Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where Two Or Three Are Gathered

I recently had a discussion with a friend that got me thinking. We talked about how we gain gospel understanding, answers to prayer, and sacred experiences. As a people, we make much of the solitary nature of sacred experiences. We emphasize the importance of personal pondering and prayer, developing an intimacy with the Savior, and keeping things that are holy to oneself.

All these things are good. We are commanded to "pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness" (Alma 34:26), for there are answers to prayer that can only be gained in the silence of one's closet, in the prayer and meditation that are kept only between the Lord and His child. There are experiences so sacred that they cannot be shared.

But there are also experiences so sacred that they cannot be kept to oneself, nor had in isolation. There are answers to prayer that can only be gained in the union of community, in the holiness of friendship, in the special moments when two souls touch, when hearts are healed and relationships are exalted. There is a sacred light that flows into the lives of individuals only when they are together, when the barriers to intimacy are demolished, when they are united in purpose and desire, when, having opened their hearts to each other, they can together come to Christ, unitedly placing their wounded hearts in the wounded hands of their Redeemer.

Prayers in the closet are essential. And there is a time to leave the closet (in more than the colloquial sense), to engage with our fellow-men in building Zion. There are heights that can only be reached in the stillness of personal prayer. And there are other heights we will never see without another person by our side. When we sense that another imperfect mortal knows us intimately and loves us anyway, we gain confidence that the Lord, who is perfect, can still love us. When we return that love, when we learn to love imperfect people, imperfectly, we become more like the Savior we worship.

Christ prayed for His followers, "that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). For "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Another Mother's Day

Last year, a member of my singles' ward bishopric asked me to speak in church on mothers' day. The poor man didn't know what he was getting himself into. Since it was a student ward with no mothers in attendance, and since I was sick of hearing "angel mother" stories that turned into eulogies of various students' mothers--people who, though undoubtedly delightful, were unknown to everyone else in the congregation, I decided to talk about a Mother we all had in common, a Woman we would all know more fully someday. I had heard many talks praising the speaker's father that then went on to discuss the bishop's role as the father of the ward, and further explained how the fathers in their lives had helped point them toward their Heavenly Father, but I had heard no similar talks about mothers. There's a first time for everything, I guess.
Here I present what is probably the first (and last) talk you will ever hear (or read) about our Mother in Heaven. Happy Mother's Day!

Mothers deserve a day of honor. The women who carried us inside of them for nine months, who gave birth to us, who raised us, who nurtured us and made us who we are, deserve our respect and love. I recognize, of course, that we all have different relationships with our mothers. Some of our mothers are members of the Church, some never were, and some have turned away from the light and knowledge they once received. Some of our mothers were kind and loving, and some were abusive or neglectful. Some of us have mothers who have passed away. Some of us never knew our mothers.

Regardless of our particular family circumstance in mortality, one of the most glorious and comforting doctrines of the restored gospel is that we are members of an eternal Heavenly family. We are all brothers and sisters, and we are all children of the same Heavenly Parents. Though we often speak of our Heavenly Father, it is equally true that we have a Heavenly Mother. On this day created to honor mothers, it is about our Mother in Heaven that I wish to speak. I invite the Spirit to be with me and with you as we discuss this sacred topic.

First, I will discuss why this doctrine is important to us in the broader gospel context. Second, I will describe some attributes of our Heavenly Mother. Finally, I will discuss how an understanding of this doctrine changes our behavior and makes a real difference in our lives.

First, why is this doctrine important? In the book The Articles of Faith, Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “We are expressly told that God is the Father of spirits, and to apprehend the literalness of this solemn truth we must know that a Mother of spirits is an existent personality.”(1) Joseph Smith has told us that “if men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”(2) And speaking of the nature of God, Elder Erastus Snow said, “God consists of both an exalted man and an exalted woman... there can be no god except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way.”(3) Therefore, when our scriptures refer to “God,” (or in Hebrew, the plural word “Elohim”), the word “God” is interchangeable with the phrase “Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.”

From these three prophets we learn the importance of the knowledge that we have a Mother in Heaven. Without that knowledge, the plan of salvation is incomplete, since without an understanding that we have a Mother we would lack an understanding of what it means to call God our “Father.” We would lose sight of the true nature of God. Without this crucial understanding, we could not grasp the nature and importance of eternal marriage and eternal families. If we do not comprehend the character of God—and remember that “God” means “Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother”—we do not comprehend ourselves, for we are made in Their image and with the potential to become like Them.

