by Kayla Bach
While I no longer remember the exact words my house mate said to me on that day, I remember her fervor. As she sat perched on the edge of her bed, expressing her sadness that not everyone knew they had a loving Heavenly Father and a Savior who died for them, I thought of my Mother – the Heavenly Mother, so unknown and oft-ignored, yet so powerful and vitally important to my testimony. It was that testimony that had brought me to this point, serving as a missionary in Santiago, Chile. I had chosen to serve a mission for many reasons, but among them was my belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ as the most empowering, ennobling force for good in the world. A key element of its empowering nature is found in the belief that godliness and divinity is not only for men, but for all of God’s children, as reflected by the existence of Heavenly Parents. To leave out one of our Heavenly Parents is to lose one of the most beautiful truths the gospel contains – and yet, this omission occurs often.
It is hard to say at what precise moment I became aware of my Mother’s existence. It certainly did not occur in my Primary classes, where we learned about the all-male Godhead. It also did not come from my years in the youth program, where all the young women recited every week about their identity as daughters of a Heavenly Father. The only clue I have as to the beginnings of my awareness is a piece of wrinkled paper I found among my childhood things. On the paper is drawn a family tree. It lists my immediate family and extends off into other beloved relatives. At the top is listed, “Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, and Jesus.” In my rough, childhood handwriting, I found the beginnings of my testimony of my Mother. I remember that as a young child, I asked a relative about my Heavenly Mother and was told that she was too sacred to discuss. This standard, doctrinally incorrect response given to questioners who go seeking for traces of her was acceptable to my young mind. For years, my thoughts of her dimmed to a dull awareness in the back of my subconscious. I testified from the pulpit of the Father and the Son; I celebrated their plans for me as outlined in my patriarchal blessing. For a long time, I was happy without answers. I was complacently content.
It was when I was fourteen that my journey truly began in earnest. I did my Faith project for the Personal Progress program on the priesthood. I wanted to confront the controversial questions regarding women and the priesthood head-on, especially since gender issues had begun to appear in my life during my early adolescent years. I compiled a binder, overflowing with documents, that contained everything from scripture references to blog posts on the subject. I felt satisfied. At that time, I still did not recognize my hunger for Mother, but I had already begun my search. I had studied priesthood because I wanted to understand power, and in order to understand power, I needed to know its source. Therefore, questions regarding the priesthood, church policies, gender roles, and all other doctrinally-based discussions related to womanhood were all stepping stones in the journey.
At sixteen, I again became conscious of my questions while in the car with a friend whose husband had left the LDS Church. She did not know everything about our religion, but she knew a lot – and she definitely knew why her husband had left years before he married her. She never told me exactly why, but I came to understand that it had something to do with equality. She asked me questions about temples and gender, but I did not have answers for her. As I myself had not been endowed, I did not know what happened in sacred temple rituals or if any of the rumors she had told me were true. I was unsettled, uneasy, and concerned. Again, questions filled my mind about power and the worth of women.
At the age of seventeen, I was looking for answers to these questions when I found my Mother. She was tucked in the pages of a piece reconciling doctrines related to women and ideas of equality – it was a faithful feminist theology. Mother was an integral part of it, and I rejoiced. I came to see her as the counterpart to Father – which she literally is, of course. Rather than simply try to understand what power men had and why I did not have it, I began to think in terms of my own power as a woman and where it came from, as well as how it could be manifested. My journals filled with pages seeking for knowledge and explanations. I drew, I diagrammed, I outlined. More than anything, I was happy. I had a Mother and a Father, and they loved me.
It was at age eighteen that everything shifted once more. I had just started college, and I was seeking to find my path in the world. The experiences of new people and new places opened my mind to bigger problems than I had encountered at home. The answers that had once seemed satisfying were now inadequate. If women had a Mother and were empowered to become like her, where was the power and where was the Mother? I felt a physical ache that would not go away. I cried and prayed and pleaded. Were men destined to become gods, but women destined only to be priestesses and helpmates? Where were the answers?
As I look back now, I blush at my impatience. So many other questioners have spent years and lifetimes asking and suffering. Much of their work that was born out of their struggles was essential to me as I began my own search. After three weeks of nausea and confusion, I was blessed with a measure of peace. I say only a measure, because to come to the awareness of the Mother and then see how forgotten she is by her children, one is never fully at peace again. Nevertheless, this measure of peace did come, and it gave me the strength to push on. It did not bring me all the answers, but it strengthened my convictions enough to motivate me to search for them. Re-established firmly in my mind was the truth that equality is innate – men and women, my male counterparts and I, the Father and the Mother. The two halves must be equal, for everything has its balancing force. To weaken and degrade one half was to endanger the whole. Yet, now that I had my convictions firmly in place, the questions were even more pressing. If they were equal, why was she absent? Where was she? What had happened?
Just as I had done for my Faith project years before, I began to search. I found blog posts and poems and articles and artwork. At about this time, the Church published an essay about Heavenly Mother, and I rejoiced. I devoured it, I shared it, and I celebrated it, but I did not pause. I displayed quotes from church leaders on my dorm room door that gave evidence of her existence. I shared copies of the essay with every woman in my hall. I began to include the words “Heavenly Parents” in every single testimony I bore from the pulpit. I continued my search for her as I prepared to serve a mission. As I boarded the plane to the Mexico City Missionary Training Center, I carried a copy of the Heavenly Mother essay in my luggage. For me, it was more than just a reminder of her existence; it was also a reminder of who I was, what I could become, and the testimony I had that motivated me to serve.
