberts (1912) taught that she is side-by-side with the Father. (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
Knowing that my Heavenly Mother is also a wife inspires me in my marriage. I feel encouraged to work hard to be a team to work side-by- side with my husband for the salvation of our little family.
#4: Heavenly Mother is a DIVINE PERSON
Heavenly Mother is a divine person who passed through mortality, who learned and grew and became perfected. Orson Whitney (1895) taught that “Before Heavenly Mother became exalted and helped begat us, she was once mortal and dwelt on an earth”(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido). This is a mind-blowing idea for me and it’s very difficult to really wrap my head around, but we know that Heavenly Mother was a mortal woman who fulfilled her divine destiny.
Paulsen ‘ Pulido describe the mortal experience of our Heavenly Mother like this, “the soul-making trials of her earthly experience, coupled with continuing growth after a celestial resurrection helped her hone the qualities of divinity to move her from ‘womanhood to Godhood’.
I love that phrase, the “soul-making trials”. When I think about my experience as a mother, the time has been difficult and joyous. The challenges feel like they are refining my soul and I am learning divine qualities such as patience, love and hope.
When I think about the struggle of women who would like to be mothers, who are not, for
whatever reason or women who face other struggles regarding motherhood and more, I see those trials as “soul-making” and refining. One that will hone the same qualities of divinity such as patience, love, hope.
Recently I read a touching blog post about the experience of infertility among Mormon women. I know how painful this can be in a Church that sets motherhood on a pedestal as the ultimate achievement for Mormon women. The author writes about what a Mormon woman who is not a mother, may feel on Mother’s Day and says,”She needs someone to remind her that the most fertile part of her body is not her womb, but her heart. Because that is where her dreams and visions are born. It is where her plans are made. And desires are planted. It’s where motherhood starts. It is where it lives. And where it grows”. (Waitingforbabybird.com)
How beautiful and how true. Our value as Mormon women is not in whether we can bear children or how many we can care for. It is in the potential for fertile growth in our heart, in our love for others, in our dreams and visions. In our divine potential as goddesses. We are divine already. And in this life, we (like our Heavenly Mother) seek experiences that will be “soul-making trials” and we seek to grow through them to become more like our Heavenly Mother and to achieve our divine destiny.
#5: Heavenly Mother as CO-CREATOR OF WORLDS
Brigham Young taught that eternal mothers and eternal daughters are beings who, after the
resurrection will “be prepared to frame earth’s like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our heavenly parents.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
More recently, Elder Holland has taught that our Heavenly Mother and our Heavenly Father are involved in the ongoing process of creating everything around us and “are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
I like to think of this role of our Heavenly Mother when I feel overwhelmed in myroles. Often I see women and mothers take on more responsibility and assignments than they can reasonably complete.
And when asked for more, we feel pressure to help or say yes even when we are full or drowning in our current responsibilities. I have done this often and am just learning how to address this.
I believe that a divine mother has learned how to prioritize and how to say no. I can’t imagine a Heavenly Mother who is overstressed or running late. Her work in the creation of worlds is not rushed or sloppy. She has learned to only take on what she can do well and let the rest go. In a very real way, as I envision my Heavenly Mother, I am inspired to be a better mother, wife and woman in the way I manage my responsibilities and create the world around me in my daily tasks. I am so thankful for this example.
#6: Heavenly Mother as CO-FRAMER OF THE PLAN OF SALVATION
In addition to her participation in creation, our Heavenly Mother helped the Father direct the Plan of Salvation. In 2001, Elder Ballard taught that “we are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us”.(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido)
I like to think of our Heavenly Parents sitting together and discussing their children. Discussing the missteps, celebrating the accomplishments and making decisions to help their children progress.
Recently in General Conference, Elder Ballard has encouraged us to counsel in our families. He describes these family councils as being patterned after the councils we participated in before we came to this earth. He said, “we belonged to a family council in the premortal existence, when we lived with our heavenly parents as their spirit children.” (Russell Ballard, “Family Councils, April 2016 conference)
Idaho. Last month, JJ and I visited Idaho to be a part of the baptism of our nephew. As we made the 3 hour drive, we counseled together about our children. We talked about them one-by- one. We do this on every long family car ride. We discuss what has been going well, we enjoyed recent victories and advances, we looked forward to upcoming challenges and made plans to help our children face those challenges.
I LOVE to think of my Heavenly Parents counseling together about their children. And in that
discussion determining that for their children to learn and advance, they might have to leave their parents for a while. They might have to go to earth to learn and experience “soul-making trials”. I imagine them weighing the options, sorrowing for the struggle and choosing what they determined was best. Then I imagine them calling together their children to discuss what they believe is the best option and letting their children choose for themselves. Each of us chose to endure hardships, to endure “soul-making trials” in this life because, as Elder Holland says, “we wanted a chance to be like our heavenly parents”(cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido). I chose to come to this earth so I could be like my Heavenly Mother. How inspiring.
