This post was written by long-time BCC friend and bloggernacle participant Theric.
Mother’s Day is fraught. Just make a search right here at BCC and see. And it’s been rough for a long, long time. As part of my current calling, I’ve been in charge of planning sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day since 2014. I relished the opportunity. To me, Mother’s Day is an obvious opportunity to celebrate one of the most unique (for now) Mormon doctrines: our Mother in heaven. My thought was we start with women in the scriptures and, by year three, we straight-out do Heavenly Mother. It hasn’t quite worked that way. Here’s how it has worked (note that the Primary has sung each year, though I haven’t mentioned it):
The first four speakers were told to tell brief (brief!) stories and let the congregation assign meaning to them, rather than to moralize thereon themselves.
These four speakers were
a female youth speaker on Deborah
a male youth speaker on Huldah
a married couple that split a list of lauded women that appear in Acts and the Epistles (they had the option of covering them all or as few as they desired, so long as they told stories)
The thinking was that true stories told truly can mean whatever the hearer will have them mean. No preaching needed.
It was fairly successful. Even though I gave them all almost three months to prepare, that . . . didn’t quite happen. Two of the speakers included lengthy asides about how awesome their momma be. Which I hadn’t doubted.
The final speaker was LDS theologian Sheila Taylor who spoke about the women Jesus interacts with in Luke. (As sacrament meeting should be Christcentric, this seemed a good way to end.)
Overall, the program was a definite net gain. And if you’ve ever had Sheila in your ward, you know that rumors of her speaking or teaching can get people in pews who might normally be slipping out for coffee.
And if those folk come this year, maybe they’ll return next year—?
One more note: I had hoped to have some music, probably an older LDS poem about Heavenly Mother, sung either by a small group or the congregation.
Martin Pulido, in connection to his A Mother Here work, has set some of these old poems (and some of the newer ones, including one of mine) to traditional melodies. I sent these to our ward music chair who is a professional in the field and, I’m sorry to say, was perplexed by the songs. She liked the Mother-in-Heaven theme, but the words and notes didn’t align in ways that made sense. The meter was fine, but the important words didn’t match up with the important notes. So . . . the songs never happened. I need a composer. Know a good one?
I spoke first, making this introduction:
Some things are stupidly radical. Do you know what I mean? Radical because no one else is doing them; stupidly because WHY IS NO ONE ELSE DOING THEM???
One of Mormonism’s radical—if stupidly radical—doctrines is belief in our Heavenly Mother. According to a 2011 article in BYU Studies, Heavenly Mother has been spoken of dozens—maybe hundreds—of times in official settings by the Church’s general leadership. I’m aware of maybe a hundred poems by LDS poets about or mentioning our Heavenly Mother. And, as the Article of Faith says, we believe that many great and important things are yet to be revealed, so it’s reasonable to expect more insight regarding our Heavenly Mother going forward. But what apostasy led to this need for restoration?
It’s a more complicated question than the simplified answer I’m about to give, but almost three thousand years ago, much of what we call the Old Testament was molded by a group of scribes now called the Deuteronimist. Among other goals, they attempted to excise from the record any mention of the divine feminine. They were largely successful. Hence the Article of Faith stating we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Hence the need for a Restoration.
Now we come to our stupidly radical plan for today: to rejoice in our Heavenly Mother. Yet, notwithstanding dozens—maybe hundreds—of mentions in General Conference and official statements, including the proclamation on the family, or the heartfelt statements of our poets (or of our own hearts), what do we really know?
Now, when knowledge of the Messiah was slight, we relied on types. Moses was a type for the coming Christ. He delivered his people. He raised a symbol of grace, that all who looked upon it might be saved. Adam is a type for Christ. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Through similarity and contrast, through magnificence and plainness, the scriptures set up mere mortals to teach us of our Savior and of our Heavenly Parents. Today we will examine three great women and consider what we can learn of our Heavenly Mother through them.
[Our first speaker] will speak of Eve, the mother of all living, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.
