Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Being Excommunicated) A Reflection

I don't often get comments on my blog, though I guess that will begin to change the more often I comment on blogs like the Exponent and Feminist Mormon Housewives. I do fill in my blog address here as my website so it really shouldn't be a surprise to me that my quiet corner is attracting guests (welcome, I will add).

On my recent post about praying to Heavenly Mother, Seth, a commenter recommended an article from the journal Dialogue entitled "How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Being Excommunicated." I bit the bullet, subscribed to an online subscription and now have free reign to search the archives and read according to my interests and where I am led. It really is exciting.

For more details beyond my shorthand notes, please read the entire article. A $25 subscription for one year of gospel study is in truth an affordable price to gain greater understanding into the scriptures and gospel. Often, one download from the site is $15, so its a good idea to save some money and get the one year access.

The basic points of the "How To Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated)" are:
1) We know Mother in Heaven's name and it is Asherah. A discussion of how that is known is included in the article.

2) There are some rules relating to her worship and they are namely:
  • No idols (those were banned with the 10 commandments, and tended to be a weakness of the Hebrews in the Old Testament)
  • No public prayer as per the direction given by President Hinckley in 1991 (see my recent post).
3) There are ways to acknowledge her in everyday life and some of the suggestions are:
  • Name a child after Her (Asher for boy, Sophia for a girl, or even Asherah);
  • Think of Her as present and part of the creation of the world; consider the Christmas tree as a symbol of her (trees were a symbol of Asherah throughout the Old Testament);
  • Take part in the Jewish Earth Day (Tu Bishvat);
  • View or create visual and artistic representations of her (though not to be worshipped as idols);
  • Recognize and take part in fertility, childbirth and lactation as symbols of her domain and understanding;
  • Consider the olive oil used in blessings as "the fruit of the tree of life" (a belief in the Jewish tradition);
  • Look at the instances of the word "happiness" in the scriptures as evidence of Heavenly Mother (a word/meaning associated with the word Asherah); view instances of "wisdom" similarly;
  • Study as much has been written about Asherah and keep in mind that a Jewish tradition holds that study is a form of worship (an appendix is provided by the author of the article);
  • Show a greater concern for the earth and environment by learning about and participating in ways to protect it.
  • Lastly, with the most emphasis, participate in the temple.

An insight provided me by this article is some of the translated meanings and connotations of the Hebrew word and words associated with Asherah. The words that stood out most to me were "Sanctuary," "Holy Place," and "Holiness."

My mind whipped immediately to the inscriptions on each Latter-day Saint Temple "Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord" and then next to the union of male and female. A wife can be a refuge to her husband, a sanctuary from the toils and heartaches of life. It also cannot be ignored that quite literally a man can be in a woman. The thoughts are more fleeting than anything else, brief impressions that I have not done justice or perhaps even been respectful as the topic warrants, but the parallel is drawn. Perhaps, one of the reasons why the temple is such a salient feature in LDS theology because it is a symbol of our Mother in Heaven. That when we are there, our worship of Father and Mother is complete and we are literally surrounded by Her love. Though the author may not have considered this, its what my mind went to immediately upon reading that a connotation of Asherah was analogous to the temple.

The author makes some interesting points about the temple; one of which is that the ancient Israelite women worshipped Asherah by weaving fine textiles for use in the temple. Those women lucky enough to work at Deseret Distribution in the manufacture and construction of the temple garments, and clothing now have a new way of looking at their work. While a student at BYU, I had learned about job opportunities there. How amazing it would have been to have that on my list of experiences. The temple clothing is predominantly manufactured centrally and by the institution of the church but there are still items that can be made for use in the temple that does not require an official pattern. For this reason, I would suggest that sewing women's temple dresses and men's white trousers and shirts could be added to the list of ways that the everyday Latter-day Saint could show appreciation and reverence for our Mother in Heaven.

As a teenager, I took up sewing and on a trip to the fabric store, I found a pattern for a wedding dress that I was drawn to. I bought it and said that I would sew my own wedding dress and I would alter it so it could be worn in the temple on the day of my sealing and that afterward, it could be worn as my temple dress. I actually did it and now I am looking at my wedding dress in a whole new way and wonder if perhaps Mother in Heaven guided me in that instance.

I'm also getting a sense of where my "earth mama" tendencies are coming from. Since the time when I had begun seriously to consider what I wanted to do in this world, I had two goals: 1) be a wife and mother and 2) make a difference in the world through helping others. As I followed my educational path, I found my desire of helping people rested in family studies--how family processes can contribute to individual, familial, communal and societal well-being. Through becoming a mother, while at the same time completing my master's investigating public policies pertaining to the family, I discovered a new passion for birth, environmentalism and sustainability; sensing that there was a connection between a healthy earth and healthy people and that somehow birth was related (see my blog Descent into Motherhood: Connecting with Earth through Birth). The last three years of my life have been dedicated to providing a toxin free, well nourished, balanced, emotionally secure and happy childhood to my son and daughter.

