A common argument about why we don’t speak more about Heavenly Mother or actively seek a relationship with Her is because we just don’t have a lot of documentation about Her. She doesn’t show up in LDS canonized scripture, and we only have secondhand accounts of Joseph Smith teaching of Her existence.
However, the “Mother in Heaven” essay published by the church last week seems to suggest that in spite of our ignorance, Heavenly Mother plays an important role in the mortal lives of both men and women. The essay cites President Harold B. Lee when he argued, “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.” Furthermore, the essay quotes Elder Rudger Clawson saying, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype,” suggesting that we know at least enough about Heavenly Mother to acknowledge Her.
So just how much do we need to know about Heavenly Mother in order to emulate and honor Her? (I ask this sincerely, not rhetorically.)
The thing is, we don’t know all that much about our Heavenly Father, either. We have accounts of mortal men recording His commandments and His doings, but since most of us have never seen God ourselves, all of our information about Him comes to us secondhand. According to LDS theology, though, this is all right because “by the power of the Holy Ghost [we can] know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10).
God teaches us about Himself through mortal examples, types, and shadows: “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4).
Moses chapter 6 is a beautiful telling of Adam’s relationship with his Heavenly Father, in which Adam speaks with God, learns about the Plan of Salvation, is baptized, receives the holy priesthood, and becomes “one” with God as His “son” (6:68). In verse 63, Heavenly Father teaches Adam that man may know God by observing His creations: “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.” In other words, our relationship with Heavenly Father is strengthened, and we come to know who He is, as we observe His likenesses recorded in the people and the world around us. For example, we are told that “God is love” (John 4:8), but this is only a vague generality until we have stories of mortal beings—in scripture and literature and life—who provide concrete interpretations of what this kind of love is, like the stories of a 22-year-old Thomas S. Monson knowing by name and caring for the 84 widows in his ward.
Is there nothing on earth that has recorded the likeness of my Heavenly Mother? For me, the thought makes reason stare. If “truth is reason,” then it is only reasonable to me that I can learn of my Heavenly Mother by seeking out her types and shadows in the women and creations around me that testify of Her.
The tricky thing is that cultural sexism has been intertwined with religious instruction for a long, long time. Of around 2,600 proper names in the Bible, only 188 are women with names. In the Book of Mormon, only six women are mentioned by name (and three of those women are actually references to biblical women: Eve, Mary, and Sarah). This doesn’t mean that women in these societies weren’t cared for or appreciated, but for whatever reason, women’s spiritual narratives were not recorded or valued nearly as often or dearly as men’s.
In 2015, however, we no longer have the excuse of cultural sexism to explain away the lack of women’s narratives in our religious observations. Elder Russell M. Nelson’s General Conference Address, “A Plea to My Sisters,” seems to recognize this and passionately pleads for more female voices to be heard: “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women . . . women who can speak with the power and authority of God!”
The irony that we only heard from five women in the last General Conference has not been lost on many members of the church. However, I remain optimistic that women giving talks and prayers will not always feel like a novelty. We now have vast resources that record the lives and spiritual journeys of all kinds of women throughout our church history. In fact, the recent interest in Joseph Smith and his plural wives has led many people to learn these fascinating women’s stories for the first time. These women’s narratives have, up until now, constituted a tragic silence in our study of church history and in our study into the nature of God, male and female. And yet, we still haven’t reached a point in our church culture in which these women’s stories are heard very often in Relief Society and Priesthood. Even the Daughters of Our Kingdom church publication is regarded largely as a book for women of the church, and it is marketed as such. But why shouldn’t men of the church be as interested and engaged in these stories of women who might be understood as types and shadows of the Female Divine?
Too often we think of women’s stories as only being relevant to other women, and yet women have always found relevance in men’s stories, especially as it is often only a man’s story that is available in our scriptures. Yet I believe that a woman’s story should resonate with a man as much as a man’s story could resonate with me as a woman, just as a Mother in Heaven ought to be as important to men of the church as a Father in Heaven is important to me as a woman.
My eight-week-old daughter was perched on my chest as I typed the first half of this post; she is currently asleep in her father’s arms. Tonight, we will gather our young family around us and teach them to pray to our Father in Heaven. We will fall asleep in the faith that we are remembered by Him and guided by His hand. And in the back of my mind I will wonder, like Eliza Snow did, if I have a Mother listening in close by, working behind the scenes to comfort me and help me when I need it. In those moments when I want to be furious with my four-year-old for drawing on the couch with pen, will it be She who whispers in my ear to wait a moment before responding? When my two-year-old son gets embarrassed and runs to me in tears, is it Her influence that makes my arms instinctually open and pull him close? And in 3 a.m. feedings with my infant in the dark and loneliness of night, is it wrong for me to wonder if She is nearby, keeping me company and knowing me personally?
My hope is that my children will wonder less about these things and instead feel conviction that both of their Heavenly Parents are encircled about them in love and empathy and wisdom. My hope is that my children experience a church in which women’s stories are heard as often as men’s, from the mouths of women as much as from the mouths of men. My hope is that future church leaders do not need to plead for women to “speak up and speak out” because we are already doing so.
In this mortal probation, we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), searching for the Divine through types and shadows. We may not know much about our Heavenly Mother, but I believe we can come to know Her likeness as more stories of women are heard from the mouths of women over our pulpits as we compile new, latter-day scripture.