The Mystical Body of God the Mother

http://sunstonemagazine.com/

By Edward Jones III

Art by Galen Dara

The apostle Paul taught that Christ has not only a physical body but also a metaphorical body: the church.1 This metaphorical body has been called Christ’s “mystical body” because the church is more than the sum of its parts, which is a mystery.2 Paul emphasized three important aspects of Christ’s mystical body: that it consists of church members, with Christ as the head; that we enter the body by being baptized into it; and that members of Christ’s body are nourished by the sacrament of his body and blood.3 There is therefore an interpenetration of bodies: our bodies enter into Christ’s body through baptism and his body enters into our bodies through the sacrament.

If Christ—who the Book of Mormon identifies as the Eternal Father4—has a mystical body, the Eternal Mother may also have such a body. In this article, I ask four questions: What does her mystical body consist of? How can we enter into her body? How are we nourished by her body? And what are the qualities of her body?

 

KNOWING THE MOTHER 5

Secondary sources suggest that Joseph Smith taught of a Heavenly Mother.6 Most Mormons today believe in her existence based on the logic of Joseph Smith’s revelations, a moving poem written by Eliza Snow, and subsequent teachings of Mormon leaders.7

Despite a belief in the existence of Heavenly Mother, most Mormons would say we have no other knowledge of her. President Hinckley referred to Heavenly Mother as she “of whom we have no revealed knowledge.”8 Even in the 2012 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium session “Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law,” some participants who were progressive enough to read letters to her in a public session expressed feelings of abandonment by Heavenly Mother. The assumption is that because the Mother has not revealed herself to us in ways we are accustomed to (i.e., through revelation handed down by the Mormon hierarchy) she has not revealed herself to us at all.

I propose that the Mother has revealed herself and continues to reveal herself, but not in the same way the Father does. Why would our Heavenly Parents approach us in different ways? One answer may be that—like our human parents—our Heavenly Parents are different people, with different personalities, and they stand in relation to us differently.9 The Divine Mother may come to us in ways more personal than institutional in order to correct our over-reliance on hierarchy. By approaching us in the most intimate possible way, she is showing us that our most important relationship is not with an institution, but with our Heavenly Parents.10

The first place I propose we look for our Heavenly Mother is in our own hearts. Pause for a moment to consider the importance of your heart, the inner garden of your soul, the place where you give and receive love. Has Heavenly Mother appeared in that place? Would she be welcome there if she were to come?11 Neal Maxwell once said that Heavenly Mother is preparing to welcome us to our heavenly home.12 I believe we should likewise welcome her into our hearts. Joseph Smith is our example here. Like him, we can bypass religious structures and ask God directly.13 I encourage you to ask God how you can develop a relationship with our Eternal Mother.

Heavenly Mother reveals herself not only in our hearts, but in the history of our lives. In her book, Our Lives as Torah, Carol Ochs suggests that in the same way we find meaning in the disorganized lives of the Hebrew patriarchs, we can find meaning in the twists and turns of our own histories.14 Not only can we liken the scriptures to ourselves, but we can liken our lives to the scriptures.15 I have elsewhere related how, during the darkest part of my life, when I could find no way out my addiction to methamphetamine, I cried to Heavenly Mother and she saved me.16 Where in your life have you felt the love and guidance of a Heavenly Mother?

Another place we can look for her is in the scriptures. Although the Mother does not directly announce herself in the scriptures, she permeates them. Thinkers and scholars far more accomplished than myself have taken up projects of finding her there. For example, Daniel C. Peterson17 and Kevin Barney18 have focused on the goddess Asherah, consort of El, and have located her in various parts of the Hebrew scriptures and the Book of Mormon. Janice Allred has examined the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and concluded that God the Mother set aside her glorified body to minister to us in the form of the Holy Ghost.19

I personally find our Mother manifested most prominently in the life and ministry of Jesus, who was the perfect representative not only of his Father but also of his Mother.20 In his book The Kingdom Within, John Sanford maintains that Jesus developed the feminine and masculine aspects of his personality equally. As evidence of Jesus’ feminine aspect, Sanford points to his “compassion, the valuing and nourishing of life . . . capacity for extraordinarily deep personal relationships and, most supremely, . . . his final great act of caring on the Cross.”21

The medieval mystic Julian of Norwich records that just as a human mother suckles her child, “our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself, and with the most tender courtesy does it by means of the Blessed Sacrament, the precious food of all true life.”22 I locate the Mother in Jesus’ statement that he is like a mother hen gathering her chicks,23 as well as in the parable of the woman who sweeps her whole house to find a lost coin.24 I believe the dove that descended during Christ’s baptism was his Mother, meaning that the Mother, Father, and Son were all present at this crucial moment.