With the knowledge that we have a God that consists of a married couple, an exalted husband and wife, who desire us to become like them, we must ask ourselves: What are They like? What attributes must we possess in order to become like Them? We could all list many attributes of our Father in Heaven, but what are some attributes of our Mother in Heaven?

Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote, “In accordance with Gospel philosophy there are males and females in heaven. Since we have a Father, who is our God, we must also have a mother, who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”(4)

From Elder Widtsoe we learn that our Mother in heaven possesses the attributes of Godhood. As She is the Mother of our spirits and the companion of our Heavenly Father, we must also understand that She has a glorified body of flesh and bone. Melvin J. Ballard remarked, “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children...a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.”(5) From Elder Ballard we learn that our Mother in Heaven is a noble and exalted being of great glory.

It is important to recognize that our Mother in Heaven is not merely an appendage to the work of the Father—She is in every way united with Him in Their work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men and women (Moses 1:39). Elder Bruce R. McConkie has told us, “An exalted and glorified Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) could not be a Father unless a Woman of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as a Mother.”(6) She is His equal in every conceivable way. Without Her, He would not be who He is. And though we pray to our Heavenly Father in the name of the Son, the unity that our Father shares with His wife makes it clear that when we ask for the counsel of one, we receive the united counsel and love of both.

We know that our Mother in Heaven loves us and has a great influence on us, for we are Her children. President Kimball said, “we get a sense of the...queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?(7) Just as the best of mortal mothers love and teach their children as they grow to adulthood, so our Heavenly Mother loves and teaches us as we grow to become like Her and like our Father.

Finally, how does an understanding of this important doctrine affect us? How does it impact our behavior to know that we have a Mother in Heaven in whose image we are made who is a God, who loves us, and who is united and equal with our Heavenly Father? How does an understanding of this doctrine bring us closer to Christ and therefore closer to our Heavenly Parents?

From the example of our Heavenly Parents, we learn that we are to be as united and equal in our marriages as our Heavenly Parents are in Theirs. In order that we may be prepared to return to Their presence and live as They live, there is no place for superiority or inequality in a marriage. We learn that perfect unity between spouses gives a marriage power—Godly power—just as the unity between our Heavenly Parents gives Them power and dominion. Indeed, without unity between husband and wife, there is no exaltation, there is no godhood. Truly we can see that, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11), for in the Lord, both man (the Father) and woman (the Mother) are united as a couple, possessing the same power, dominion, glory, and exaltation to the same degree that they are united as one.

When we see our spouses as the other half of the God we will someday become, we will not be inclined to be selfish in our interactions with them, to put them down or to belittle them. Instead, we will see our husbands and wives—and indeed, all men and women—as children made in the image and possessing the Divine attributes of a united God, our Eternal Father and Mother. With this knowledge, we will better understand why They value marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood, both in this life and in eternity. Only by understanding our Eternal Father and Mother can we understand the true purpose of earthly fatherhood and motherhood.

I will close by reading an excerpt from an article in The Millennial Star, which was the Church’s newspaper in Great Britain: “The love of God is often illustrated by showing what an earthly father will do for a child. But does a mother do less?...When we draw nearer the Divine Man, lo! we shall find a Divine Woman smiling upon us. Much ... in music, ... poetry, and ... art, is the expression of the soul’s instinctive sigh for a Divine Mother. In the Father’s many mansions we shall find her and be satisfied.”(8)

I bear my solemn witness that we have a Mother in Heaven who loves us, who is the Godly equal of our Father in Heaven, who possesses with Him all might, majesty, and dominion in perfect and eternal unity. I bear witness that Their marital unity and Their parenthood are perfect examples for us as we prepare for and enter into marriage, the order of the Priesthood that is necessary to become exalted as They are. I bear witness that one day we will find Them both and know Them and be like Them, and our soul’s instinctive desires will thereby be satisfied, and I do it in the sacred name of Their Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 (A. of F., p. 443).
2 The King Follett Discourse
3 Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.269-271, Erastus Snow, March 3, 1878
4 A Rational Theology, p.69
5 Melvin J. Ballard, cited in Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, p. 205.)
6 Mormon Doctrine, p.517
7 Spencer W. Kimball, “The True Way of Life and Salvation,” Ensign, May 1978, 4
8 The Millennial Star, Vol 34 no. 9, Feb 27, 1872, p.140