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.


Th. said...


It was a great article, I agree. Check out Cheryl Bruno's letter in a later issue though that temper some of KB's conclusions.

TopHat said...

I read that article earlier this year. It's actually why I talked to that tree in my labor.

I remember a time in my life when I regularly talked to trees- and it was the same time when I prayed to Heavenly Mother. I was around 8 or 9. When I learned we weren't "supposed" to pray to her, I would pray to Heavenly Father and add "Tell Heavenly Mother Hi for me." Eventually that all ended until I read that article. I started talking to trees again. :)

Gosh that makes me sound like a looney, but I enjoy it.

Jenne said...

Th., I've read Cheryl Bruno's response and also Kevin Barney's rebuttal. It was all very interesting and I find that Barney's analysis is more compelling and rational. I wasn't convinced by Cheryl's main points and found that she missed the meaning in certain instances.

TopHat, I've had an inclination for a very long time to hug trees and sometimes I've given into it. Talking to plants, etc. not so loony to me. I do love to run barefoot in the rain and spin with flowers in my hair.

Another afinitity to trees that I have is a intent seeking for "the" representation of a tree of life that speaks to me. I'm looking for a wall painting, or metal work, or jewelry that captures the typological tree. The one displayed on the recent Ensign has struck me in some deep way as close to what I'm looking for. My love for the tree of life is in part to Lehi's vision, but also family history. I came very close to buying a T-shirt with a silhouette of a tree with the caption Jenneology on it. Evidently trees are kind of my thing.

Kajabada said...

Hi Jenne - I just found your blog through the Exponent link. Were you at the 2009 CIMS conference in San Diego, the session on Solace for Mothers? (I think I recognize your eye picture from the GAC website.) If so, I was there - and it's so cool that you are LDS! I'm a birth doula/birth activist with a great interest in the spiritual implications of fertility and birth. I also LOVED the Tree of Life on the cover of the Ensign this month!


Kristine said...

Hi, Jenne--so glad to hear you decided to subscribe to Dialogue. I'd love to hear what you think about other articles, too!

Jenne said...

Katherine, yes! I was there! Its great to make a connection with another LDS birthie and CIMS member to boot. What are the odds of that? I want to get to know you better. Tell me more about your birth work, your ponderings on birth and spirituality. Do you have a blog?

Kristine, I'm taking recommendations, where should I start or go next? What are some influentials articles from Dialogue that you would suggest?

Kevin Barney said...

Jenne, I just now stumbled upon this blog. Thank you so much for your notes and thoughts on my Mother in Heaven article.

Jenne said...

Kevin, I hope I did not take anything out of context or distort your meaning in any way. Thank you for all the work that went into your article, especially the resources for further study of Asherah.

What sort of response have you gotten from that article? Have you had any feedback from leaders of the church on it?

Michemily said...

Wow, I feel like my eyes have been opened to so many new ideas that I've always wanted. Thank you for writing this post. I've always loved the name "Asher" anyway, so I think that's definitely got to incorporate its way into future plans . . .

Jenni said...

So, I didn't see this when you wrote it...thank you for the link back!
Then again, maybe I did SEE the post and didn't READ it. I was not in a place of thinking so much about Mother six months ago. :)
In any case, thank you. I really like some of these ideas. Recently I've been finding more connections (and ways of connecting) with Mother Goddess (and the goddess mother within myself), and reading this now is just very timely for me. :)

Jenni said...

It's been, what, three weeks since I read this post? And, suddenly, I find Asherah everywhere I look. I mean EVERYWHERE. Granted, I have searched for Her a couple of times, but She has also turned up when I was browsing something else and just found her.
For example, today I found this
And then that link used the image of a painting called "Goddess of the Tides" and while the artist doesn't specifically name her Asherah in the painting, it does seem to fit that it would be Her. and the thing is, I had found that painting years ago, and loved it, and it was the background on my computer for a loong time.
Who knew, maybe She was reaching to me even then.