The Perfect Unity of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother

Feb 21, 13 The Perfect Unity of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother

This is the fifth post in our series on Mother in Heaven.

Click here to link to the pevious four essays.

Once upon a time, I sat in homes and cafes with Mormon women in Vienna, Austria for hours at a time, interviewing them about their lives in general, and their experiences and beliefs concerning the church more specifically. I did this for a few reasons: The first being that I loved these women, and wanted to spend time with them before I bid the Continent adieu. The second being a project I believed in, which was started at my school by Claudia Bushman, called “The Mormon Women Oral History Project.” The project set out simply (albeit radically) to let Mormon women speak their own histories, and to record them and transcribe them. (I wrote a bit more about my experience at The Exponent blog, and others wrote more for Kofford Books.)

our-heavenly-mother-smallAmong the questions I asked, and the answers I listened to, there was one that resonated with me so deeply, that it was sometimes difficult to initiate. As the question approached, my heart (and/or the butterflies therein) fluttered with equal amounts anticipation and fear. On brave days I pronounced the question as it was written, “What is your conception of Heavenly Mother?” And then I sat in silence until the woman spoke, all the while understanding the boldness behind the query, and the corresponding assumption that the interviewee did have a concept of her Mother in Heaven, that was just waiting to be teased out. On less brave days I broke the silence myself, with a softer, less presumptive, question, “Or, do you have a conception of Heavenly Mother?”

I found out that many of the women did, but not all. Some expressed a desire to know more. Some expressed theories on why we do not. Some were satisfied with their supposed reasons. Others were not. Then one, one shared the most beautiful thing about Heavenly Mother that I have ever come across, notwithstanding four (funded-by-BYU) months of full-time research.

It concerned a personal, revelatory experience in a temple. The woman sat inside the space we call most holy, on a day that she felt immense pain, and immense frustration with her husband. After a time, her pain reflection was broken up: she felt God speak to her. In her anger and frustration, she said, “No. I don’t want to speak to you. I want to speak to Mother.” And then my friend felt/heard something else. “She’s here.” Like when you are in college and you call home before the time of cellphones, and your dad answers, but you need to talk to your mom. Your dad goes and gets her, and sometimes stays on the line too. It was like that for this woman. She felt them both, and knew that they were both listening and that they both care. And because her Heavenly Mother was there, she could speak, in honesty and openness, and she could let Them give her an answer.

My tears came with this recollection, because it confirmed my deep feelings that Heavenly Mother is close, and that She shares concern (and response) with the Father. They came again, when I remembered the words of Eugene England:

Modern scriptures and revelations suggest quite plainly that we would more accurately and profitably read the scriptural references to “God” as meaning God the eternal partnership of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. They have a more perfect unity even than that of God and Christ and the Holy Ghost, and so the word God implies both of them, at least as much as it denotes the three beings in the classical Christian trinity called “God.”

Such a more correct identification of “God” might help us better comprehend the direct role our Heavenly Mother played in our creation and salvation. When we read in Genesis that God said, “Let us create man in our image,” it makes most sense to read it as God the Father and God the Mother speaking as One. When we read in John that God sent His only begotten Son to save us, it would be better to understand, as it certainly makes more sense, that our Heavenly Parents sent Their only begotten Son. (As Women of Faith: Talks Selected from the BYU Women’s Conferences, “Becoming Bone of Bone and Flesh of Flesh.”)

God is two, as much as, or more than it is three: it is Father and Mother, united. Thus, She acts, She loves, She listens, just as He acts, and loves, and listens. We may also get this “God is two, male and female” principle from Doctrine and Covenants 132, and from the inferences of early LDS Apostle, Erastus Snow:

Now, it is not said in so many words in the Scriptures, that we have a Mother in heaven as well as a Father. It is left for us to infer this from what we see and know of all living things in the earth including man. The male and female principle is united and both necessary to the accomplishment of the object of their being, and if this be not the case with our Father in heaven after whose image we are created, then it is an anomaly in nature. But to our minds the idea of a Father suggests that of a Mother…. Hence when it is said that God created our first parents in His likeness … it is intimated in language sufficiently plain to my understanding that the male and female principle was present with the Gods as it is with man. (Journal of Discourses, 26:214.)