Beyond the scriptures, I have caught glimpses of the Queen of Heaven in many literary, artistic, and mythological sources. From the Homeric Hymn to Demeter25 to Michelangelo’s Pietà, from the poems of Sappho and Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa to the novels of Jane Austen and the film work of Catherine Deneuve, the Great Mother appears in every time and place to minister to her children.

However much God the Mother has revealed herself in our hearts and lives, there has been an undeniable dearth of official discourse about her in the Mormon Church.26 Mormon feminists have identified this discursive gap and have rightly explored the pain it creates, going so far as to call Mormonism a “motherless house.” 27

Literary theorists are particularly interested in gaps because they can reveal as much as the spoken or written discourse itself.28 Like the wounds in the body of Christ, gaps signify absence or loss, but they also open up redemptive possibilities.29 In her doctoral thesis, “Making Love with God,” Margaret Toscano writes, “Wounds are a break in perfection that allows for expansion. Wounds are spaces or gaps that provide room and openings for new developments. Through his wounds Jesus gives birth and rebirth to others.”30 The feminist process theologian Catherine Keller writes in her book Face of the Deep that “fissures invite interpretation . . . God, it seems, has left interpretive gaps in the universe itself, and therefore also in the Torah. The world and the text await interpretation.”31

I believe Heavenly Mother has deliberately maintained the discursive gap around herself so that we will approach her directly, unmediated by other human beings.32 I join Jana Reiss33 and Robert Rees34 in calling for a feminist Mormon midrash: commentaries on the scriptures that fill in discursive gaps with our own narratives. The next section of this article attempts just such a midrashic narrative.

 

THE PHYSICAL BODY OF GOD THE MOTHER

Having suggested several ways the Great Mother has revealed and may reveal herself to us, I now turn to the question of her physical body. Christ’s physical body is the pattern for his mystical body. We can therefore look to Heavenly Mother’s physical body to learn about her mystical body.

To begin with, we can be relatively certain that she indeed has a physical body. Joseph Smith taught that God “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as [a human’s].”35 Therefore, God the Mother, as a glorified, resurrected being, and the eternal companion of God the Father, must also have a physical body.36

In his King Follett sermon, Joseph Smith taught that a correct understanding of God requires us to go “back to the beginning of creation; there is the starting point.”37 Since Joseph Smith’s time, we have learned that the starting point of our universe was the Big Bang, a beginning characterized by an instantaneous explosion of activity and a rapid outward expansion. This moment of creation, of beginning, reminds me of nothing so much as conception.

If the Big Bang is a moment of conception, then all of creation is the fertilized ovum of our Heavenly Parents. And our whole universe, unimaginably large as it is, exists inside the body of God the Mother—inside her womb. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”38 “[She is] not far from every one of us: For in [her] we live, and move, and have our being; . . . For we are also [her] offspring.”39

If it is true that the whole universe is contained in the womb of God the Mother, we are all literally part of the same body. We are interconnected in the most intimate way. And salvation, in the form of a new postpartum life, will occur for all of us or none of us.

This may also explain why our Heavenly Parents communicate with us differently. Because the Father is outside the body of the Mother, he appears only at certain crucial times in human history to particular individuals whom he arranges in a hierarchy to carry out his purposes in his absence. The Mother requires no human intermediary because we are inside her body: she is our ground of being, and is with us continually.

 

THE MYSTICAL BODY OF GOD THE MOTHER

Christ’s mystical body consists of members of the church. This means that his body has a boundary, marking a distinction between members and non-members. This makes excommunication possible: the forcible change in category for a person from inside to outside the body of Christ. 40

I propose that Heavenly Mother’s mystical body has no such boundary.41 Just as her physical body contains all creation, so her mystical body is comprised of all beings. She includes all of her children, without exception. “[She] maketh [her] sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”42

How are we nourished by her body? The mystical body of Christ provides nourishment in the form of his body and blood: the sacrament. But in keeping with the boundaried nature of Christ’s body, his sacrament is generally available only in particular circumstances: only to church members, only on Sundays, only in church buildings, only using bread and water, and only after being blessed with particular words. By contrast, the Mother’s sacrament is universal. Since the earth is part of her physical body, the food and drink we consume every day are her body and blood. All beings eat and drink from the earth, so we are all nourished by the sacrament of her body.43

I previously mentioned an interpenetration of bodies with Christ: we enter into his body through baptism and he enters into our bodies through the sacrament. There is also a profound interpenetration with the Holy Mother’s body. Our bodies exist inside her body, and we take her body into our bodies whenever we eat or drink.

