Our Mother, Who Art In Heaven…

Nope, that isn’t a misprint. In general, members of the LDS Church believe in the existence of a divine momma, however if you ever ask a member of the church about her, well…

The concept of God the Father being the sire of us all isn’t so foreign in what we might call “mainstream Christianity,” after all, Jesus went on about this reality extensively during his ministry. But it wasn’t until I hooked up with the Latter-day Saints this month that I was asked to take this literally. What really blew my mind was the idea that God the Father and Jesus reside in heaven with literal, however glorified and perfect, bodies (Doctrine and Covenants 130: 22). If this is true, and Jesus is the firstborn of God, then how did God–being a dude–make us kids?

Divine baby-momma.

What a concept! We have literal divine parents, because after all, God did say that he created us in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). As previously mentioned, Jesus also commented on God not only being his father, but our father. Remember the Lord’s Prayer?

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” –Matthew 6: 9-13

Jesus also asks us to,

“Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” –Matthew 5: 48

There are many other scriptures that imply divine parentage–mostly via Jesus–but for the Latter-day Saints,

“Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body.”–Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998] 335

According to this teaching by the presidents and prophets of the Church, we lived in heaven with Heavenly Father before the foundations of the earth were even made. The idea is that in order to develop and mature, we needed a physical existence to test our faith and grow–much as we do while children–to learn the ropes of adulthood. We could not do this in heaven because we had the undeniable benefit of being in God’s presence. While on earth, we have a chance to prove ourselves worthy of living with Heavenly Father, and with the help of the Holy Spirit (the witness and teacher of truth), we can come to know the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Again, these ideals about the nature of God are pretty foreign, but I have to admit, attractive too. Modern day prophets of the church often extend this idea to involve the existence of a Heavenly Mother simply because it makes sense in this context. The family is the most basic and sacred unit of mankind. If we are modeled after a divine plan via the Father, it implies that the blueprint for us rests in the realities of heaven, ergo, a divine family.

Now go further. If we are literal sons and daughters of God, guess what? We’re brothers and sisters!

No wonder we fight so much…

So what about Heavenly Mother? Why don’t we hear much about her? Many LDS members are reticent to discuss her because, frankly, there are few details scripturally. Once we start talking about issues with no doctrinal basis, conjecture and folklore creep in and before you know it there are divergent theories flying all over the place. Another explanation my Mentors provided that it’s more out of modesty and respect.

Imagine all the bad things said about Heavenly Father and Jesus and all the times their names are taken in vain. Who is the one person you do not insult in front of a guy? His mom. In a way, leaving Heavenly Mother out of the messy business of theology is a sort of chivalry, protecting her honor and modesty with a quiet, yet knowing reverence. Because of this, LDS members do not pray to her. They do acknowledge though, in general, that she is a model of the mother/woman role in the family, just as Heavenly Father is for the husband, and Jesus is the model for all of us as children of God.

I like that last line. I like the idea of a heavenly model. Heavenly Father providing, Heavenly Mother with her gentle touch, and Jesus as older brother/leader showing us how things are done.

This is a lot to process, and I’m sure there are a lot of gaps here, but I invite you to ponder these concepts. What is your impression of God as a father? Can you imagine a heavenly family? For me, I get a closer, familial sense of my relationship with God. In this way, I’m not honoring and worshiping some distant, powerful force, but a thoughtful and loving father who purposefully created me to one day join him.

Now if we just had a Heavenly dog…


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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Richard Grove

    Bro. Bowen – Wow. What a wonderful summation of the LDS understanding of our Heavenly Family. Once again, you have made a flashy display of your awesomeness.
    P.S. You are right: Heavenly parents = spirit siblings here on earth…that’s why we Mormons call each other “brother” and “sister.” :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Richard Grove

    Another comment: Part of the reason we Latter-day Saints focus so much on the family is because we do believe that we have a “heavenly model” (great term, btw). Granted, our earthly families sometimes do not exactly match our heavenly one (my cousin, sister and aunt are all divorced, my uncle is still single at nearly 50 and at 34 so am I), but the model is something for which we strive, albeit imperfectly.

    We see Heavenly Father as you do: a “thoughtful and loving father who purposefully created [us] to one day join him.” As such we understand one of the most powerful ways we can be like our Heavenly Parents is to have children of our own and then tenderly provide for and nurture them. Thus we do not view sex (the act by which we can create children) or the desire to have sex as bad – provided they are enjoyed within the Lord’s bounds: only between one man and one woman who are legally and lawfully wed. We also believe that contraceptive use should be decided by each married couple (I think family planning is wise).

    With this understanding, we do not baptize babies – they have yet to understand God’s commandments (like not lying) and cannot yet grasp the power of choice or the nature of consequences. We wait to baptize until the age of eight (or later – think adult convert). But this time the child’s parents will have the opportunity to teach them and they can likely see the bounty of thier choices. We call this the “age of accountability” and any child who dies before reaching this age need not be baptized at all, for in God’s eyes they are innocent as they lack the ability to sin (that is, understand God’s commands and willfully choose otherwise). Likewise, any person whose mental challenges puts their capacity under that of an average eight-year-old need not be baptized as they also are not “accountable.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Heather Duncan

    Your best post yet. Beautiful.

