Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mothers as Creators

This is the second installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
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Consider, first, mothers as creators. By giving us mortal life, our parents have in some sense given us all that we have. The capacity to create---particularly, to procreate---is, in our theology, a large part of what makes God a god. "Of all the titles [God] has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares," explains Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. "Creation is his watchword---especially human creation, creation in his image."

Elder Holland describes this capacity in terms of a sacrament. He explains that while we use this word to denote the partaking of the emblems of the Lord’s supper, it has a more general meaning. A sacrament in this more general sense is a
union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours….

Those special moments of union with God are sacramental moments--such as kneeling at a marriage altar, or blessing a newborn baby, or partaking of the emblems of the Lord's supper. This latter ordinance is the one we in the Church have come to associate most traditionally with the word sacrament, though it is technically only one of many such moments when we formally take the hand of God and feel his divine power….

[Human intimacy] is also, in its own profound way, a very real sacrament of the highest order, a union not only of a man and a woman but very much the union of that man and woman with God. Indeed, if our definition of sacrament is that act of claiming and sharing and exercising God's own inestimable power… I know of nothing so earth-shatteringly powerful…as the God-given power available in every one of us…to create a human body, that wonder of all wonders, a genetically and spiritually unique being never seen before in the history of the world and never to be duplicated again in all the ages of eternity---a child, your child---with eyes and ears and fingers and toes and a future of unspeakable grandeur….

And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. (emphasis in original)
This distinctive Latter-day Saint perspective on divinity---including our proximity to and potential for it---is not peculiar to Elder Holland, but derives from revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith:
...verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife…by the new and everlasting covenant,…[it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; …[they shall receive] their exaltation and glory in all things, …which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue. (D&C 132:19-20)
According to Joseph Smith, then, the capacity to extend and continue oneself through the creative capacity of fatherhood and motherhood is central to divinity.

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This might sound flippant, but it is a serious question. I understand the Mormon drive to ascribe to women a divine power, but creation is a power we share with dogs, rodents, and lots of other things. Does having puppies help a dog grow closer to her divine potential? Is there a dog god?

Motherhood depends on having all the biology work correctly, not on any righteousness of the woman herself. So it doesn't qualify as "a power of heaven that can be controlled and handled only upon principles of righteousness."

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Mormons respect motherhood. I just think elevating it to godhood is a bit of a stretch. 

Comment by Janey | 5/12/2005 05:00:00 PM  

And one more question. If motherhood is so divine, why do we not see it modeled in divinity? Our Heavenly Father, in his infinite yet inscrutable wisdom, has excluded our Heavenly Mother from our lives. What sort of mother would create children, then voluntarily absent herself from helping them through the most difficult period of their existence (mortality)? Why would God reveal that a woman's most divine role is to be a mother, then keep our own Mother from us?

Perhaps fatherhood is far more important than motherhood. 

Comment by Janey | 5/12/2005 05:11:00 PM  

Sorry. Please ignore my comments. I'm just a bitter, childless, Mormon woman who has taken a long, hard look at all the penumbral doctrine surrounding motherhood, and who doesn't think any of it holds up (and who HATES that dumb teaching that all women are mothers - whatever. Are all men fathers? Are all men priesthood holders?) I'll go away now. Sorry. I'm sure you're a very nice person and I won't bother you anymore. 

Comment by Janey | 5/12/2005 05:56:00 PM  

Janey, I don't want to ignore your comments. I think your questions are very good ones. I would like to discuss them, and what you have learned from your study of the doctrine. I don't feel bothered by you, and hope you feel welcome here. A willingness to confront difficult questions head-on is part of what I hope this blog can be about (see my opening post ). And if you've read others of my posts, you can see I have big questions of my own.

At this particular moment I can't take the time to respond to the substance of your comments, but I will try to over the next day or two.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 5/12/2005 06:10:00 PM  

Janey, there are several ways to approach your questions.

One is to suppose that there is no God; then your questions become moot. I confess I sympathize with this possibility.

Another approach is to be a believing Mormon who does not believe in divine procreation, and possibly not in Heavenly Mother. Our being "spirit children of God" is then reinterpreted as some sort of adoption of eternal spirits/intelligences by God. This also seems to get around your questions.

Your questions are more challenging in the context of "standard doctrine," which I felt an obligation to present (even if I could not directly testify of it) in the context of a sacrament meeting talk.

If animals have spirits (as D&C 77 indicates, as I recall), it may be a plausible extension of standard doctrine that they are procreated in analogy with human spirits; then animals might be supposed to have a kind of godhood or exaltation (according to the definition of D&C 132:19-20) within their sphere.

Recall language about reproducing after their kind, filling the measure of their creation, and having joy therein. For animals this might be nearly automatic, whereas for humans---where much more depends on culture---everyone is given procreative capability only on a probationary basis in mortality, retained in eternity only if it is used appropriately.

(I should say here that I think evolution---for which I think there is strong evidence---is difficult to reconcile with this picture. See for example posts by Jeffrey Giliam on "essentialism" at Mormons and Evolution ; look at his "reconciliation notebook" linked in the sidebar.)

On the inaccessibility of Heavenly Mother, I'm not aware of any good answer on this within standard doctrine. I suppose one possibility is that Gods (whether Heavenly Father or Heavenly Mother) only reveal themselves to the degree they are sought, and that no prophet has sought her out.

Not having a role that is held up so highly within Mormonism must be very frustrating and discouraging. Are promises of receiving "all blessings" in eternity helpful, or do they just exacerbate things? A Bishop of mine once said, "There are some things worse than being single---and sometimes, it's being married" (I might add, being a father or mother). Is such a statement appropriate or inappropriate? I am curious to hear more of your views. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 5/13/2005 06:05:00 PM  



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