Guest post by Jennie Loomis, who writes letters to Heavenly Mother on her Instagram account. @letterstomygodmother. She never writes back.
Last April, I decided to start writing letters to my Heavenly Mother and post them on Instagram. I figured revelation is often in the reaching. So, I chose to reach. The root of revelation is to reveal or lay bare. I have laid myself bare to the Mother and my fellow saints in some very raw ways. Sometimes, my vulnerability hangover is so strong, it takes days before I can bring myself to check the comments. Revealing yourself is grueling work.
I begin each post with the phrase, “Dear Mother,” because I am speaking directly to Heavenly Mother. I ask her where she’s been. I ask how she feels about our doctrine and culture. I ask if it makes her sad when she thinks about all the women whose stories got left out of our scriptures. I offer up what I am learning about who she must be from my own experiences with grief and mothering and being human. She never writes back.
But my fellow saints do.
Overwhelmingly, I hear from women. These women are thoughtful, vulnerable, faithful, compassionate, funny and–with heartbreaking regularity–in real pain. They reveal themselves to me in their comments and private messages. It is humbling and inspiring. These women are beyond good. They are luminous.
In a compelling essay from Sara Hanks called “Patriarchy’s Goddess” (posted to https://eldersister.substack.com on April 7th) she said, “I’ve come to see Heavenly Mother as a symbol. She is a vessel for whatever Mormons think of women.” She described the limited way in which men are willing to imagine a Heavenly Mother and compared it with the expansive, nuanced version of a Mother many faithful women envision. She described exactly what I have been doing. “When they attribute compassion, rage, playfulness, and wisdom to their Mother in Heaven, I believe it’s because they see those qualities in themselves and recognize them as points of pride.” She is right, of course. We are like adopted children, trying to piece together our parentage by looking in the mirror. Absent any substantive information, what can we do but extrapolate who She is based on what we know of ourselves?
Three of my kids are adopted. All their adoptions are open. I have pictures and information about their parents and grandparents–way more than we have about our Mother–but it is never quite enough. We end up writing letters and asking for more. When he was thirteen, our son went with his dad on a road trip to meet his birth mom and little brother. His curly hair and flecked eyes and shy mannerisms suddenly made perfect sense. He is automatically interested in anything he hears she cares about. He always wants more.
After being dissatisfied with the information I had about her birth parents, my teenage daughter spent hours online sorting through the images and videos of her biological sisters’ Instagram and TikTok accounts. She tried to figure out where she fit–was that her nose, her hair? Did they have her same eyes, inherited from their Persian grandfather? Would she be as tall as that sister or more petite like the other one? It looks like she’s going to land somewhere in the middle. She’s started texting one sister occasionally to ask questions and build some sort of relationship. She knows she will want more information, more connection.
My littlest daughter talks about her birth mom all the time. She sleeps with a doll I made her as a baby. It’s her Mama Rachel doll. It was made to look like her birth mom so she would always have her close by. (It seems comforting to have a totem for her mother. I wish I had one for my Mother.) I grew up with her mom, so I have more to offer her than I do the other kids. I can tell her stories about the times we sang in church together or the funny things she and my sister used to do. She gets to talk to her mom on the phone regularly. We have a visit planned this summer. I know when we’re back, she will want even more.
It won’t be enough because you can never have too much understanding about who you are and where you came from. It isn’t just the root-planting, life-giving sense of belonging we are after. We need to know where we are headed. My family tree is not a mystery because I grew up with them. I have red hair just like my Grandma Pearl. I knew it would turn white, not gray as I got older. There’s an easy sort of comfort in knowing that.
I don’t know who my Heavenly Mother is or in what ways I will grow like She has. Our doctrine is profoundly quiet on this subject. So, I extrapolate. My mind is filled with if/then statements. Some of it is doctrinal logic. If humans are supposed to be equally yoked in marriage, then it makes sense gods would be. If the Father is all-knowing, then so is the Mother. If the Father sent His Son to die for us, then the Mother did as well. If I can tell patriarchy is corrosive and absurd, then surely the Mother would not tolerate it in a perfected sphere. Some of it is purely personal. If I’m Her child, then I must be a little bit like Her. Conversely, She must be at least a little bit like me. If I’m passionate and curious, then how could She not be? Then it goes beyond myself. If the women I hear from are Her daughters, then understanding them tells me even more about Her. If there is tremendous variety in Her creations, then it is clear She delights in diversity. Can there be a more meaningful way to know a creator than by studying their creations?
In Sara Hanks’ essay, she described how her feelings ping-pong back and forth between wishing the women would just walk away from the church she feels is holding them back and admiring the creativity, courage and tenacity with which they approach this patriarchal theology. She said, “It’s really not about Heavenly mother for me. I don’t believe in Heavenly Mother; I believe in Mormon women.” I get it. I truly do. There are times that all this reaching up to Heavenly Mother feels pointless. Like I said, She never writes back.
But the women do.
It may be that the nearest I’ll ever get to knowing the Mother will be through Her children. The thought that I am one of them fills me with gratitude and hope. I have met them and they are miraculous. They are revelations in their own right. For the moment, that is enough. But I know I will keep on wanting more. That is what I mean when I say the revelation is in the reaching. The fact that I feel this pull to lay myself bare–that I feel homesick for a heaven I can’t remember–is evidence enough for me to hope I have a Mother there.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.