I’ve lately been reaching for God’s wife. I’m not a feminist or a Wiccan or a Mormon woman interested in being ordained. I am a believer that Godhood is parenthood, that the God I see in scripture is my Father, and that just as any child expects to grow up to be like her parents, I have the capacity to grow to be like Him. I’ve just wondered what the female version of a god looks like and I’ve wanted to hear Her voice.
My faith makes clear that gender “is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” I believe that. I want to embrace my eternal identity and purpose in the way that all children do: by looking to their parents as guides. I’ve seemed to be missing a parent, raised by a single dad, with all the feminine sense of loss that comes with that.
Many traits of godhood were laid out with great clarity in the life of Their Son, Jesus Christ. Charity, understanding, courage, scholarship, humility, leadership, teaching … all of these characteristics and more are the common heritage of children of God and are available for development by both genders. To point to Jesus Christ as our model is a good thing to do and a primary reason he condescended to come to earth, because we will have a lifetime to become like Him and still have more to do. But this tells us nothing about what differentiates our Heavenly Parents from one another, and the apparent single parenthood of God aside, I still think she’s there somewhere.
Unfortunately, our records have been almost completely wiped clean of references to her. People have devised a great many explanations for that, including the completely nonsensical “God respected Her so much that He hid Her from our view so that Her honor would not be impugned.” I don’t believe that our Father keeps a harem, but the fact still remains that we’ve heard little from or about Her. What the heck does She do? It’s an important question, because if I accept this pathway to “Them” that I’m on, what the heck am I going to be doing if I make it?
There certainly aren’t any answers floating around in the secular world. Naturally, I don’t buy the Eve ethic that has prevailed on this testosterone-ravaged terra: weak, foolish, easily manipulated, manipulative, in need of silencing and corralling. That it has prevailed is clear, but why is another question altogether. In a delightful essay, Hugh Nibley states his view that ever since she foiled him in the garden (trying to break the couple up), Satan has had it in for women. Historical evidence certainly indicates that if Satan has power over the natural man, subjugating women has been the natural man’s first heritage.
Much of the rationale for the world’s abuse can be traced back to this cultural understanding of Eve. Over time we’ve adopted wildly divergent views of Eve, ranging all the way from laying the entire gamut of civilization’s woes at her feet to elevating her to super-Adam status because “without her we’d all still be twiddling our thumbs in heaven while they tinkered alone in a peaceful garden.” The views in the middle, that there is something inherently inferior in being woman, are the most pervasive and caustic.
Beverly Campbell, while Director of International Affairs for the LDS Church in 1993, delivered an address that lithely refutes these cultural assumptions. Eve was intelligent, courageous, perceptive, and in every way Adam’s equal and ideal counterpart. The Fall, as has long been taught by my faith, was an essential element of God’s plan for all of us. That Eve was deceived had to do with Lucifer’s impersonation of an angel of light, and it was temporary, because she was the one who fingered him after she could see clearly. All this is lovely, and settles any concerns about Eve “deserving” the treatment the rest of us have endured, but it still does nothing to clarify where our Heavenly Mother was through all this.
Daniel Peterson traces her likely disappearance in a fascinating, though not introductory, evaluation of the cultural changes through millennia that likely consolidated El, Asherah, and Yahweh to a single figure: Lord God, or as is printed in the KJV, LORD. Centuries of evolution in religion had blurred their individual characteristics and then their substantive identities and from this had sprung up problematic dieties, as in Asherah worship, that Deuteronomist reformers had the responsibility to stamp out. Unfortunately, with the purge may have possibly gone our last touch with the historical record that the gods were known as individuals by antediluvian, Israelite, and Davidic peoples. The voice that emerged, according to some thinkers, is actually a conflation of all their voices; thus this LORD is then both Mother and Father, and we have been hearing Her voice in Their voice thinking it was just His voice. That makes sense in a family context. Other writers focus on the linguistic evolution.
Most interesting in Peterson’s analysis is the idea of a tree representing Heavenly Mother. Who, before a child leaves home, has the most influence in teaching and preparing that child for life? Certainly, even in a world that has enslaved, abused, and demeaned women, those women have never stopped nurturing children or serving as the primary caregivers prior to embarking on adult life in this lone and dreary world. Why would it have been otherwise in Eden’s garden? The idea that the trees, both of life and knowledge, referred to our Mother in a story that is deeply and richly symbolic, resonates with me, and obviously to Nephi as well, as he understood this visionary reference that had always puzzled me until I read Peterson’s take on why above.
All throughout Semitic culture, the female has represented life, wisdom, and healing, even if masked by generations of diminution. I have to believe that these representations are vestiges of the garden’s trees and a Mother who reaches through time, reminding us what She taught us before we came here, eagerly awaiting our return. That she is vitally busy keeping the home fires burning and the home front together, while male gods are busy with missionary work and church business (that part that we mortals see), fits entirely with my vision of an efficient eternal sphere. I’ve seen the value of the home front first hand and I can get behind that kind of eternal work.
I’m now recognizing and remembering her voice within as I have taken time to be with my children and the children of others, to teach them what I think will be of greatest worth to them, to armor (not arm) them for a careless world, and to comfort them when they are bruised or torn, to love them with an adoration we all crave. It is indescribably powerful and I did not need to be ordained to do that. As I have moved my hands across the body of someone hurting in the massage therapy that I sometimes do, I have often been told that I have healing hands. It is a different kind of blessing I can give, profoundly healing, and I did not need to be ordained to do that. As I move through my existence, I am blessed with eyes to see and the ability to pronounce truth and I did not need to be ordained to do that. This heritage from our Heavenly Mother is a source of profound direction, authority, and power. There is no subjugation of women in a faith that believes this.
This is my work, and my glory, as it is Hers.
Julie Beck, a profoundly interesting person who also leads the LDS organization of over 6 million women, had this to say:
“The world teaches us that we can have the dream now. They express the dream as what Adam and Eve had in the garden—you don’t have to work for anything and everything is peaceful and happy. That’s really where the adversary still is. But we chose to have a mortal experience to prepare for the real dream, and that dream is eternal life. Eve was willing to go through a long, hard mortal experience in order to work toward the promise of the dream—I don’t think most women realize that. They’re trying to make it be the dream now. We don’t get that here. What we get here is the experience.”
To work toward the promise of the dream. My work is to give life (whether by my body or not), to nurture (whether my own children or not), to protect wisdom, to heal. The scope of my work is everything I can touch and that is sufficient. No woman is deprived of that election, nor is she free to revoke it without explaining to the Woman, the Mother, in the garden. This is the heritage of a goddess, noblesse oblige.
Spencer W. Kimball has often been quoted as saying:
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from women of the world.
I accept the challenge. Mother, I’m coming home, as soon as I get this done. I can’t wait to see you.