    I, for one, would love to hear more in our church about our Mother in heaven, but I guess there are reasons we don’t and just trust that we’ll know more as needed.

    I have prayed to her before. Particularly when I miscarried my fourth baby I remember kneeling down and saying “Sorry Heavenly Father, I just want to talk to my Mom right now.”. But regardless of whether or not we pray “to” her I think she probably listens much more than we think. Also, if families here truly are following the model of our divine family and we earthly mothers are anything like our Heavenly Mother, I’m quite sure that she’s a heck of a lot more active in this plan than we know. It’s like that commercial that was on a while ago where everything was magically floating around and cleaning itself up. Then you find out–oh, yeah, mom does all that!

    Thanks again for the great post (and thanks for working so hard to get all the theological details right). I had not expected it, but your searching and investigating of my church this month has strengthened my wavering faith.

    • abowen

      I am sorry about your forth child. My family has also experienced this heartbreak, so I understand how you might seek comfort from the female person of the heavenly family. I’m glad this post meant so much to you and I hope your faith strengthens by the day.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Candace Hill

    In the original language of my faith (Arabic)God doesn’t have a gender. But, there always is a yearning for a balance in the divine, the masculine and the feminine. So, to my mind, I always thought of our “mother” as the planet Earth. She is our physical mother, having given birth to us and provides us with all our material needs. But again, this is only my personal belief, but I hold a lot of affection for her, our bountiful, nurturing planet.

    • abowen

      That is a great way to understand the feminine aspect of the divine!

  • http://jasonlovesjessie.blogspot.com Jessie

    In Young Womens (third hour organization for girls ages 12-18) they recite the theme at the start of every class and it starts out, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love him …” It’s a weekly reminder that we are literal daughters of God, daughters of a King and that as such, we are of royal divinity and should act as such. It reminds us that he isn’t just some all powerful being, but our Father who loves us dearly and wants for nothing more than for us to return and live with him for eternity.

    • abowen

      Jessie, I have two daughters and understanding this concept–that they are holy daughters of God–I think represents a fantastic foundation for self respect.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment EmiG

    This is one of the most foundational tenets of my testimony of the gospel (as anyone can tell from reading my earlier guest post: http://blog.beliefnet.com/projectconversion/2011/07/the-testimony-of-sister-geddes.html). I love what it implies about our individual potential. As literal children of omnipotent, omniscient Beings, every person has eternal value and infinite worth. That knowledge should fundamentally change how we see ourselves and how we treat others.

    • abowen

      It does indeed change our attitudes when we look at our relationships that way, doesn’t it?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment EmiG

    Just wanted to add a link to a survey recently published by BYU studies that delves into the teachings from Church leaders over the past 180 years regarding Heavenly Mother: http://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=8669

    It costs a couple bucks to download, but it’s full of beautiful, rich depth about Her all gathered in one place. :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Richard Grove

    Weighing in again…the “chivalry” thing about Heavenly Mother is a cop out, in my opinion. The REAL reason we don’t talk a ton about her is that we have VERY little doctrine about her. We know She exists, embodies a PERFECT equal (in power, prominence and position) to Father and helps define how women should be treated here on earth and what they are destined to become. But, sadly, that’s it. We have quite a bit of DETAILS about Heavenly Father but none about Mother.

    I talk about Her often in my Sunday School class (I teach kids 13-18). I think it is essential for both young men and young women to be actively thinking about Her – it can help the guys frame their relationships and should help the gals know who they are and demand to be treated as such. But in talking about Her, all we have is a logical “yin yang” inference. As Mormons, we firmly believe in continuing revelation and know that, once we have utilized what we have been given, we will get more. We also know that God can and does reveal things to individuals who are prepared that aren’t for the general population (we are told to keep this revelation under our indivual hats, except within our physical families). I’m hoping for more about Her.

    The only real validity I can come up with in regards to “protecting Her by not speakin too much of Her” is founded in the idea that one spares unnecessary hurt to others. In this regard, perhaps Father has kept details about Her from us so we’re less likely to blaspheme Her name – because He loves Her. All I know for certain is She exists, loves us and is anxiously engaged that Her children receive only the very best.

    • abowen

      Could be a cop out. Very much so. Or God is just old school and Heavenly Mother is just one of those ol’ fashion gals. Who knows!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kitsune

    So.. if everyone is your brother and sister.. then logically you have slept with your sister and bore children with her. Think about that. LOL!

    The concept of a Goddess isn’t new. There has been many types of gods, however, and different types of “family models” besides the supposedly natural monogamous, heterosexual relationship. There have been gay gods, transvestite gods, asexual and bisexual gods, and anything else you can think of. But, as you know, there is no scripture of these gods either.

