“I Gave Her a Name”

Rachel Hunt Steeblik is the author of I Gave Her a Name, her second collection of poems about Heavenly Mother. Her first collection, Mother’s Milk, won the Association for Mormon Letters Award for Poetry in 2018. Both books are published by BCC Press. Rachel will be reading selections from I Gave Her a Name tonight at Anthony’s Fine Art and Antiques in Salt Lake City and tomorrow night at Writ & Vision in Provo. Both readings start at 7:00 PM.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is deluxefrong.jpg

I very purposefully set Mother’s Milk inside two prayers, an invocation and a benediction, and as a prayer. I did it because I love Joanna Brooks’ poem called “Invocation/Benediction,” that addresses “Father, Mother”, and because before Jeffrey R. Holland’s 2015 conference talk, “Behold Thy Mother,” that explicitly thanked “a Mother in heaven” (along with Mother Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Mary of Nazareth) for Her “crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity,” the last non “heavenly parents” reference to Heavenly Mother in General Conference was Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1991 talk, “Daughters of God,” that suggested that those who pray to Heavenly Mother are “well-meaning, but…misguided.” I wanted to offer my own language of how we might pray about Heavenly Mother or simply to feel closer to Her.

In I Gave Her a Name, I did something different. Instead of setting the poems inside prayers, I set them inside stories. This was also purposeful, because we need to tell more stories about how we interact with Heavenly Mother in our life and how She interacts in ours.

The first story has three parts. The first of those is about the time I stood at a pulpit in Boston in 2009 and bore testimony about Heavenly Mother for the first time. It came after I researched Heavenly Mother full-time for BYU for four months and then cried more Sundays than not, because I needed to hear someone say something about Heavenly Mother, and that in a Relief Society room where a teacher said we were going to sing a very special song, “O My Father,” for a very special reason, I got my hopes up. Maybe, just maybe, that would be the day. And then it wasn’t.

The lesson was on how to draw closer to Heavenly Father. Sitting there, wildly disappointed, I realized that I was someone, and that I could say something. The next Fast and Testimony Meeting, I did, then shook for whole minutes afterward. The second part of that story is how I wrote my first Heavenly Mother poem (“Motherless Milk”) while walking to a friends house in Brooklyn in 2013, and how that night I went to sleep and literally dreamed that I was standing at a pulpit reading five Heavenly Mother poems I had written, so when I woke up to my infant daughter’s cries for mother’s milk, I wrote them.

The third part of the first story is how in 2018 I stood at a pulpit in my ward in Jersey City and gave a talk about mother lines, sweeping from myself, to my mother, to my grandmothers, to Christ who acts as our mother hen, then finally to Heavenly Mother. Immediately after, my 4-year-old daughter stood at the same pulpit and gave a mini talk: “My name is Cora. I believe Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father love us. Sometimes people can be naughty to Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, but they can apologize.” She did it easily and simply.

The story I close I Gave Her a Name with has two parts. The first is about an email I received from a woman who watched my children for me the first full day I was in the hospital for postpartum anxiety and depression. I didn’t know her very well. She had just moved into my city a few weeks before, but had been assigned to be my visiting teacher. She said she had tried to write me a message so many times, but felt too nervous to send it. Until. She read poem I wrote for I Gave Her a Name and shared to my social media, about how Heavenly Mother would hold our hair back for us if She could when we throw up, but instead She sends proxies, having authority.

This poem gave the woman courage to tell me that after she moved to my city she didn’t feel like she had purpose. The weekend before she watched my children, she took an incorrect, but failed pregnancy test and weaned her youngest son, adding to her feelings of emptiness and heaviness. Then she watched my children, including my youngest, a son, who was exactly six-months-old that day. I was terrified that he would be hungry, because he had never had milk that wasn’t mine. And this is what the woman wanted to tell me, that she offered him a bottle, and he refused. Then she offered him her breast, that still had milk in it from her weaned child, and he accepted. She became a proxy mother, for me.

The second part of the last story is how the day before that woman helped me, which was the day I entered the hospital, my then 3-year-old daughter (who at 4 stood at the pulpit and testified of our divine Mother and Father’s love), asked her father for pancakes and he said no, over and over. He was very stressed and trying to figure out childcare, and work, and everything. But my daughter kept asking. And then shortly after that, my husband found a stack of pancakes on our doorstep, like cookies or homemade bread. He didn’t know where they came from and thought that maybe I had left them there before I entered the hospital. (I wondered why he thought I would do that. J ) I found out much later that they were left by another woman who had just moved to our ward, who didn’t know I was in the hospital, and who I also didn’t know well, but who had a feeling. What I know, is that my daughter called out to the universe, and that a mother answered—the Mother answered—and that both of my children were fed.

Then there are the 300+ poems in the middle, about so, so many things, accompanied by the 100+ most beautiful and dreamy illustrations by Ashmae Hoiland that I could have asked for. Of those poems in the middle, these are the most on my mind right now, because of the rescinded policy that should never have been policy, and was always fallen.

I hope you’ll read the full book. I hope you’ll listen to my stories and then tell your own.

What Miranda and Calvin Taught Me
The Mother pleads
No one belongs here
more than you,
you who are sometimes
made to feel like
you don’t belong
by fall(en) policies
and people.
She’ll sit silently
beside you
on the pews
if you’ll let Her
and understands
if you can’t.

Thresholds
The Mother is at
the thresholds, the in
between paces—
where forest stops
being forest,
where ocean stops
being ocean—
where they become
something different
so something different
can thrive.

What Kerry Taught Me
The Mother loves variety—
all of the messy flowers in
all of the messy gardens,
all of the spindly, leaning
trees in all of the spindly,
leaning forests, all of the
weird fish in all of the weird
deep and shallow seas,
all of the wild and tame
animals in all of the
seven colors in all of the
more than seven rainbows
and the more than seven
thousand colors without.
Don’t ask Her to
choose a favorite.
She can’t.
We’re the ones who
pick and choose
and demand rigid
categories.

Chosen Names
She knows
the importance
of pronouns
and chosen names.




Comments

  1. Amy Grigg says:

    Oh, Rachel, I am crying reading your stories. I, too, experienced miracles when I had my son, via proxy mothers, having authority. I’m so looking forward to reading your book.

  2. Tracie Lamb says:

    Thank you, Rachel, for all you have done and are doing to acknowledge and honor Mother in Heaven. I have been longing for Her in my life, and what you have done has blessed me immeasurably.
    I was hopeful the church was becoming more open to recognizing Her significance, but I just tried to find “A Mother There” on the church’s website and I don’t think it’s there anymore. There is a reference in the footnotes in the section on “Mother in Heaven” but it’s not a highlighted link. It used to be on the church’s website, didn’t it?
    In any case, regardless of what the male leaders of the church do or don’t do, I need Our Mother in my life and appreciate all you have done to facilitate that.

  3. Welcome, Tracy. “A Mother There” was always just at BYU Studies, here: https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mother-there-survey-historical-teachings-about-mother-heaven

  4. *Tracie (Sorry!) <3

  5. Thank you for reading, Amy, and I’m grateful you plan to read the book as well. <3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.