Once upon a time, I had the rich opportunity to research Heavenly Mother full-time. For BYU. I had just finished my BA in philosophy, when one of my professors invited me to work for him that Spring and Summer before I headed East for grad school. He had received a grant from the Women’s Research Institute. My answer was a resounding, “Yes.” I remain sincerely glad that it was, despite the fact that the thing that I remember most from that period was that I was exhausted–spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. This may be because the thing that I remember second most, is that I was also full–spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It was beautiful to read and read about our Eternal Mother, as it was beautiful to learn that there were things to read and read. Much of my research contributed to the 2011 BYU Studies article, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.“
Just the other day, I was given another rich opportunity: to talk about the things I learned during that time with my Relief Society sisters. It felt sacred (as did the conversation that followed). The first things I shared were the things I remember feeling very new to me then. The second things I shared were a few of my very favorite themes, threading throughout many of the writings and discourses. I share both with you now.
New to me in 2008:
- The hymn, “O My Father,” was initially titled, “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother,” suggesting that Eliza herself viewed her words as a prayer to both Heavenly Parents. ((Jill Mulvay Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies, vol. 36, 1996-97.))
- Eliza’s poem was not the first recorded expression of LDS belief in an Eternal Mother. W.W. Phelps published a hymn ten months before that he had written for the dedication of a Seventies Hall. It was titled, “A Voice From the Prophet: Come to Me.” The relevant lyric says, “Come to me; here’s the myst’ry that man hath not seen; Here’s our Father in heaven, and Mother; the Queen, Here are worlds that have been, and the worlds yet to be, Here’s eternity,–endless; amen; Come to me.” ((The History of the Church, vol. 7, Chapter XXVI; Times and Seasons, February 4, 1845.))
- This suggests that the doctrine did not stem with Eliza, but was common knowledge at that time. Eliza explained, “I got my inspiration from the Prophet’s teaching. All that I was required to do was use my Poetical gift and give that Eternal principal in Poetry.” ((Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Janath Russell Cannon, Jill Mulvay Derr’s Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society.)) There is additional evidence that Joseph Smith taught it. When Zina D. Huntington Young’s mother passed away, she asked Joseph, “Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over on the Other Side?” He responded, “Certainly you will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.” ((Suza Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies MIA, 16.)) Abraham H. Cannon recorded in his journal that Joseph Smith invited Sidney Rigdon and Zebedee Coltrin to “accompany him into the woods to pray,” where they experienced a succession of four visions–two of which included Heavenly Mother. ((Abraham H. Cannon Journal, Aug. 25, 1880, LDS Archives, cited in Linda Wilcox’s The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven, 10.))
- The earliest recorded expression intimating that Heavenly Mother is too sacred to talk about was written by a 20th Century seminary teacher, named Melvin R. Brooks: “Considering the way man has profaned the name of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, is it any wonder that the name of our Mother in Heaven has been withheld, not to mention the fact that the mention of Her is practically nil in scripture?” ((Melvin R. Brooks, LDS Reference Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, 309-310.)) It has not been repeated by any Church President, Apostle, or other General Authority. (Before sharing this truth, I first asked the sisters to raise their hands if they had ever been taught this well meaning, but incorrect conjecture. Every single woman had.)
- President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “How uplifting, comforting, is this thought, that the Father of Jesus Christ is in very deed our Father—that we are in very deed his offspring, and this is the doctrine of the Bible…And A Mother in Heaven! Latter-day Saints believe that not only have we a Father in heaven, but a mother there. Why not have a mother as well as a Father? Is there any blasphemy in this teaching?” ((“The Eternity of the Family,” Ch. 26, Address delivered Sunday, December 3, 1944.))