[The next speaker] will speak of Deborah, a mother in Israel, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.
And [our concluding speaker] will speak of Mary, the mother of our Lord, and a type for our Heavenly Mother.
And so they did. And these three women killed it.
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The original three-year plan was that, having eased into things, in 2016 we would have a meeting focused directly on our Mother in Heaven. The timing seemed ripe: Numerous folk on the Twitter felt that a more inclusive sense of deity was projected at the most recent General Conference, and when I was with the youth at a recent temple trip, the temple president spoke of returning to “our Heavenly Father and Mother in Heaven.”
And yet. . . . that doesn’t really seem a fair topic to assign. Besides the recent gospel-topics essay—barely enough information for one talk—what “official” sources can speakers go to?
With those other two Mother’s Days, I gave the speakers well over two months to prepare. This year, with less than a month to go I still didn’t know what to do. But stupor of thoughts aside, there must be a sacrament meeting! Returning to last year’s program so soon would be no good and returning to the 2014 program would seem like a step backward.
In the end, I decided to go with an idea I’d long flirted with: women of Church history. I wanted to go international, but I hadn’t left myself enough to time to figure out how to get good sources to the speakers.
I asked three women again this year:
The youth speaker’s talk tracked pretty closely with this video (I gave her another source as well, but I can’t remember if it was this one or this one). Although it was as short and matter-of-fact as you might expect, it was a moving talk. I got a little blurry-eyed.
The next speaker was a convert of five years who spoke a bit about the strangeness of someone of her political leanings becoming Mormon three weeks after her 21st birthday. But first she read quotations from an essay by Blanche and a diary entry by Emmeline. Blanche spoke of women’s need for self-reliance from men. Emmeline of her loneliness as her husband neglected her. The irony is that these two women are both Emmeline B. Wells.
I’d also asked her to look at Susa Young Gates with the idea that she could speak on either or both. She spoke of both. And terrifically. Although pioneer stories had always felt a bit distant to her, she found something to identify with here.
She ended with this passage from Isaiah:
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
Our final speaker was where my stupor of thought overcame me. I ended up waffling and asking her too to speak on the history of sister missionaries, but then I emailed her a couple days later and told her to feel free and adjust the topic however the Spirit led. I had no idea what she should be speaking on, just that it should fit in with the theme.
She ended up focusing most of her remarks on a personal ancestor, Mary Ann Miller. Before joining the most notorious handcart companies, she had given birth to conjoined twins. They, of course, died. And when she was carried on a stretcher on board a ship for America, the captain called her fish food.
Later, on the plains, having prayed gratefully for being spared so many times, she found the strength to follow the blood-stained path rejoicing.
She then shared a Sheri Dew talk and managed to put some Jesus in the talk (which I, having been rather last-minute about things, had failed to arrange).
Because I had such a rough time figuring out Mother’s Day this year, I didn’t know what my introductory remarks were going to be. As the sacrament was being passed, I figured it out on the face of the bulletin:
Each week, the sister who puts together the bulletin includes a quotation from a current or former presidency member of one of the so-called sisters’ auxiliaries. Usually it’s much more contemporary than Sister Snow, but it’s never bad to go classical.
In essence, what I said is that for all the many, many phrasings of our Heavenly-Mother doctrine, this is the one we all still know best. It touches us in ways no other phrasing has. (Although, like the unprepared dope I was, I said she called her poem “A Devotional to the Eternal Father and Mother . . . Maybe.”)
In her time, Eliza R. Snow was called a presidentess and prophetess and poetess—terms that haven’t aged all that well, but get to her significance to the Church. What she said was heard. What she said mattered. And although she never had children she was, vitally, a mother to the Church. Today we will look at some of the women who made the Church into what it is.
Or words to that effect.
I don’t know what next year’s focus will be yet (suggestions welcome), but there was a song set for 2016 that . . . didn’t happen. I’ve been assured it will happen next year. You should check it out.