Paul taught that we enter into Christ’s mystical body through baptism. So how can we enter into the Mother’s mystical body? At first this would seem to be a redundant question, as I have just proposed that we are already inside her body. But I would like to suggest one way we do enter into her body: through our own death. Our physical bodies are made out of the earth, her body.44 And when we die, our bodies return to the earth, entering back into her body. I believe that death is nothing more than falling into the embrace of she who gave us life, the One Who Never Left Us.45 As Walt Whitman wrote, “To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”46

Just as the Great Mother’s physical body receives all bodies in death, so her mystical body receives every being without exception.47 As Walt Whitman writes of the open road,

Here is the profound lesson of reception, neither preference or denial; . . .

the felon, the diseas’d, the illiterate person, are not denied;

The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar’s tramp, the drunkard’s stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,

The escaped youth, the rich person’s carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,

The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the town, the return back from the town,

They pass—I also pass—anything passes—none can be interdicted;

None but are accepted—none but are dear to me.48

God our Mother is not the hortus conclusus—the enclosed garden as Mary was portrayed in medieval writing49 —but the hortus apertus, the garden open to all.

 

HER FERTILE BODY

The body of the Great Mother is a fertile body, a body of abundance. Her physical body has brought forth vast forests full of every kind of plant and animal life,50 and oceans teeming with fish and that Leviathan which she made to frolic there.51 This sense of explosive growth—so similar to the moment of our universe’s creation or conception—is captured in two of Jesus’ memorable images: the mustard seed that grows into “a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” and yeast “which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”52

Just as her physical body draws life from the materials of our planet, the Goddess’s mystical body elicits spiritual and creative richness in us, from the most monumental symphony to the smallest act of compassion. For the medieval mystic Margery Kempe, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth referred not only to the literal begetting of children but also to the multiplication of spiritual qualities such as virtue.53 Parley P. Pratt wrote that the Holy Spirit—who may well be our Heavenly Mother —“quickens all the intellectual faculties, . . . inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies . . . In short, [she] is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”55

The Mother’s fertility is not limited to us as individuals, however. Fertility comes from her body to ours, grows inside of us, overflows our bounds, and causes us to give birth to each other. For example, the richness of the work and lives of my Mormon feminist mothers—Janice Allred, Margaret Toscano, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Carol Lynn Pearson, and others—has spilled from them into me and has caused me to give birth to this panegyric to the Woman of Holiness, which may in turn enrich the spirit of some person who reads it.

 

HER SEXUAL BODY

Closely related to the Mother’s fertility is her sexuality. It is a distinctive Mormon belief that our Heavenly Parents are exalted human beings and are joined together in the new and everlasting covenant, which permits sexual relations. This divine eroticism is reflected in the Song of Solomon, in which the lover describes her desire for the beloved and his desire for her.56 As I have imagined it, the creation of our universe was a sexual act, the result of our Heavenly Parents’ passion for each other.5

The Goddess not only desires her helpmeet, however. She also desires us. How can the Great Mother’s relationship with us, her children, be sexual? It is because sexuality is a much broader aspect of life than our usual narrow focus on genitals or sex acts would suggest. In fact, sexuality incorporates “the whole range of human feelings and activities through which we express ourselves as embodied beings in relationship to ourselves and others.”58 There is an undercurrent of desire or aversion (or both) between all physical beings. Given our belief in embodied Heavenly Parents, Mormons are uniquely equipped to contemplate a relationship between the Goddess and her human children that is sexual in this larger sense. Our bodies, which come from her body, are attracted to her body.

The implications of adding to this divine parent-child relationship a sexual relationship lead us first to equality. In “Making Love with God,” Margaret Toscano writes, “Speaking about God as lover can create some sense of equality between the human lover and the divine lover when longing is shown on both sides.”59 There is a lack in us which only she can fill, but—because the Goddess has set her heart upon us60—there is also a lack in her that only we can fill. For Chieko Okazaki, our Heavenly Parents desire us to be not only their children but also their peers and colleagues—and, I would add, lovers—words that denote equality. This sense of equality61 with the divine is especially relevant for Mormons, who believe in eternal progression toward godhood.

