If there’s one thing that stands out for me in the newly released essay on Heavenly Mother – is how little we know of Her. Officially. Doctrinally. And as I reflect on my lifetime in this church, I see how that not knowing has often translated into us just ‘not talking about Her’ and even, not thinking about Her. I’ve heard the reasons offered as to why of course. The conjecture. Including, ‘God wants to keep His wife protected from us…so Her name is not defiled…’ I remember hearing that in a Sunday School class once and being indignant enough about it that I spoke up – I disagree. My Heavenly Mother doesn’t need protecting or sheltering. She’s a GODDESS with powers equal to those of her husband. She could wipe us all out with a mere flick of her fingers. I’m not sure the class appreciated my contribution!
Today’s essay got me thinking about Heavenly Mother. Who and what she is to me. She’s different things to me at different times.
Sometimes she’s a fierce strong warrior – like Nafanua our goddess of war who came from Pulotu the underworld to liberate her people, and then stayed on to lead. I have seen that same fierce strength and leadership in some of my fa’afafine friends. Sometimes she’s like my Great-Aunty Ita who had scandal in her past and lots of somber suffering Jesus on her walls, who named me and made no secret of how special I was to her, who expected great things of me, who told me I needed to work hard at school and “kill” all my academic competition because ‘they are pigs! And you are a Wendt and very poto clever!”
Sometimes Heavenly Mother is the gentle and kind love of my second mother Peka who made us our favorite foods whenever we asked, slept on the floor by our hospital bed when we were injured and who cried when our mother smacked us. Sometimes she’s the sensual confidence and joyousness of the telesa (spirit) women in our mythology who source their power from the earth, delight in its beauty and fight to protect it. Sometimes she’s the wise gatherer and keeper of gafa (geneaology), the storyteller and storykeeper like my great-grandmother Mele whom I never met, who nurtured her grandchildren with the stories of their ancestors woven thru with Shakespeare, Homer and Chaucer. Sometimes she’s the shared laughter and two hour late-night phone conversations with a best friend, the kind you can talk to about everything and anything, no censure and no condemnation. Other times, my Heavenly Mother is the steady, reassuring support of my Big Sister who is always there for her siblings when the hard things happen, who drops everything to come when emergency babies are being born and when personal crises put people in hospital – even if she has to cross oceans to reach us.
Yes, when I try to imagine my Heavenly Mother, she is all of these. And more.
As a child and a teenager though, I wasn’t interested in Heavenly Mother and I didn’t notice her absence. Perhaps because my relationship with my own earthly mother was so problematic? Heavenly Father and Jesus were enough for me.
Then I grew up. I got married. I became a wife and a mother. Slowly, I began to feel the empty space and wonder at it. As I struggled to adapt to marriage, being one of two in a “partnership of equals” – I wondered, how did my Heavenly Parents do it? If this stuff here on earth is His ‘work and His glory’ – then what’s She doing? And if She’s working alongside Him doing all this stuff then why don’t we acknowledge Her? Talk to Her? Get Her counsel? Feel Her power via the influence of the Holy Ghost? Is it because they’re so in tune and unified that when I am taught and uplifted by God – it’s actually the two of them?
My questions were just wonderings. Nothing testimony-threatening. And nothing that bugged me enough to study it out much further. I was too busy with everyday problems and joys, to really think about – Where’s Heavenly Mother and what’s She doing?
Then, something happened that showed me there’s something, someone there besides Heavenly Father and Jesus. It was the early hours of dawn. I’d been in labor for 18+ hours with a baby that was not moving any further to being born. Midwives, nurses and doctors had serious faces. I was exhausted. My husband was crying for me and with me. So was my Big Sister. It had gotten to the point where you want to die but you’re too tired to do even that. Then my Sister held my hand and told me she’d put my name down on the temple prayer roll. At the time, I hadn’t been to the temple yet. She said, “The first session has started. I want you to imagine it – right now, there’s a group of people dressed in white standing around an altar, united in prayer. They’re praying for you and many others. They’re pleading with the Lord right now on your behalf, that you will be strong enough to do this. Can you see them? Can you imagine it?”
In that moment, I could. But not a group of faceless random people – I saw a circle of women. Of different ages and from different walks of life. Some of them mothers. Some of them who had experienced exactly what I was going through. All of them women of prayer, women of faith, strength and compassion. All of them united in their prayers for me – and for many others. Through them and their unique experiences, I caught a glimpse of my Heavenly Mother, how She cares, how She feels, how She heals and strengthens. In that moment I realised how the female divine can offer something distinct from the divine that is not just Heavenly Father.
Since then, my Heavenly Mother has become a little more real to me. A little more present. A little more necessary. Because I’ve been looking out for Her. As I have navigated through the troubled waters of being a sexual abuse survivor coming to terms with the impact of that abuse on me, on my family and on my relationship with my husband. As I have battled depression and illness during my pregnancies, and struggled to reconcile being a #GoodMum with the reality of life with what often felt like way too many children. As more recently, I have experienced loss of loved ones, miscarriage and often debilitating illness that is specifically a #womanProblem. Yes the Lord has been my rock during these challenges, but not so much the ‘man’ side of my Heavenly Parents, but more my Heavenly Mother. Because it’s just felt a little more right that She would be the one to #getMe.
Do I pray to Her? Not specifically. I haven’t needed to. I know they’re both listening and when it’s Her counsel and insight that’s best suited – I’m reassured that She’s the one doing the talking. I’m reminded of the times my husband and I have counselled one of our children. Together. We both listen. We both give advice. Sometimes it’s advice that’s in agreement with each other. Other times, I talk more because the issue is something I have more experience with. Or he talks more because it’s something he knows more about. I like to think that’s how my Heavenly Parents work too.
I’m grateful for the knowledge we do have of our Heavenly Parents and how much they love us. I don’t know why we don’t officially and doctrinally know more about our Heavenly Mother, but perhaps that allows us each the opportunity to seek Her and know Her for ourselves. In the meantime, I will continue to see her reflected in the women who are woven into the sinnet of my ancestry and in the women I’m blessed to know and love, and be loved by.