It was in the early part of my mission in Santiago, Chile that I sat and listened to that eager house mate, so anxious to tell the world of her Father and Elder Brother, but so wholly apathetic to the presence of her Mother. Her testimony, though beautiful, grated against my heart, reminding me of the absence of my divine counterpart. Though I had found her, it seemed that few others were even searching.
It was months later that my companion, the young missionary I was training, bluntly and loudly told me that Heavenly Mother was important, but Heavenly Father was God. Eve was subject to Adam, women were subject to their husbands, and that was the way things were. Her proclamations were so bold, so disturbing, and so deeply painful. It was so odd to hear such an empowered, fiery young woman declare with resolve her subordinated status, both here on earth and in the eternities. No matter what I said, she would not hear me, would not listen, would not feel what I felt. She made it clear that she had no interest; she was convinced that there was nothing to be known about our Mother. The reaction I received from her was the most painful rejection of my mission – far more heart-wrenching than any door slammed in my face.
Despite this painful experience, I persevered in my journey. I continued to keep copies of the Church essay with me, as it was the only Church approved resource about Her that I could find. I had copies of it in Spanish, English, and Portuguese. I was ready to present it to any fellow missionary that showed the least bit of interest in knowing their Mother. Eventually, I was inspired to share knowledge of Heavenly Mother with a few members as well – most of whom were converts and had never even heard of her before. As I did so, I kept reminding myself: “if not now, when? If not me, who?” How else would they come to know their Mother if I did not share? Most of my experiences were overwhelmingly positive. While a few members showed disinterest, most responded with joy, happiness, and surprise that they had not learned of her before. It seemed to them that knowledge of her was important and inspiring.
At about this time, the Church produced a new missionary pamphlet about families and temples. The opening paragraph talked all about our Heavenly Parents. It was the first missionary resource outside of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” to even acknowledge her existence. It was a valuable tool for me in my efforts to spread knowledge of her. I quoted the opening paragraph in a Church talk, and I used it for my spiritual thought after meals with members. I gave copies of the pamphlet whenever I could and urged members to study it with their families. While I still spent most of my days testifying of only the Father and the Son, the moments of my mission when I spoke of my Mother are the ones that changed me the most.
After eighteen months of service, I completed my mission. The year that followed was filled with more searching, questioning, and learning. More books had been published, filled with poetry and light and love for the Mother, since I had last been home. I eagerly tore through the pages, finding others who, like me, had felt her absence and longed for her presence. As I sought for direction about how to continue with my life, I realized that I wanted my search for my Heavenly Mother to be a central part of it. I wanted to help others who questioned their power and worth as women to come to know her. More than anything, I wanted to discover why she had gone missing from our collective memory and testimony as a Church, and thereby find a way to restore her to her rightful place in our religious understanding.
Almost exactly a year after my return home from my mission, I agreed to do an interview with a student researcher on Latter-day Saint cultural beliefs about Heavenly Mother. It was in that interview that I came to an incredible realization. As I explained to her my way of connecting to Heavenly Mother, a phrase fell out of my mouth that took me by surprise. “For me, research is a form of worship.” As I heard myself say the words, they rang true. Heavenly Mother is not explicitly mentioned in any official ordinance, any frequent practice, any corner of our temples, any page of our canonical scriptures, or any element of our normal, everyday experience as Church members (outside of an occasional reference to Heavenly Parents). However, my act of seeking for her in each of these places and in the voices of other disciples had become my act of worship and adoration. Research – the act of seeking information, recording it, analyzing it, and searching for more – had become a habit to me when it came to my Heavenly Mother. I never stopped searching, seeking, or asking. I never let a setback stop me. I had come to know of my Mother, and I would never let her go.
As I reflect back on my house mate who so boldly proclaimed her love for the Father and the Son and her desire to serve a mission to share her knowledge of them, I now feel a bit of gratitude along with my pain. I too love the Father and the Son and seek to share my knowledge of them. That was part of the reason I chose to serve a mission for eighteen months. I recognize in myself the same feeling she had – but for me, it is not only for the Father and the Son. It is for the Mother, too.
Though I no longer wear a name tag, have no official mantle, and have been given no formal call to serve by my Church, I find myself once again on a mission. This is a mission for my Heavenly Mother. I bear her image, I carry her spiritual DNA, and I have the potential to one day become like her. I am her daughter, she is my Mother, and this is my lifelong calling. While I will also spend my life proclaiming the truth about my Heavenly Father and my elder brother Jesus Christ, I recognize that in those missions I am joined by the millions. In the mission for my Mother, those of us who serve are far and few between. Yet, we are persistent. We believe that by questioning, we have received answers; by searching, we have become enlightened. Now that we have been given the gift of knowing, we cannot – we will not – turn away.
The doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed powerful, transformative, and uplifting. It is for everyone, always. There are no exceptions to the plan of God – it is for all. However, I have come to know that we cannot harness its full power unless we include our Mother in our doctrinal consideration. Learning to live like our Heavenly Parents requires coming to know both of them. The pathway may not seem obvious – Heavenly Mother is not found in manuals or Church magazines. However, it is in taking the unseen path that we learn to rely upon the Spirit. It is in following the questions of our heart and soul that we find what our true mission in this life may be. In my searching, I found not only my Mother, but also myself. I learned why I am here, at this moment and in this time.
I have been called to serve by Her. Her truth, Her existence, and Her love I will proclaim.