Lost Longing, Or, The Book You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I can tell from the little knot of confusion pushing itself towards the front of my consciousness. On Father’s Day, it’s easy to choose the hymns: “O My Father,” and “Our Father, By Whose Name”– Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known…Thy children bless in every place, that they may all behold thy face/and knowing thee, may grow in grace.

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home…

There aren’t hymns for Mother’s Day, not really. Beyond affirming Her existence, we don’t know what to sing or say. So we argue–it’s easy enough to name the doctrinal and historical complications of naming Our Mother, and often, those complications are a comfort. The retreat into theory eases the ache of the simple questions.

Until someone writes a series of small, perfect poems asking simple questions, like the ones in Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk, forthcoming from BCC Press.Rachel’s poems, and the accompanying illustrations by Ashley Mae Hoiland, remind us that at the root of all the theological arguments and historical explanations lies something simple and infinitely profound–the child’s longing to know and be known by her parent. Our most tender explanations of God rely on our understanding of God as father, as a tender parent. Mormons assert, sometimes to the consternation of other Christians, that we are like our heavenly parent in ways that enable us to become like him–“grow in grace.” As Eliza R. Snow wrote, the thought that God is an unpartnered father “makes reason stare,” and yet every week in church, we speak of him as though he were. It is so deeply embedded in the ground of our consciousness that we don’t even notice how bizarre it is that our young women stand and say “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him…” at the beginning of their many lessons on the importance of becoming mothers.

Until someone writes a series of small, perfect poems asking simple questions.

What Every Child Wants to Know

What every child wants to know is
if her Mother is watching.
What every child wants to know is,
if she is seen.

Where is the Mama?

When Abbi was two, she
asked Where’s da mama
in this story? (about every story)

When I was twenty-four,
I borrowed her question.

 

Some of the poems simply re-imagine our loveliest scriptures in the simplest, most obvious ways that we work so hard not to think of:

Flesh

The Mother has a body
of flesh and bones
as tangible as women’s;
Her daughters also.

She Laid the Measures Thereof

She was there
when the foundations
of the earth were laid,
when the morning stars
sang together and all
the daughters of God
shouted for joy.

And sometimes they push those scriptures just a little, using a mother’s experience to find God’s perspective:

Separation Anxiety

Mother, too, is anxious
when Her children cry out,
a veil of forgetting hiding
Her last words: I will always
come back for you.
It shall be a small moment.

These little poems are by turns plaintive, wise, anguished, and funny. Here’s a funny one:

The Mother is Not Absent

She is taking a long shower,
a nap,
and using the bathroom,
by Herself.

This isn’t a book just for women. I especially hope men will read it–perhaps it is harder for women to quiet the ache of longing for a divine mother to be like, but we all need the nourishment and sustenance and strength that come from mother’s love.

Lost Boys

What Peter Pan’s
Lost Boys
lost was
their Mother.

It hurts to read this book. These little poems won’t let me run away into long, complicated abstractions. They remind me that I am a frightened, eager little girl, and a mother, and a Mormon, and that I need a Heavenly Mother to teach me how to be all of those things. We all do.

My father told me once, after I had breathlessly quoted e.e. cummings one too many times as a proof text, that I couldn’t get all my theology from poets. I am not so sure.

 

Comments

  1. Glorious. I cannot wait. And thank you for the glimpse.

  2. This is great. Also looking forward to Ashmae’s illustrations.

    Not your primary point, by far (hardly even quite beside it), but for those who can persuade their ward leaders to have the congregation sing a new text to a tune they know, as I sometimes have, here are a couple verses of an anonymous hymn to the tune of Onward, Christian Soldiers:

    Honor Christian mothers, instruments of God,
    Raising faithful families, worshiping the Lord,
    Teaching His commandments, showing us the way:
    Love and faith and kindness, teaching us to pray.
    Honor Christian mothers, instruments of God,
    Raising faithful families, worshiping the Lord.

    God be with our mothers who have gone before,
    Certain of His promise: life forevermore.
    In His many mansions, love again we’ll share
    He will take away all sorrow, wipe away each tear.
    Honor Christian mothers, instruments of God,
    Raising faithful families, worshiping the Lord.

  3. Anon for this says:

    I often feel closest to Mother when Her words become poetry in my mind.

    Thank you for this reminder.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautiful.

  5. Jason K. says:

    I’m very excited for this book; thanks for this preview!

  6. I’m so excited for this. From this foretaste I can tell this work in word and illustration will touch the sublime.

  7. Love the poems. Thanks for sharing

  8. Music Mom says:

    On the hymn tangent, I was about to post another hymn idea, but instead sent a request to BCC admin, requesting a separate post requesting ideas for Mother’s Day hymns. That might pull in more hymn ideas, and more people looking for them, while leaving this post and comments more focused on the OP’s intent. I do think ideas for Mother’s Day hymns would be really helpful.

  9. Jason K. says:

    Re: the last paragraph, our main quasi-canonical affirmation of Heavenly Mother comes from a poem by Eliza R. Snow, so I see no reason why poetry should not be a fitting medium for this theological work. And amen to the importance of simple questions.

  10. Can’t wait for this. It will be beautiful.

  11. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    Wonderful–Thanks so much!

  12. violadiva says:

    Perhaps some inspired composer will read these poems and write a whole new crop of hymns celebrating our Divine Mother! Rachel, you’re a visionary.

  13. This looks great.

  14. .

    Music Mom—this is being performed in our ward on Sunday: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2011/05/19/our-mother-in-heaven/

    As for this book, I’ll be picking up a copy.

  15. These are great.

  16. Music Mom says:

    Back on the Mother’s Day hymn tangent. I’ve used this:

    Hymn: “Motherhood”
    Poem by JS Cutler, 1877
    To the tune of “In Humility Our Savior”

    Motherhood, sublime, eternal, lives in God’s great heart of Love;
    Ever holds us, safe enfolds us, underneath, around, above;
    Patient, tender, kind, forgiving, though in devious paths we roam;
    Gently chides us, ever guides us, and all-loving, leads us home.

    Ev’ry wrong will sure be righted; ev’ry evil swept away;
    Truth upspringing, justice bringing, ushers in the brighter day;
    Mother calls her earthly children, loves them, lifts them when they fall;
    Striving, calling, fainting, falling, Motherlove enfolds them all.

    God is love, and love forever in the motherheart is blest;
    Lives the longest, lifts the strongest, far outreaching all the rest;
    Not by might, and not by wisdom comes our lifting from the sod:
    Love’s pure glory tells the story in the Motherheart of God.

    This poem is from The Power of Faith and Other Poems, by J.S.Cutler, published in 1877. I like it best to the tune of “In Humility Our Savior,” but it can also be sung to “In Remembrance of Thy Suffering,” “O My Father,” “Oh Thou Rock of Our Salvation,” “Precious Savior,” “Israel, Israel God is Calling,” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

  17. Well done, dear Rachel and all. Mother must be proud.

  18. Love the poems, Kristine (and Rachel), and the alternative hymn suggestions, Music Mom!

  19. It’s early am on Sunday and I am reading these to give courage to my heart as I head out today. I am a mother who raised a non-Ensign cover family. I needed these wise thoughts. Oh and hiding the bathroom. I remember those days too well.

  20. I think our theology might be better coming from poets. I heard the author perform several other selections from this book, and I cried.

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