Lovers do not merely approach equality, however. They take pleasure in every aspect of each other: tactile, olfactory, gustatory, aesthetic, mental, emotional, linguistic, and so on. While Mormons tend to experience our relationship with deity in terms of belief, duty, obedience, and receipt of blessings, other traditions such as Sufism and cataphatic mysticism have developed a strong sense of the physical and the amorous in relating to God.62 I locate my personal relationship with Heavenly Mother as much in my body as I do in my spirit: I have tasted her love, which is sweeter than honey.63 I feel in her—and I believe she feels in me—the kind of pleasure that caused David to dance with abandon before the Ark of the Covenant.64

Along with equality and mutual pleasure, the sexual body of God the Mother fosters intimacy and connection. Sexuality is by nature connective: both spiritual and sexual impulses originate from inside the individual but reach outward, seeking to overcome isolation and establish continuity with others.65 This reaching out gives humans the capacity to love, which in turn generates faith—the affirmation of life in the face of doubt—and leads to hope.66 Ultimately, eroticism is creative, not only in the biological sense of bringing forth new life, but also in producing “new dimensions of experience which broaden and deepen the being of both persons.”67 The sexual body of God the Mother therefore connects us to her, connects us to each other, and generates the relationships that give meaning to our lives.

Finally, we realize that intimacy with the Goddess’s mystical body has not only connected us to the divine and to other beings, but has expanded our very selves. “The act of lovemaking and orgasm . . . break down barriers not only between people but within the self, too,” writes Toscano. “In the moment of orgasm, a person’s sense of self is altered.” This is consistent with—and perhaps not different from—the newness of life promised to those who arise with Christ from the waters of baptism.69 Like her Son, the Great Mother transforms the water of our ordinary lives into the wine of eternal life. Through communion with her mystical body, she dissolves our boundaries and recreates us as renewed, self-known beings, endowed with her spiritual authority70 and more truly ourselves than we could ever have imagined.

 

TESTIMONY AND PRAYER

This, then, is my testimony of our Heavenly Mother: I know she lives—in all of her children, just as we live in her. She is the Woman of Holiness. She is our great High Priestess. She is the ritual and the worship, the medicine and the mantra, the butter burnt in the fire. And she is the flames that consume it.71

She is the ground of our being: Our bodies come from her body, our bodies are nourished by her body, and our bodies return to her body. She is health to our navel and marrow to our bones. She searches the whole of creation to find each of her children, and sells all she possesses to buy the treasure of wholeness within us.

Radiant Mother of all beings, how I love you! How you love your children! Come to our motherless house. Gather us under your wings. Bind up our wounds and feed us with the manna of your love. Bring us to the garden of your body—to your tree of eternal life—and feed us with the fruit of your branches. Inflame our hearts with desire for you and for our siblings, that they may also taste your fruit and know that you are good. Be with us in the moment of our death, as you have received all our dead in your embrace.

Rain down your blessings, Dearest Mother, upon this poor psalm, upon all who read it, and upon the church, your Son’s mystical body. May your blessing be upon all the members of your body, all your children, and upon your whole creation, forever. Amen.

 

 

1. 1 Corinthians 12:12–27.

2. Father John A. Hardon, S.J., “The Church As The Mystical Body of Christ,” Catholic Faith 3 no. 4, July/August 1997, 5–10. Catholic thought on Christ’s mystical body reached its apex in Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi.

3. Colossians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Corinthians 10:16–17.

4. Janice Allred writes, “My study of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants shows that it is consistent with the text to interpret the names God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, and Jehovah as all referring to the same being.” “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 no. 2 (Summer 1994), 21.

5. For the purposes of this paper, I will assume the existence of God and give deference to Joseph Smith’s teachings and the Mormon scriptures.

6. See Linda P. Wilcox, “The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,” in Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, ed. Maxine Hanks (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 3–17, http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=925 (accessed 28 July 2013).

7. David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido examine Mormon leaders’ teachings about Heavenly Mother in their article “ ‘A Mother There’: A Survey of historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50 no. 1 (2011), 70–97.

8. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, November 1991, 97–100, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1991/11/daughters-of-god (accessed 28 July 2013). Traditional Mormons often employ the same logic in online discussions, arguing that we should not speak about Heavenly Mother because we have no knowledge of her.

9. We have not come to know their separate personalities. As LDS writer Julie Smith told Peggy Fletcher Stack, “The reason that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother is that there is nothing that we can say about her that we couldn’t say about him.” “A Mormon Mystery Returns: Who Is Heavenly Mother?” Salt Lake Tribune, 10 May 2013, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56282764-78/eternal-female-god-heaven.html.csp (accessed 28 July 2013).

10. There is an old Zen story about a student who asks her master, “What is the moon?” When he points his finger to the moon, she says, “Ah, the moon is a finger!” See, for example, Mel Ash, The Zen of Recovery (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1993), 1. I believe the Church is a finger pointing to the metaphorical moon of our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ. But the Church/finger is not the moon.

11. To paraphrase Paul, “How then shall [we] call on [her] in whom [we] have not believed?” Romans 10:14. Or as Augustine writes, “What place is there in me where my God can enter into me?” Confessions I.ii, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.

12. Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” Ensign, May 1978, 10, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/05/the-women-of-god?lang=eng (accessed 28 July 2013).