I also LOVE to think about my Heavenly Parents counseling about me. About each of us. One-by- one. We see this pattern of an individual connection to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We know that our Father in Heaven seeks to interact with us one-by- one in our personal prayers. We know the pattern Christ set when he visited the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful. He invited the multitude to come forth and to see the prints of the nails “one-by- one”. I feel nurtured and loved when I envision my Heavenly Parents together, counseling about me, reviewing what was going well, celebrating successes, discussing challenges and how to help me face my challenges. I cherish this doctrine to consider these parents who love me and counsel together about me.
How can I worship our Heavenly Mother?
So what do I do now? How do I worship my Heavenly Mother? As we learn more about our Heavenly Mother, it is important to be clear that we do not pray to our Heavenly Mother. When we pray we follow the pattern set by Jesus in the Bible, when he said, “My Father who art in Heaven…” President Hinckley clarified this. He also said, “The fact that we do not pray
to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” (Heavenly Mother Essay, LDS.org).
Because we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven, the importance of thoughtful meditation increases. As we ponder about our Heavenly Mother and as she occupies our thoughts, we can be uplifted and inspired.
We can worship our Heavenly Mother as we seek to emulate the Father. Paulsen ‘ Pulido explain,
“Given the popular contemporary LDS view that the highest form of worship is to emulate character, worship of the Father is also indirectly worship of the Mother, as each has equally perfect moral character.” Elder Oaks taught that, “our highest aspiration is to become like our heavenly parents.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido). Men and women alike are to seek after and develop the divine traits exemplified by both Father and Mother.
We can also pray to hear more about our Heavenly Mother from our leaders in conference or elsewhere. We can pray to be lead to resources where we may find more. We can pray to be inspired to learn more about our Heavenly Mother through the Holy Ghost.
And we can listen. And we can meditate and ponder on our Heavenly Mother. And we can seek to feel her love. Look for her in your heart. Listen. Pay Attention. Meditate. Ask yourself, what would a mother feel? How would a mother comfort me?
We can also look forward to when we see her again. Elder Maxwell (1978) taught that, after we die, our “regal homecoming could not be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother.” (cited by Paulsen ‘ Pulido). We will remember her and recall all of our former life with her.
We honor our Heavenly Mother when we are deliberate, careful and loving in the care of the
precious souls, our heavenly parents have entrusted to us. When I teach and love and comfort my children. I learn more about her. When we serve others. When we mourn with those that mourn, we honor her. When we help care for all of our Heavenly Mother’s children, we honor her and become more like her.
Reveal many great and important things
We live in a Church of modern day revelation. We live in the “fullness of times” when many
unknown or misunderstood ideas have been and will be enlightened. Article of Faith #9: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal and that he will yet reveal, many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
Understanding more about our Heavenly Mother can empower and nurture her daughters so they feel strengthened to do as Elder Nelsen called when he said last October, “Today I plead with my sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God – more than you ever have before.”
(Nelson, Russell, “A Plea to My Sisters, Conference Oct 2015).
Understanding more about our Heavenly Mother may add some clarity to tensions about the role of women in the Church, women and the priesthood, motherhood, family roles and family relationships. Many things that cause heartache and sorrow can be soothed by acknowledging and cherishing our Heavenly Mother.
Think of her
So I invite you to think of her. Think of her today as you celebrate the strong, beautiful mothers, women and girls in your life. Think of her as you see their divine potential and their contribution. Think of her as you look at your own children and think of how she might feel to look at you. Think of her as you make decisions on how to mother, on how to be a woman, on how to share love. Think of her as your spiritual
Mother, and cherish this doctrine. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the powerful women in this ward. You are daughters of a Heavenly Mother who loves you. You are divine and you have divinity in your future.
Bio: Avan is the happy mom to 4 loud and spirited daughters and the happy wife to one empathetic and intelligent husband. She teaches Child Development classes at a University. In her ward, she teachers a youth Sunday School class.
“Mother in Heaven” Church Essay found at https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in- heaven?lang=eng
Paulsen, David, ‘ Pulido, Martin (2011). “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about
Mother in Heaven.” BYU Studies (Vol. 50, No. 1, pgs 70-126).
Cassler, V. H., “Review of Paulsen adn Pulido’s ‘ A Mother There,’ BYU Studies, 2011,”
Hinckley, Gordon, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 100.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World (1995). LDS.org
Nelson, Russell, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign, Nov 2015.
Ballard, Russell, “Family Councils,” Ensign, May 2016.