As I learned about the environmental and biochemical affects of modern life on gestation , I have been cognizant of the need I have to cleanse my body to be a healthy vessel for the children that I will bear. There is something of a spiritual nature that draws me to birth and now I am enrolled in a midwifery school and hope to someday provide the spiritual, physical and emotional support that expectant mothers crave. I strive to emulate the characteristics I envision in Heavenly Mother and become "a wise woman" in my community. If you follow my blog page on Facebook, you'll find my two favorite subjects are respecting the birthing woman and cleansing the earth from harmful bioaccumulating toxins.

If you are sensing a connection to "cleaning the earth from the blood and sins of this generation" in my efforts, you are right. I think that is what I'm trying to do. In my own small way and on behalf of women and children.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Direction to Not Pray to Heavenly Mother

Last week I blogged about, what up until that point, was the only direction I had learned by church leaders regarding whether LDS church members should worship a Mother in Heaven as equally as they do Father in Heaven. Evidently, a more firm prohibition does exist.

I've continued my study and found this from "The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven" a chapter in "Women and Authority."

In a meeting for church regional representatives n 5 April 1991, Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, responded to reports that "here and there, prayers have been offered to our Mother in Heaven." He had searched and found "nowhere in the Standard Works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven...I have looked in vain for any instance..[of] 'a prayer to our Mother in Heaven." He said he "consider[s] it inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven" and instructed regional representatives to "counsel priesthood holders to be on alert for the use of this expression and to make correction where necessary. Such correction can be handled in a discreet and inoffensive way. But it should be firm and without equivocation." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Cornerstones of Responsibility" address Regional Representative Seminar, Salt Lake City, 5 Apr. 1991, 3-4.)

Elder Orson Pratt in The Seer I from 1853 also taught we are not to worship Heavenly Mother. Although we worship the father, "For the Father of our spirits is the Head of His Household and His wives and children are required to yield the most perfect obedience to their great Head. It is lawful for the children to worship the Kind of heaven, but not the 'Queen of heaven.'...Jesus prayed to His father, and taught His disciples to do likewise; but we are nowhere taught that Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Mother."

I have to point out that both of these quotes are relying upon inference from the scriptures and do not appeal or reference an answer to prayer regarding the topic. Providing counsel and direction without prayer to know the will of God does not seem correct to me and I do not understand why a simple question as "Father in Heaven, is it correct for members of thy church to pray to thee and thy queen?" could not be asked.

It also must be mentioned that both President Hinckley and Elder Pratt are referring to scriptures that are openly acknowledged as not complete, having "many plain and precious truths taken" from them and also being in many cases translated incorrectly due to "the interpolations of men." It seems a weak argument to say that because it is missing from our scriptures that no evidence exists.

Another hypothesis is that when Christ was praying to his Father, that he knew in his heart and mind that his Mother in Heaven also heard his prayers and without openly acknowledging with his words that he was praying to both his parents, that he indeed was.

All of that is conjecture and my attempt to point out the possibilities and should not be taken as statements of belief or perceived as truth. I'm glad that I continued my study to know what has been taught regarding worship of God the Father's equal and partner without first going forward in including her in my prayers.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Does being a Mormon Feminist make me an oxymoron?

I'm getting into the world of Mormon feminism. It started with my work as a birth activist when Henci Goer, author and activist, said to me, "That's a feminist argument. Can Mormons be feminist?"

"I guess so. I don't know any but watch me be one," I replied.

Parallel to that, I was on a quest to understand Mormon women's predominant views on childbirth and why the majority of Mormon women heeded the "trust your doctor" advice. I have things to say about that, of course. But it was through Henci's question that I started looking to Mormon organizations that were working on social justice issues and Mormon Women's organizations to see if there were other LDS writers on childbirth issues. I started following the blogs at Feminist Mormon Housewives and Exponent.

I was thrown headlong into Mormon Feminism with this post from Jessawhy at Exponent. I jumped at the idea because it seemed like what I was looking for: a platform for LDS women to address issues of social injustice that they saw through out the world and a way for LDS women to work together to promote the civic policies that would be supported by the LDS Church (which were my educational and professional activities developed at BYU).

I've been working with organization since. It is in its formative stages still. Through my involvement with that organization, not only have I met a number of Mormon Feminists, I've found that there is a legacy of Mormon Feminism that started in the very beginnings of the LDS Church. Its become apparent to me that its a good idea to know this legacy and to learn more about it.

The first book I'm starting with on this topic is an anthology of articles called "Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism." From the table of contents and reviews I've read, it covers analysis of church policy in relation to Heavenly Mother as well as priesthood authority and women's roles in the church. For me, I'm seeking to understand where other women are coming from in their thoughts and desires relating to these issues and I'm finding that I am beginning to care to know the answers for myself as well.

The first thing that struck me from reading Women and Authority is the following passage:
There are different ways Mormon women and men receive access to priesthood power; through the baptismal covenant with Christ and gifts of the spirit; setting apart or ordination to various church positions; through the temple endowment and through temple marriage. Currently permission to use this priesthood is granted in full to men (through ordination to a priesthood office) and in limited form to women through setting apart to a church position. Priesthood discussions in this book focus on the temple endowment as the means of conferral of priesthood to women.