13. For the idea of Joseph Smith as mythological figure who bypasses the religious authorities of his day and interacts directly with God, see Margaret Toscano’s comments during her interview with Lindsay Hansen Park, “FMH Podcast Episode 67: Darkness and Light With Margaret Toscano,” 24 June 2013, http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2013/06/fmh-podcast-episode-67-darkness-and-light-with-margaret-toscano/ (accessed 28 July 2013).

14. Carol Ochs, Our Lives as Torah: Finding God in Our Stories (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), cited in Jessica Finnigan, “Our Lives As Torah,” Rational Faiths, 29 April 2013, http://rationalfaiths.com/our-lives-as-torah (accessed 2 October 2013).

15. 1 Nephi 19:23–24.

16. Edward Jones III, “Hot Talk,” Gailymormon, 28 January 2013, http://gailymormon.com/2013/01/28/hot-talk/ (accessed 2 October 2013).

17. Peterson argues that Nephi would have understood his vision of the tree of life to correspond with Asherah. “Nephi and His Asherah,” Book of Mormon Studies 9 no. 2 (2000), 16–25, 80–81.

18. Barney identifies Asherah as Heavenly Mother and suggests several ways of worshipping her that would not go afoul of President Hinckley’s directive against praying to her. He explores worship in the categories of name and titles; creation; sacred trees; artistic representations; fertility, childbirth, and lactation; healing; happiness; wisdom; and temple service. “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated),” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 41 no. 4 (Winter 2008), 121–146, http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V41N04_133.pdf (accessed 15 October 2013).

19. Allred, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother.”

20. In her essay “Jesus Our Mother: The Quest for Feminine Identity,” Janice Allred writes that “Jesus Christ is also a revelation of God the Mother . . . in the sense that he models the role of the Mother.” Allred notes that the primary symbol for the Atonement is giving birth; compares the circle of blood from Christ’s crown of thorns to “the blood sometimes spilt on the baby’s head as he emerges from the womb”; and interprets Christ’s statement on the cross, “Behold thy mother,” as referring to himself and his motherly sacrifice that “bring[s] us into the eternal world.” God the Mother and Other Theological Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 20–41, http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=15264 (accessed 21 October 2013). Robert Rees writes, “One might even consider what Jesus learned from his Mother as well as his Father. Perhaps it is also true that Jesus did nothing that he had not seen his Heavenly Mother do! The fact that he identifies so closely at times with the feminine (consider his metaphor of himself as a mother hen), suggests this possibility.” “Toward a Feminist Mormon Midrash: Mormon Women and the Imaginative Reading of Scripture,” Sunstone 166 (March 2012), https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/toward-a-feminist-mormon-midrash-mormon-women-and-the-imaginative-reading-of-scripture/(accessed 28 July 2013).

21. John A. Sanford, The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meaning of Jesus’ Sayings, revised ed. (San Francisco: HarperCollins 1987), 21–22.

22. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Clifton Wolters (Baltimore: Penguin, 1966), 169–70.

23. Matthew 23:37.

24. Luke 15:8–10. John Sanford dedicates an entire chapter of The Kingdom Within to the lost coin. “Here we have the mystery that to recover the lost coin within ourselves—our own unredeemed humanity—is to recover Christ the King himself, the psychological equivalent of which is totality. He is hidden in the depths of the unconscious, where he is both the savior and the one to be saved,” 144. “[I]t is the lost part of ourselves, the despised one, the Samaritan, who rescues us,” 147.

25. Thanks to Margaret Toscano for introducing me to Apostolos Athanassakis’ urgent, evocative translation in The Homeric Hymns (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

26. Janice Allred identifies this gap and writes, “To what shall we attribute the silence surrounding the Mother in Heaven? Is it the silence of holiness? Is it the silence of fear? Are we awed by the weight of eternity, or do we take sacred things lightly? Do we listen for revelation, or do we disregard it? Can the silence be addressed? Can we break the silence if we do not address it?” “The One Who Never Left Us,” Sunstone 166 (March 2012), https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/the-one-who-never-left-us/ (accessed 29 July 2013).

27. Carol Lynn Pearson, “Healing the Motherless House,” in Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=935 (accessed 29 July 2013). This gap is particularly painful if we regard Mormon hierarchy as the sole source or the most desirable source of revelation about Heavenly Mother.

28. For example, victims of trauma are sometimes able to convey their experiences only by the “gaps, breaks, interruptions, [and] repetitions” in their narratives. “Yale; Exploring How Literary Gaps Express Trauma,” New York Times, 22 December 1991, http://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/22/nyregion/campus-life-yale-exploring-how-literary-gaps-express-trauma.html (accessed 14 October 2013).