(Forgiving Snow’s imperfect science) I for one, rejoice in Their uniting.

Other Posts You May Like

Rachel is a Ph.D. student in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University. While her true academic love is Søren Kierkegaard, she also shares affection for feminist theology (particularly of the Mormon variety). She has a bachelors in philosophy and a masters in library science (from Brigham Young University and Simmons College respectively). Rachel served her mission in Sacramento, California. Rachel is a permanent blogger at the-exponent.com

All posts by

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing some of your research and personal thoughts, Rachel.

    Can you say anything more about the women you interviewed’s conception of HM? Did you find anything else interesting or surprising? Commonalities? For the ones that were not satisfied with the reasons HM is not discussed, did they express any desire to do anything about it?

    Finally, I’ve wondered about the theory/interpretation that you mention which sees God in the scriptures as both male and female. One the one hand, I really like the quotes you reference and can appreciate the theological motivation behind them. For some scriptures I think reading “God” as a united Father and Mother godhead works very well.

    However, I am concerned that in practice this interpretive understanding can allow for the continuing erasure of HM rather than a theology that allows for a recognition of Her independent value and contribution to our spiritual lives. For example, I once was told by my mother that she viewed God this way, as the male and female together rather than strictly the male. But the problem I see with her statement is that in all her discourse about God, in her prayers, in her discussion about scriptures, in her casual everyday references, deity is spoken of as male and only male. She does not feel comfortable speaking about HM as though She has any sort of an impact on her life; she even balks at the idea of praying to our “Heavenly Parents”. This latter fact in particular shows, in my opinion, that in reality she is uncomfortable with articulating the idea that HM acts, loves, and listens just as HF acts, loves, and listens (which she is totally comfortable expressing).

    So, I guess that what I am saying is that interpreting God as both HF and HM for some people could actually just be a defense of the status quo of LDS theology and a reason to continue the status quo, which doesn’t clearly include HM in much of anything.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    • Rachel Hunt /

      You are welcome, RT.

      I wish that I remembered more of the specific conversations, but two things do ring out in my mind. The first is that several of the women had heard that “Heavenly Mother is too sacred to talk about.” Many of these were the same group that were relatively satisfied that we don’t know more. They were also the most hesitant to share their personal feelings on Heavenly Mother. The second thing I clearly remember is my reaction. I am not a trained oral history interviewer by any means, but during the recorded conversation itself did try hard not to interject my own feelings and thoughts, regardless of how desperately I sometimes wished to. What I would do instead, was wait until all of the questions were asked, and then I went back to that one. I told them about an experience that I perhaps should have included in my biography here, and that is the fact that I was one of the two premier researchers on David Paulsen’s and Martin Pulido’s BYU Studies article, “A Mother There.” When it was first presented vocally, at a Women’s Research Colloquium in February 2009, I was included with Paulsen and Pulido as a co-author. My name was moved to “researcher” when they were in the editing process to make it publishable under BYU’s name, and I was unfortunately 3000 miles away for grad school and was unable to contribute further. But, what that experience taught me, and what we focused in on the article is that Heavenly Mother can be spoken of. She can. Many prophets and General Authorities have chosen to talk about her, over time. One of the first persons to explain any seeming silence with the “too sacred” quip was a 19th century seminary teacher. The other was similarly not a person in a position of great authority. I taught these women our findings, and sometimes something else happened. Sometimes at that moment they would open up, and spill all of their feelings and secret heart-thoughts about the Mother in Heaven that they loved and often felt like they knew. One of the women even asked to be recorded again, to share her more full feelings. Knowledge really is power.

      Unfortunately, I think you may be right about the way some members internalize ‘God as Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.’ I can only say that that is not the way that I use it. I’ve also found myself being drawn to prayers that begin, “Dear God.” They suddenly feel more intimate to me, when before, (and I think for many members), “Dear Heavenly Father,” felt closer, and more familial.

        (Quote)  (Reply)

      • Thanks for sharing more about your conversations. Sounds like a choice experience.

