Thursday, June 5, 2008

Women in God's Image

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

What does this scripture reveal about the gender of Deity? Interpretations have been wildly variant. Some feminist exegesis goes as far as to suggest that this scripture shows that God is neither feminine nor masculine and possesses no physical body. For Mormons, it is just the opposite. If we are created in the image of God, Latter-day Saint theology teaches, "God" must have a physical body and manifest as both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Paradoxically, scripture focuses exclusively upon the masculine aspect of God, and even the more nurturing qualities mentioned in Holy writ are attributed to God the Father.

The contemporary women's spirituality movement which traces its beginnings to the 1970's has given women the impetus to search for the feminine aspect of the Creative Force. Once again, Mormon women were ahead of their time, with their poems, hymns, and yearnings to understand the Heavenly Mother beginning in the nineteenth century with Eliza R. Snow. But now that modern woman has accepted the possibility that there is a Feminine being in whose image they are created, Latter-day Saints have been curtailed in their approach to the female component of the Godhead. We have been cautioned that it is inappropriate to pray to a Mother in Heaven:

“Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven...Search as I have, I find nowhere in the standard works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven or where He instructed the people to pray other than to His Father in Heaven. I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, has offered a prayer to ‘our Mother in Heaven.’ I suppose those...who use this expression and who try to further its use are well-meaning, but they are misguided. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 97.)

Because of this admonition, some Latter-day Saints are hesitant to search for more information about the Divine Feminine. They may feel it is a useless endeavor since we have no revealed knowledge of Her. But this attitude flies in the face of everything we know about God. Since the beginning, when man and woman were cast out of the symbolic Garden of Eden, they have been on a quest to return to the presence of God. Religious teachings in our scriptures and in the Temple urge us to search for Deity and strive for union. Revelation comes through striving and asking. Mankind has developed whatever knowledge we have of God through this search. Whenever prophets or spiritually attuned men and women have gained revelation, they have attempted to share this with their compatriots. Rudger Clawson opined: "It doesn't take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mother in our affection." (Rudger Clawson, "Our Mother in Heaven", Latter-day Saints Millenial Star 72 [29 Sept 1910]: 619-20).

Voltaire remarked, "Dieu a cree l'homme a son image, et l'homme le lui a joliement rendu. (God made man in his own image, and man has returned the compliment.)" In many of our human cultures, the search for God has been the province of males. This has returned to us a remarkably well-developed picture of the masculine manifestation of Deity. But what is the effect upon women of the habitual exclusion of the Divine Feminine? Amber Satterwhite has asked:
"Our image of Her dictates the role of women in mortality. If that role is subservient and devoid of respect and power, then that is the attitude we will have toward mortal women as well. If Heavenly Mother is silent, unapproachable, and beyond mystery in heaven, is it any wonder that Her earthly daughters also feel ignored, silenced, and misunderstood, too?" (Amber Satterwhite, "God the Mother in Mormonism")

I think the deliberate distance patriarchal religion has maintained with the female aspect of God has made many women of previous generations hesitant to fully participate in the discovery and revelation process. A marvelous new generation of women has now come of age in the Mormon world. These women have grown up in a society where females are powerful, valued and contributing members of the family and the community. Men of this younger generation have negotiated relationships with powerful women. They work with these women, they are married to them, they may even be their sons. Members of the Church increasingly find it difficult to imagine a Heavenly Mother who is uninvolved and subservient. They are ready for a more fully developed revelation of the Divine Feminine.

What difference could it make in women's spirituality to be able to image God as the one to whom they are alike? What difference could occur in men's lives to perceive God as a nurturing Mother figure? What types of new understandings would flow from these images of God?


Ayla said...

Thank you so much for writing about this very important topic! I also love the images :) I personally have a very strong testimony of our Mother in Heaven and that is what ultimately led me to the church.

As Latter-day Saints we have the distinction of being the largest, most organized, and fastest growing religion in the world with a concept of a Mother in Heaven.

Currently Heavenly Mother is a small seed found dotted here and there throughout Mormon theology but with some sunlight and water she can grow into a magnificent nurturing face of God that will propell humanity into the next era of justice, equality and peace.

djinn said...

There's that other creation story--the one where woman was made from Adam's rib....

I'm not sure if this is appropriate to mention here, but what the hey---Elohim (a plural word, I'm assure you're aware) are earlier Cannanaite Gods, El the dad and Ashkaroth the mom. They had kids, too! Earlier myths had El married to three sisters.

Tim said...

You probably know that in Islam God is a "personage" but neither defined as Male or Female. Allah is all.
What I do find interesting is that in Church book stores there are paintings showing a Father with lots of children--and then a Mother with lots of children. This is something that we all hope to attain in the eternities.
I know that if Laurie is my Goddess--and she is--that doesn't mean I get to make all the decisions--here or in the eternities.
I doubt that a Heavenly Mother just lies about with no input. She must have some input. But so much about women in the scriptures has been left out or changed.
I watched the History channel last yer about the Bible. Fascinating. It talked about how the "official" books were chosen--some things that may have been taken out--especially dealing with women that had authroity--and even the "missing" Gospels--some that were written by women. It makes you wonder--ponder--and search.

Unknown said...

I don't know why I didn't find this entry before now, but I'm grateful that I did. The church has made it clear over the years that revelation is a response to a question. Statements about Mother in Heaven (such as the one from President Hinckley) suggest that church leaders have not asked questions about Heavenly Mother for the purpose of receiving revelation about Her. I can see several possible reasons for that (e.g. lack of interest in those who see the gospel as pragmatic).

AND I am convinced that the way to approach the discovery process is both individually and in community with others who are hungry for Her. Without advocating that the LDS Church should do something different from what it's doing now (such advocacy appears to be what the institutional church finds most offensive), women and men can seek for further light and knowledge regarding Heavenly Mother. And then we can share it with each other, if we choose.

It seems clear to me that this is how all church doctrines find expression--through our individual prayerful and meditative practices.

Glad you're back in the States. Can't wait to see you at Sunstone!

Anonymous said...

First of all, please let me state that I am an active LDS in good standing with the Church, and I love the gospel with all my heart. Having said that, I would like to comment on a June 20, 2008 6:16 PM comment which stated "The Church has made it clear over the years that revelation is in a response to a question." Brilliant! Even though we knew that, it takes on new meaning as far as the coming forth of knowledge of Heavenly Mother.
I believe as the children call out for their HM, the Prophet will get wind of it sooner or later (I feel it will be sooner)and will ask the right questions.
Think of it, if the Church (as the Bride or God's wife)is a symbol of the Mother, and the Church was to come out of obscurity in the lastdays, which of course it has, then it must be time for the Mother to come out as well.
Just one more thought. We must remember that with God there is no time, so how we view HM must be through those same eyes.
Just some food for thought...

LJn said...

Me: Exactly! GBH said, "I regard it as inappropriate," not, "God regards it as inappropriate." Also, he said he searched in the scriptures. Why didn't he ask God? Even plead with Him for the true answer? Why did he relegate himself to merely searching the scriptures for something not there?

Also, Joseph Smith Jr said that he had much he could reveal, but the people would "fly to pieces like glass" if he said anything that went against their preconceived ideas. I am sure this would be one of those things.