29. Gaps have the effect of transferring the locus of choice from the institution to the individual. For example, the First Presidency has created a gap by refusing to take a position regarding caffeinated sodas, leaving that choice to individual church members. Priesthood Bulletin 8/1 (Feb. 1972), cited in Clifford J. Stratton, “Caffeine—The Subtle Addiction,” Ensign, June 1988, 60–61, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/06/research-and-perspectives/caffeine-the-subtle-addiction?lang=eng (accessed 29 July 2013).

30. Margaret Merrill Toscano, “Making Love with God: Sex and Identity in Two Late-Medieval Women Mystics—Mechthild of Magdeburg and Margery Kempe” (PhD diss., University of Utah, 2002), 190.

31. Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), 118–19, quoting Daniel Boyarin, Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1990). Boyarin writes that the “role of midrash is to fill in the gaps,” 17. For a tongue-in-cheek essay on the desirability of maintaining discursive gaps, however, see “Society for the Preservation of Gaps in the Literature,” Econometrics at the University of Illinois, http://www.econ.uiuc.edu/~roger/gaps.html (accessed 29 July 2013).

32. Hinckley attempted to plug the gap by forbidding prayer to Heavenly Mother but—unlike the Dutch boy who saved the dike by plugging it with his finger—the ocean of her love will overflow any institutional limits that seek to contain it.

33. Jana Reiss’s comments on midrash in John Dehlin, Mormon Stories 305-306: Flunking Sainthood with Jana Riess, podcast audio, http://mormonstories.org/305-306-flunking-sainthood-with-jana-riess/, are transcribed in part at Mormon heretic, “Jana Reiss: The Mormon Midrash,” Wheat & Tares, 23 January 2012, http://www.wheatandtares.org/6748/jana-reiss-the-mormon-midrash/ (accessed 2 October 2013).

34. Rees, “Toward a Feminist Mormon Midrash: Mormon Women and the Imaginative Reading of Scripture,” Sunstone 166. In fact, Rees calls specifically for a midrashic exploration of the Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Mother. Quoting his own earlier writing, he says, “Why do we not know [more of] this mother of all creation, this mistress of light and space? . . . I believe that hers is also a powerful voice, rolling at times like thunder and cutting through the darkness like lightening. What explains the fact that many Mormon women, and perhaps a few Mormon men, are beginning to feel her presence in their lives, other than that our consciousness of her identity has been awakened? The freeing of the bondage of women has also liberated our Heavenly Mother from the silence in which men have held her. An increasing number of Mormon women testify to hearing her voice and are finding lyric modes in which to tell us about her. Like Procne in Greek mythology, her liberation from the bondage of silence has been a transformation into song.” “Monologues and Dialogues: Our Mother in Heaven,” Sunstone 81 (April 1991): 49–50.

35. D&C 130:22.

36. Thanks to Hugo Olaiz for pointing out to me what may be the only Mormon scripture concerning the body of God the Mother: “Now We teach you of Mother. She is my bride, my eternal companion and I love her. She is strong without bulk and beautiful without adornment. She is soft and supple. Our bodies mesh as do Our spirits. We supplement and compliment [sic] each other.” Members of the Presiding Authorities of the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, Hidden Treasures and Promises: A Compilation of Sacred Scripture & Inspired Writings Including Revelation Given Through Members of the Presiding Authorities of The Restoration Church of Jesus Christ (John R. Crane, 1990), 20:8, http://www.scribd.com/doc/46552654/Hidden-Treasures-Promises (accessed 29 July 2013).

37. “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 15 August 1844, 613, http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/utils/getfile/collection/NCMP1820-1846/id/8293/filename/3404.pdf (accessed 14 October 2013).

38. Romans 8:22.

39. Acts 17:28.

40. This is true for Mormons but not for Catholics. Excommunicated Mormons are no longer members of the Church (i.e., the body of Christ) and must therefore be rebaptized to regain membership. Catholic excommunication, however, does not remove baptism. An excommunicated Catholic remains a part of the body of Christ. Bruce C. Hafen, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “Disciplinary Procedures,” (New York: Macmillan, 1992), http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Disciplinary_Procedures (accessed 15 October 2013); Auguste Boudinhon, The Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Excommunication,” (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909), http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm (accessed 15 October 2013). Thanks to Kyle Betit for this insight.

41. Given the interpenetration of bodies mentioned above, removal of a member from the body of Christ is like an amputation: highly traumatic for both the member and the body. In Puccini’s opera Turandot, the Chinese princess is haunted by the trauma of her ancestress, Lo-u-Ling, who had defied the domination of men but was ravaged by a foreign prince. In the same way, I cannot forget the excommunication of my spiritual mothers from the body Christ.

