Recently, my ward decided to perform reenactments of the Restoration in Primary. It’s a sweet idea—certainly well intentioned—when you don’t think about it for long: Joseph as a boy praying in the Sacred Grove, the angel Moroni appearing to the boy Joseph, the translation of the Book of Mormon with Joseph and his scribe, the baptism and gift of the Holy Ghost by the Susquehana River.
My first reaction, however, was not sweet. I was piercingly sad. All I could picture were the faces of the little girls in Primary. Not a single active role in the reenactments could be given to a girl child. I understand the complexities here- what can the Primary President do? Things happened as they happened, and imposing 21st century parity on historical religiosity shouldn’t be done. Right?
I sat in the foyer, contemplating how I felt and how I wanted to deal with this for my own children. In the four Gospels, we have women witnessing Christ in a multitude of ways and times, including during the devastation of his crucifixion, and on the glorious morning of his resurrection: And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. (Matthew 27:60-61)
But where are we in the iconic stories of the Restoration? And what does that mean for the little girls sitting and Primary and seeing no faces representing their own? Everywhere our sons turn, they see what it looks like to be represented. They see examples of what leadership looks like in our faith tradition, of what they can aspire to, not only as they grow up here in their own families and faith, but in the eternities. Sitting in Primary, where can a little girl look to see what she may aspire to? Where are the pictures on the wall telling stories of her foremothers, and giving her ideals to which she may fit her own story? Where are the tales allowing her to be an actor in her own life, rather than a passive consumer of others’ stories? The stories we tell matter, and seeing faces that look like ours help us place ourselves above the fray and realize our potential.
I did not send my daughter to Primary for those lessons. My sons are already out of Primary.
But this doesn’t solve my newly opened Pandora’s box. As I sat in the foyer contemplating the absence of the feminine—both in story and in vision—the realization rolled slowly over me that it was a problem far beyond the sweetly-intentioned play planned in my little ward Primary.
The feminine face of creation isn’t anywhere.
In Mormonism, we teach that gender is eternal. We teach the same sociality here on earth will take place in the eternities, and that man and woman, husband and wife, are necessarily sealed together into families in the grand order of things. This is the foundation of the belief that gender is eternal; it takes a man and a woman to create life. I’m willing to gloss over the notion of viviparous spirit birth and all the complicated mess associated with that possible theology. But the fact remains we teach gender is eternal, and both genders are necessary for exaltation.
So… where am I in the highest, most sacred creation myth of my faith? Where is the feminine divine in the organization of the heavens and the earth? I find myself stunned, like the girl-child in Primary, watching a reenactment in which there is no representation of me or anyone like me, no place I can imagine myself as an actor in my own progress, no face I can see that shows me to what I can aspire, and no example of what eternal life means for a woman.
The only place I can find a representation of my role is in the fallen world.
Have the good men I associate with, love, sustain and am raising even noticed this absence? This glaring vacancy? It’s hard to see through the crowd of examples these men can to look to, and it’s possible they haven’t even noticed that their sisters are staring into a vacuum.
But how can you tell them what you don’t see when you have no voice?
I am back in the foyer, my breath catching in my throat, my heart pounding in my chest. There is a tiny wave of panic in this realization, and I fall back on my faith security blanket: God is not a jerk. It may seem trite, but it works well in challenging situations.
The Restoration started with the prophet Joseph Smith, but it is not over. The Restoration is an ongoing act. It’s been almost 200 years since Joseph entered the Sacred Grove and asked God for further light and knowledge, but that’s merely a blink in eternal time. We have been promised the windows of heaven are open, but the Lord has also told us he does not interfere in our agency. He will absolutely allow us to blunder and to stumble and, ultimately, to learn. There will be further light and knowledge about the other half of God’s children when, like the impetuous boy Joseph, we ask.
It’s just very hard to ask for what one cannot see.