Historically in nineteenth-century Mormonism, priesthood offices have been conferred only to men; yet priesthood power and ordinances were administered by both women and men. After the turn of the century women's exercise of priesthood was discouraged and ultimately revoked, while men's priesthood was expanded. If the momentum of women's nineteenth-century priesthood had been maintained, women might have been fully included in the priesthood correlation program and perhaps would be fully able to exercise their priesthood power today.

Activation of women's priesthood power has been suggested by many Mormon feminists over the past decade. if this were to happen, women might not sense possession of something new but rather a loosening of bonds, perhaps a freedom to use something they have always had, or a spiritual liberation.

This crystalizes for me what I have been pondering as I've attended the temple recently. The language for women having an expanded role in the priesthood is there in the wording of the endowment ceremony. The historical legacy of feminist women in the early church is also there as I learned from reading biographies of the early presidents of the Relief Society.

I'm learning that some major shift happened in the church between then and now where it is no longer acceptable for women to act in the same ways that they did in the late 1800's. Additionally, this shift took place quietly and is marginalized in the history of the church. It is this combination that is upsetting to me.

I do know that given what I have learned regarding women giving blessings of healing, having greater autonomy in the Relief Society organization in the past and their role today as ordinance workers in the temple, that there is more that women can and maybe should be doing in the church today. I have sensed in the past that I as a woman in the church is held back from doing what I feel led to do and I'm realizing the background and history that is going into that.

At this point, I am honestly seeking to understand why this shutting out of women from the priesthood has occurred and to ask honestly and earnestly if the time is coming for when that will be changed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do Mormons Pray to Heavenly Mother?

It’s not a secret that Mormons believe that God the Father has a wife and she is called Mother in Heaven or Heavenly Mother. In one of the distinctive LDS hymns "O My Father," poet Eliza R Snow wrote, “In the heav’ns are parents single? No the thought makes reason stare. Truth is reason, truth eternal, tells me I’ve a mother there.”

When Larry King asked president of the church at the time about the LDS belief in Heavenly Mother, Gordon B. Hinckley responded, “Yes, but we don’t pray to her.”

It appears to me that many members of the church who feel a desire to learn more about our Mother in Heaven believe that President Hinckley’s response was also an instruction that Mormons ought not to pray to Heavenly Mother.

This is the only source I have encountered that would specifically prohibit praying to God’s equal and feminine counterpart, if indeed it is a prohibition.

The scriptures remain silent to even a mention of heavenly mother (as far as I know, maybe Isaiah or somewhere in the Old Testament makes some oblique, cloaked in allegory reference to her). The Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of recorded revelations after the establishment of the LDS church, mentions that those who remain faithful in keeping their covenants to the ordinances of the gospel can become gods. Gods in this context remains gender neutral. It logically follows since women are as capable at fulfilling the commandments that they do can become gods—or in the feminine—goddesses.

The Doctrine and Covenants in expanding on the state of those who are exalted describes that those men and women who are sealed in the new and everlasting covenant (temple marriage), “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” (D&C 132:19). Referencing Psalms 82:6 and Christ’s own words in John 10:34, Doctrine and Covenants 76:58 states,” Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God.”

The temple ceremonies of the LDS Church more clearly state that women through participating in the ceremonies and their faithfulness that they will be priestesses and goddesses with the implication that they will be equal to their husbands.

The play “Mother Wove the Morning” by Carol Lynn Pearson illustrates how, throughout human history, knowledge of the feminine divine has been removed from cultural wisdom to the point that now our belief in a female counterpart to God earns us the status of a pagan cult in the eyes of many religious denominations.

If then it is acknowledged as truth and women are in training to become goddesses, a Mother in Heaven does exist and must hear our prayers. If she hears our prayers and there is no specific prohibition to praying to Her then it appears to me that it is a personal choice, one not condemned by God, to include prayers to a Mother in Heaven if Father in Heaven to whom his people have been commanded to pray is not cast aside.

It could be argued, however, that when addressing our prayers to Heavenly Father that actually we are praying to Elohim, a Hebrew title that implies male and female diety (see my previous post on this topic: More Ponderings on Heavenly Mother

I then ask, is it appropriate to address our prayers to Elohim? What about our Parents in Heaven, Father and Mother in Heaven, or our Heavenly Parents?

And since I’m not yet comfortable to take my prayers there, I am currently feeling that the generic term “God” is least restrictive and most inclusive. This is a interesting circle of development because when I first started believing in the existence of God, I found the title too impersonal, ambiguous and felt that the divine was largely unknown and unknowable. I then preferred the humanity, intimacy and closeness that came from viewing God as my Father. And now I’ve come back around to embracing the title of God again, even if it is borne out of a discomfort that is coming from considering a change in believe that is not officially sanctioned by church doctrine.

It feels right, in my mind, to include Heavenly Mother in my prayers, though, I suspect whether I have been addressing her all these years, she has been hearing my prayers all along.

Until next time when I contemplate what Heavenly Mother might be thinking if response to her invisibility in the world today.