42. Matthew 5:44–45.

43. We are nourished not only by the food her body provides, but by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations of the world, which when truly received generate inner richness. See Thich Nhat Hanh, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).

44. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu advises us to “Watch the turmoil of beings, / but contemplate their return. // Each separate being in the universe / returns to the common source. / Returning to the source is serenity.” Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey, trans. Stephen Mitchell (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 1999), 16, 3–7. I was fascinated to read the words of a mother who was expecting twins and had a second-trimester abortion of the male twin because of significant fetal organ abnormalities. “[My son] died in a warm and loving place, inside me . . . My little boy partially dissolved into me, and I like to think his soul is in his sister.” Judy Nicastro, “My Abortion, at 23 Weeks,” New York Times, 20 June 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/opinion/my-abortion-at-23-weeks.html (accessed 29 July 2013).

45. In her article “The One Who Never Left Us,” Janice Allred proposes many titles for Heavenly Mother, including “The One Who Never Left Us but Is Lost” and “The One Who Never Left Us and Is Found.” Sunstone 166.

46. “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1995), vi.32, p. 34.

47. Thanks to Curtis Penfold for pointing out to me that Santa Muerte—the personification of death in Mexican folk religion—accepts all followers, just as death comes to everyone. She is therefore popular among societal outcasts such as homosexuals, prostitutes, criminals, street people, and taxi drivers. See Araujo Peña, Sandra Alejandro, et al., “El Culto a la Santa Muerte: un Estudio Descriptivo,” [The Cult of Santa Muerte: A Descriptive Study], Revista Psicologia (in Spanish), http://www.udlondres.com/revista_psicologia/articulos/stamuerte.htm (accessed 14 October 2013).

48. “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass, ii.3–9, p. 121.

49. See, for example, Nancy Miwa, “The Hortus Conclusus: Marian Iconography in the Late Middle Ages” (MLitt diss., Drew University, 2011), abstract at http://udini.proquest.com/view/the-hortus-conclusus-marian-pqid:2383582851/ (accessed 15 October 2013).

50. As Lucretius writes, “As soon as the face of spring puts in an appearance / and the fertilizing wind blows in from the west, / the birds of the air are the first to notice your coming / and your effluence strikes at their very hearts; / The wild cattle jump about in their pastures, / they plunge and swim over the rivers, delight has taken them. / Then throughout the seas, on the mountains, in hungry rivers, / in the bird’s leafy recesses, on the verdant plains, / deep inside every creature appetite stirs / as you provoke them to natural propagation.” De Rerum Natura: The Poem on Nature, trans. C.H. Sisson (New York: Routledge, 2003), 15.

51. Psalm 104:26.

52. Matthew 13:32–33. These images were suggested to me by John A. Sanford in The Kingdom Within, 30. Fertility is a quality not only of our Heavenly Mother, but also of our Heavenly Father. For Meister Eckhart, God is fecund and superabundant. Of Eckhart’s Latin writings, Rowan Williams notes, “Nothing tells us what God is, yet everything speaks to us of God, and the specific thisness and thatness of all things can be traced to the fecund life of the one source that—in another well-known image—“boils over” into the manifold life of this world.” A Ray of Darkness (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1995), 235.

53. The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Sandford Brown Meech (London: Oxford University Press, 1940), 121–2, quoted in Toscano, “Making Love with God,” 470. 53.  Margaret Barker points out that the Hebrew verbs “be fruitful” and “multiply” are very similar to or synonymous with the verbs “be beautiful” and “be great.” “Restoring Solomon’s Temple,” 2012, http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/RestoringSolomon.pdf (accessed 4 December 2013). Mormon blogger RuthAnn Fisher uses Barker’s analysis to support her own symbolic interpretation of the threefold commandment to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth to include production of fruits and vegetables, a happy home, and an education; multiplication of compassion and gifts of self to others; and the replenishing of one’s spirit and conservation of natural resources. “That Ye Might Have Joy,” Feminist Mormon Housewives, 2 December 2013, http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2013/12/that-ye-might-have-joy/ (accessed 4 December 2013).

54. See Janice Allred, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 no. 2 (Summer 1994), 15–39.

55. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 98–99, quoted in Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 126.

56. The Song of Solomon may embody the idea of the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage of the gods, a theme that appears in literature as diverse as the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish, ancient Greek mythology, Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the Revelation of John, the Kabbalistic text Sefer Zohar, the alchemical text Rosarium Philosophorum, and Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. John Eric Killinger Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, s.v. “Hierosgamos,” (New York: Springer, 2009).