- It was extremely common for early leaders to testify of Heavenly Mother. In fact, they would do so as simply and easily as we might stand on Fast Sunday and say, “I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love me.” Whatever they were talking about, they included Her. Talking about the pre-mortal existence? Include Her! Talking about adversity? Include Her! For instance, on one occasion, Apostle, Orson F. Whitney, said, “We are taught that men and women, the sons and daughters of God, who were spirits in his presence, were sent here to take mortal tabernacles and undergo experiences that would in due time exalt them to the plane occupied by their Father and Mother in heaven.” ((“The Apocalypse.” In Collected Discourses 1886-1898, vol. 5, edited by Brian H. Stuy. Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing.)) On another, “All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.” ((Cited in Howard W. Hunter’s, “The Opening and Closing of Doors,” Ensign, Nov 1987, 54))
- Almost every Church President has spoken specifically of Heavenly Mother, but none did so more often than Spencer W. Kimball.
- Apostle Neal A. Maxwell referred to truths concerning our Heavenly Mother as one of the “truths that [is] most relevant and most needed in the times in which [we] live.” ((“Things as They Really Are,” Chapter 4 Living Prophets))
- Most General Authorities today verbally pair Heavenly Father and Mother together with the phrase, “Heavenly Parents.” This may be because it mirrors the well known language of the Family Proclamation, but it also might be to emphasize the closeness and unity of the Father and Mother. An earlier Apostle, Erastus Snow, said, “If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself, and anything pertaining to the creation and organization of man upon the earth, I must believe that deity consists of man and woman…there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way.” ((Journal of Discourses 19:269-270, March 3, 1878, cited in Linda Wilcox’s The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven, 11))
A few of my favorite themes:
- Women are created in the image of Heavenly Mother.
- President Spencer W. Kimball instructed a group of women, “You are daughters of God. … You are made in the image of our heavenly mother.” ((Conference Report, Mexico City and Central America Area Conference 1973, 108)) At another time he said, “God made man in his own image and certainly he made woman in the image of his wife-partner…. You [women] are daughters of God. You are precious. You are made in the image of our heavenly Mother.” ((The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, 24-25))
- From President Harold B. Lee, “Could there have been a Father in Heaven without a Mother? With a similar question in her mind the poetess penned [the] verse of a well-known hymn…While still keeping that question in mind, think of the significant statement contained in the scriptures describing the creation of man. ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’ ((Genesis 1:26-27.)) If you consider carefully those in whose image and likeness male and female were created, I wonder if you will not also discover the organizers of intelligences in the world of spirits.” ((“Plan of Salvation,” ch. 2, Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 45-14; 124-25)) This is meaningful to me, because I want to know that Heavenly Mother had a role.
- Heavenly Mother is like the Father in perfection, glory, and attributes.
- Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught, “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children. For as we have a Father in heaven, so also we have a Mother there, a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.” ((Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Mission Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1949, 205))
- Heavenly Mother’s influence on us here.
- In a 1978 General Conference address, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke, “It was Goethe who said, ‘The Eternal Feminine draws us on.’ Finally, when we sing that doctrinal hymn and anthem of affection, ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return there?” ((“The True Way of Life and Salvation,” Ensign, May 1978, 4))
- President Harold B. Lee once said, “There are forces that work beyond our sight. Sometimes we think the whole job is up to us, forgetful that there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.” ((A Sure Trumpet Sound: Quotations from President Lee,” Ensign, Feb 1974, 77))
(The third thing I shared was the sadness I felt for a long time afterward, because I knew that we could talk about our Heavenly Mother, but did not hear that speech when I went to church on Sunday. After one particular Relief Society lesson, I understood 1) how desperately I needed to hear someone talk about Heavenly Mother, and 2) that I was someone, and that I could talk about Her. I did, out loud, in front of my entire ward during the very next Fast and Testimony meeting. It took all of the courage I could muster, and even when I walked away from the podium and found my seat, my body shook. Thankfully, when the meeting ended an individual I hadn’t met yet gave me a tight hug and thanked me for my “non-traditional testimony.” I didn’t know it then, but he would soon become one of my truest friends. Something else I didn’t know then, is that reclaiming my voice and reclaiming my Mother would change everything for me. Above all, it would make me feel calmer in the Church that I (still) love, and would make it easier for me to continue claiming my voice years into the future.)
What have you learned about Heavenly Mother?
What would you like to learn about Heavenly Mother?
Have you had any experiences sharing your feelings on Heavenly Mother in public?
*And please, oh please, remember the Heavenly Mother Art and Poetry Contest.