    BTW, dogs were viewed favorably and were even companions to gods before monotheism came into the scene…

    • abowen

      Thanks for bringing up that lovely visual, Kitsune. And as for dogs, that was just a little comic relief ; )

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment river

    this is fascinating, and something i did not know about lds teachings.

    as you already did your turn as a baha’i, you probably know that we believe gender/sex to be aspects of this material existence, not inherent to our spiritual reality. so god is genderless, and manifests all the attributes we would consider masculine and feminine. once we pass from this world, we leave our gender identity behind as part of our physical reality, and are purely spiritual beings.

    i think this is important, because it teaches us that even in this world we are not constrained by our physical gender, in terms of the qualities and virtues we develop. we are all capable of being nurturing and merciful, and as a man it shows me the importance of cultivating these qualities, so that they balance my biological and cultural tendencies.

    this also applies to the human body on the macro scale — society. much of human history is dominated by the male attributes. it’s critical in this time of humanity’s maturation that we balance the masculine and the feminine in order to address the crises, many a result of this imbalance.

    a quote from the baha’i writings:

    “The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”

    i also fear that there is a subtle message in these teachings of lds that the masculine is above the feminine, since god the father has a primacy in this heavenly relationship, and one doesn’t pray or speak much about the mother. i’d be interested to hear how lds members reconcile that.

    • abowen

      Thanks for the reminder about the Baha’i perspective. The bottom line to both traditions is that the reality of this issue is a mystery. God is viewed as sexually neutral in many cases within the Middle Eastern traditions, however many references in scripture suggests a lower level or role for women. This is tough to reconcile, however I think modernity is helping with our interpretations. You will also remember that while women are said to be equal with men in the Baha’i tradition, they are not permitted to hold the “highest” roles in the Universal House of Justice. In other words, this sentiment plagues nearly every faith.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Laurelle

    I got here from a link on classicmomscorner.blogspot.com, and I have to say I’m really impressed with what you’re doing. It takes a truly open mind and loving heart to devote so much energy to exploring others’ spiritual realities, and to do it kindly and without prejudice. Thank you.

    In response to river–
    That has actually been the most difficult issue for me as a member of the LDS church. I’m very much a feminist and it’s hard, very hard, for me to reconcile that with a church that has little official information about the divine female figure and that doesn’t allow women to hold the priesthood or serve in certain roles (even or maybe especially if there are women-only roles as well).

    However, after a lot of study and prayer on the subject, I’m at peace with my church, for a couple of reasons. One is that I disagree with you about gender–I believe as my faith teaches, it’s eternal and inherent in each soul. Not that any individual can’t cultivate specific virtues because of their sex–far from it! But that there are differences, unfortunately so clouded by cultural perceptions that I can’t even give myself a satisfactory answer about what specifically they are. I can tell you what they aren’t, though: they’re not inequalities. Everyone has an equal chance at righteousness and salvation and what have you. But we have different roles to fulfill on the way, not because we each couldn’t do the work the other does–I’m sure we could–but because Heavenly Father knows what WE need to experience for our own growth and has thoughtfully provided us with the opportunity.

    Moreover, we’re told we need each other for balance and to strengthen each others’ weaknesses. No man reaches exaltation without a woman he’s sealed to, and no woman reaches it without a man. Nobody is higher than anybody else in that arrangement; we’re partners. And that’s my next reason for being content: men and women are partners, and however much one might try to point out supposed superiority in one or the other, the Church would fail if either was taken away.

    But the bottom line for me, really, is that I trust God. I don’t understand as much as He does. So when He arranges things a certain way and gives no explanation why, and I have a choice to follow or not, I choose to have faith. Not blind faith–like I said, I’ve prayed hard about this, and as a church we believe in personal revelation. I got my answer. It wasn’t an explanation. It was just a confirmation that the church is true and that I need to follow its teachings, including this one. You can believe or discount that experience as you like; I know that’s not a good enough answer for everyone, especially those who haven’t had a similar experience. But it was good enough for me.

    It also occurred to me as I was writing this that if I believe in a Heavenly Mother, that She must be in on this arrangement, too. I don’t believe for a second that Heavenly Father is making Her do anything She doesn’t want to do–just like my husband has no way to lead me where I won’t follow. So if She is the essence and epitome of the feminine, the ultimate example for all women, then whatever works for Her works for me.

  • http://www.margaretbarker.com Chris

    Margaret Barker is a Methodist scholar that Mormon scholars respect on this topic of the feminine divine. She notes what was lost between the first and second temples in the Bible.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Angela Thomassen

    You can even think bigger, how about a Heavenly Lion or Bear… T-Rex even :) I am LDS and thanks for this post.. your experience is something I myself have wanted to try.. Just to see and learn. I might attend a mass or something. In search of strengthening my own faith. Have you read “My Jesus Year” by Benyamin Cohen. Its a great book. Thanks for this blog and looking forward to your book :)

    • abowen


      A heavenly T-Rex, in my humble opinion, would be the most awesome thing ever. I think you will enjoy Mass as it offers a great time for meditation. Yes, I’ve read “My Jesus Year” and greatly enjoyed it!