57. For Denys Turner, God’s love overflows in “an explosion of erotic energy,” imbuing the cosmos with traces of divinity. Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1995), 47, quoted in Toscano, “Making Love with God,” 74. Because humans are created in the Goddess’s image, human sexuality mirrors divine sexuality. Sings Walt Whiman: “Urge and urge and urge, / Always the procreant urge of the world. / Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex, / Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.” Song of Myself, iii.7–10, pp. 30–31. In Mormon folklore, Heavenly Mother produces spirits through a process similar to mammalian birth. For a critique of this view, however, see Taylor Petrey, “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 44 no. 4 (Winter 2011), 108–109.

58. L. J. Tessier, Dancing after the Whirlwind: Feminist Reflections on Sex, Denial, and Spiritual Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1997), 6. Tessier quotes Andre Guindon’s statement that “no relationship between living human beings is asexual.” Id., quoting The Sexual Language: An Essay in Moral Theology (Ottawa: University of Ottowa Press, 1976), 68. I was led to Tessier’s wonderful tome by Catherine Keller in Face of the Deep, 140 fn44.

59. Toscano, “Making Love with God,” 83. Toscano writes that for Margery Kempe, “Jesus is not just desirable but desiring . . . a God of body, parts, and unfulfilled passions who needs his creatures as much as they need each other, as much as they need him.” 341. In a footnote, Toscano refers to Isaac of Stella, who argued that “Christ is not complete until we are incorporated into him,” 341 fn13.

60. Paraphrasing Terryl and Fiona Givens in The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012).

61. Chieko N. Okazaki, Sanctuary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 59, quoted in David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “ ‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50 no. 1 (2011), 71.

62. For example, the Sufi poet Rumi found great religious significance in the disorientation of inebriation and whirling around. He experienced the divine in his profound friendship and union with the dervish Shams of Tabriz: “When you feel your lips becoming infinite / and sweet, like the moon in a sky, / when you feel that spaciousness inside, / Shams of Tabriz will be there too.” The Essential Rumi, trans Coleman Barks (Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1997), 280. Medieval mystics such as Mechtild of Magdeburg and Margery Kempe used explicitly sexual, even pornographic, language to describe their relationship with Jesus Christ. See generally, “Making Love with God.”

63. Psalm 119:103. In the King Follett sermon, Joseph Smith described the words of eternal life as tasting sweet. “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 15 August 1844, 615.

64. 2 Samuel 6:14. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” Reflections on the Psalms (New York: HarcourtBooks, 1958), 45. The Ark of the Covenant can symbolize the divine female. Astarte was likely represented first as a stone in the ark and later as one of the cherubim on top of it. Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, 3rd ed. (Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1990), 94–95, cited in Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven,” 139 fn30. Various Catholic church fathers compared Mary to the Ark of the Covenant. For example, “St. Hippolytus (172–235) associated the Ark of the Covenant of the book of Revelation (Revelation 11:19) with Mary’s incorruptible flesh from which Christ’s flesh was taken.” Fr. Paul Haffner, “The Assumption of Our Lady,” in Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, ed. Mark Miravalle, S.T.D. (Goleta, California: Seat of Wisdom Books, 2007), 333.

65. Toscano writes that “[d]eath, religion, and sex have this in common . . . : a feeling of lack and discontinuity and a desire to fill that lack in order to feel continuous.” “Making Love with God,” 84, explaining Georges Bataille’s argument in Erotism: Death and Sensuality: A Study of Eroticism and the Taboo (New York: Walker, 1962), 29.

66. “People in touch with their souls have faith because, like a grain of mustard seed, they feel their fundamental connectedness to the wholeness of things.” Sanford, The Kingdom Within, 124.

67. Rollo May, Love and Will (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 73–74, quoted in Dancing after the Whirlwind, 31–32.

68. Toscano, “Making Love with God,” 85–86.

69. “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, [she] is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (RSV).

70. Toscano writes that Margery Kempe’s lovemaking with Christ transforms her, establishes her identity and unique voice, and “endows her with spiritual authority.” “Making Love with God,” 433.

71. Paraphrase of Bhagavad Gita, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Random House, 2000), 9, 16.

3 comments

  1. M says:

    I think this essay is beautiful, but it also makes the case that women become *things* — devoid of rationality or personal intention, like the earth is kind of a living thing. I think I have suspected this for a long time, as I don’t believe we have any promise of retaining our souls in the later years or timelessness – women become “things” that men build on.

  2. Thanks for that comment, M. Mormon scripture is pretty clear that the earth is not only a living organism but that it does have rationality and personal intention.

    For example, Moses 7:48-49 (“And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?”)

    It was not my intention to portray women as becoming inanimate objects. I hope the context I have provided is valuable in this respect.

    — Edward (1/10/2016, edwardjones76@gmail.com)

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