        And I’m gland you told me that you contributed to the Paulsen and Pulido article. I think it is a really important piece. Unfortunately, despite its publication in BYU Studies, there are still a lot of people in the church, including in my own ward, who believe HM should not be spoken about.

          (Quote)  (Reply)

      • Rachel /

        Thank you for this important article, and I’m glad to know you were such a primary contributor on the BYU Studies article as well. I wish that you could have retained the co-author attribution.

          (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. Melody Newey /

    Thank you for your beautiful writing and for your insights – each of which make this piece parituclarly lovely. Reading this filled me with peace. A witness, perhaps, of truth.

    “Thus, She acts, She loves, She listens, just as He acts, and loves, and listens. . .”

    Indeed. I believe Heavenly Mother is here, just as is Heavenly Father and their son, our brother. We’re a family, after all, right? Again, thank you, Rachel.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  3. Thank you so much for sharing that experience!

    As you point out, ‘God’ includes both of our Heavenly Parents. I therefore routinely use the pronouns They and Their to refer to God.

    I also feel that the presence of the phrase “heavenly parents” in the Proclamation on the Family gives me permission to say that freely in church.

    If we all just start using this language, it will result in a sea change. As Primary music leader, I routinely change ‘Heavenly Father’ to ‘Heavenly Parents’ in songs.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    • I think that’s pretty cool you do that in Primary, EdwardJ. My wife and I have been teaching our two boys to pray to our “Heavenly Parents,” and it makes perfect sense to them, of course, because they are children.

        (Quote)  (Reply)

    • Rachel Hunt /

      EdwardJ, you are welcome.

      I try to use “They” and “Their” too, as I agree that are very appropriate pronouns for God.

      When reading scriptures or conference talks with my husband, I also find myself adding, “…and Heavenly Mother” to passages that mention Heavenly Father. My next goal is to try to remember to do this more frequently within church walls as well.

      Like RT, I am so SO glad that you include the more inclusive “Heavenly Parents” as you lead little ones in singing primary songs.

        (Quote)  (Reply)

  4. This is so beautiful. Thank you for asking the question. I’ll remember that quiet, “She’s here” for a long time.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    • Rachel Hunt /

      You are very welcome. It has been nearly a year and a half since I heard those words spoken aloud by my friend, and they have stayed with me (and come back to me) so often.

        (Quote)  (Reply)

  5. Leah Marie /

    For a long time, when people ask me if I pray to Heavenly Mother (which usually comes right after it has come out that I run in Mormon feminist circles) my answer is always, “Yes and No.” No, because I don’t pray separate prayers to my Heavenly Mother. Yes, because I don’t feel like I *need* to pray separate prayers to my Heavenly Mother. Every thing I know about celestial marriage leads me to believe they are a unit, and when I pray to ‘God’ I pray to THEM. I guess that is hard for some people to wrap their heads around, but to me it just makes sense.

    Thanks for this wonderful post, it really resonated with me. Sometimes, my prayers would also come with difficulty if I didn’t remember that She is there to hear me as well.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

    • Rachel Hunt /

      “Every thing I know about celestial marriage leads me to believe they are a unit.” Amen, sister. I really feel that so much of our doctrine points there. As I mentioned above to RT, prayers that begin “Dear God,” now sound very intimate to me, and familial, when previously the prayers beginning, “Dear Heavenly Father,” carried that feeling to a greater extent (as I suspect it still does for many members).

      You are welcome. Thank you for adding your voice.

        (Quote)  (Reply)

  6. Rachel,

    Wow, wow, wow!! Paul was so excited when he said you were going to write some posts for us. I now understand why. Beautiful. I look forward to reading your other upcoming post; I am trying my hardest not to take a sneak peak at your working draft.

    I see you are a fan Søren Kierkegaard. I discovered him last year and he helped me save my Mormon faith; in particular his separation of “objective” and “subjective” knowledge/truth. I would love it if your wrote a post about his brand of existentialism and how it intersects with Mormon thought.

    p.s. What do you think are the chances are of getting Martin Pulido to write something for us?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  7. Beautiful post. Thank you for this, Rachel.

    I’ll just add that sometimes, She blows kisses bye-bye…

      (Quote)  (Reply)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>