Of Heavenly Dads and Heavenly Dyads

October 30, 2007 | 33 comments
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Are all of us praying to Mother in Heaven, unawares?

Of course, explicitly addressing Mother in Heaven is verboten. Church leaders have emphasized that at various points in church history; a decade and a half ago, some members who prayed to Mother in Heaven were visibly subjected to church discipline; the injunction continues today. An open salutation to “Dear Heavenly Mother” still draws gasps of surprise from most members, even at a setting like the Sunstone Symposium. Open prayer to Mother is out of the question.

But depending on one’s reply to Kathryn’s question, perhaps we’re praying to Her anyway, aren’t we? If “God” means a married couple, then prayers are addressed to Her as well as Him, like a letter addressed “Dear Smith Family.”

In fact, if this is the case, even conventional prayer can be largely stripped of gender altogether. If our personal conception of God is God-as-a-couple, and we begin a prayer, “Dear God” — well, we’re not praying to a male God, are we? We’re praying to a couple. We’re not calling on Heavenly Dad, but on Heavenly Dyad.

(Didn’t Julie make a comment along these lines at FMH a while back, about praying to “Dear God” to include both Parents? I can’t find that comment at the moment.)

Of course, there are many prayers for which that is not an option. Some of our prayers explicitly call, not on “God,” but on Father. The Sacrament prayer begins, “O God, the Eternal Father”; there’s not a lot of wiggle room there. The same goes for baptism: “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

But what about everyday prayers, from blessings on the food to morning or evening prayer, or the invocation or benediction at Sacrament Meeting? One could begin these prayers “Dear God,” right? That’s a perfectly orthodox prayer salutation for any LDS environment, and it is sufficiently flexible that one could personally
mean for the prayer to include Heavenly Mother, as part of a Heavenly Dyad. Right? Or are there other limits on our ability to address the Dyad in prayer?

Modern church culture cuts strongly against God-as-a-couple language, because modern culture focuses explicitly on one member of that Dyad. The most popular salutation for decades now has been one that leaves zero wiggle room for interpretation: “Dear Heavenly Father.”

Indeed, one of the more striking features of Mormon theology — our vision of a sort of spiritual intimacy with God — seems to favor the current salutation of Heavenly Father, and cut against a Dyad approach. In this setting, replacing “Father” with “God” would seem to undermine that intimacy — adding a layer of ambiguity (is this a Dyad or a Person?) as well as emotional distance into the prayer.

The familial intimacy and closeness of the current preferred address of Father is one of its great strengths. This familial closeness has been highlighted by church leaders for the last several decades. For example, Elder Packer stated,

“It should have great meaning that of all the titles of respect and honor and admiration that could be given him, God himself, he who is the highest of all, chose to be addressed simply as Father”

(Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 139; or Ensign, July 1972, 113.) Similar language is in the 1973 pamphlet Father, Consider Your Ways, with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the author: “It is significant that of all the titles of respect and honor and admiration that are given to Deity, He has asked us to address Him as Father.” (This was reprinted in Ensign, June 2002, 12.)

Ultimately, I think, this is really a great vision of the Divine — a being who is familially close and intimately interested in our lives. Consistent with this idea, modern Mormonism embraces the title Father, seldom using other titles. The Mormon conception of God is wonderfully embodied, the antithesis of the traditional Protestant view.

By moving to a more Dyadic title, we seem to lose some of this closeness and intimacy. The idea of a broadly constituted “Dear God,” open to both dyadic and non-dyadic interpretations, seems awfully ambiguous next to the immediacy and certainty of Father — it looks almost like a retreat to the “without parts or passions” conception that Joseph Smith rebelled against.

(Though the intimacy is itself cruelly gendered and exclusive, isn’t it? We get this wonderful, personal, emotional and spiritual connection with our Heavenly Father, while Heavenly Mother remains a vague unknown being, without parts or passions of Her own.)

Which seems to bring us full circle.

I love the idea of God as a couple. It resonates with me, and seems to be a great way to reconcile some of the more interesting parts of Mormon theology. I like the idea of being able to pray to the Heavenly Dyad, that my prayers go to both Heavenly Parents.

And yet, I find the potential language of prayer to the Dyad to be unsatisfying. Explicit prayer to Heavenly Mother is not allowed, and so prayer to the Dyad would largely consist in replacing the salutation “Heavenly Father” with a more ambiguous, “God.” In doing so, I would have to step away from the intimate and familial language of Father and child, and towards the more impersonal and ambiguous address of merely God.

Is there a way to frame prayers to the Dyad, while also keeping the familial tone and emotional intimacy of touches like the title of Father? That, I’m not sure.

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33 Responses to Of Heavenly Dads and Heavenly Dyads

  1. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    Kaimi, I think prayers addressed to any being other than “Father” fall outside the established paradigm. And I agree, praying to “God” loses the intimacy of a one-on-one conversation.

    I pray to my Father. But in doing so, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on communion with my Mother. I believe that I am part of her consciousness just as I am part of the Father’s and the Son’s. I can’t reach Father without also reaching Mother, because they are one. Externally they are separate beings with separate bodies, yet internally they are intertwined with each other, just as the Father and Son are.

    I envision Father when I pray to him, extending my feelings and thoughts toward him–and I believe Mother is right next to him, receiving my prayer also, even though I don’t address her directly. Language is only the surface layer of prayer. I suppose that whatever we send through the medium of the spirit is available to any being who is linked in consciousness with the Father.

    My patriarchal blessing tells me that my Father, Mother, and Savior love me. Heavenly Mother is real to me. I don’t have to cross any established boundaries to feel close to her.

  2. Kaimi Wenger on October 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I agree, Kathryn — language is just the surface layer. I like your thoughts on communing with both Parents, notwithstanding any limitations in language.

    I do think that different language opens up the possiblity of a prayer intended for a couple. But you’re right that it would be relatively unusual to use the address “God” in a sacrament meeting or similar setting. (Though without going into any inappropriate detail, there _is_ an instance of prayer in LDS belief that is addressed explicitly to “God,” rather than to Father.)

  3. Sarah on October 30, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    I think that praying to “God” manages to be both less formal and less intimate all at once. Half as much for twice the price! This may be because of the uses of prayers to “God” as an ironic flag (“Dear God, it’s me, Margaret”) and the word’s dominance in popular deity-invoking expletives.

    Anyway, I’m not comfortable addressing invitations and greeting cards to “Dr. and Mrs.” or “The Smiths” so it’s probably not surprising that I don’t really feel comfortable using “God” to mean two people. You’re either addressing a big group or talking to a single person, in my mind. Bearing in mind that I also hate group conversations, group work in school, and pretty much every variation on communication that includes more than two people. ^_^

  4. California Condor on October 30, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    When I pray, I envision only God the Father. Frankly, I have never really thought about praying to Heavenly Mother, or her being next to God the Father as I pray to him. Perhaps this is because I am a male raised in the patriarchal structure of the LDS Church.

  5. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    it would be relatively unusual to use the address “God” in a sacrament meeting or similar setting

    Not only unusual, but inappropriate, imo. Doing so would imply that addressing the Father, as we’ve been instructed to do, is inadequate. And that would be blasphemous.

    Unless and until we’re sanctioned as a Church to change the language we use, we should not presume to do so.

    Interesting point regarding that one exception.

  6. Kaimi Wenger on October 30, 2007 at 4:22 pm
  7. Kaimi Wenger on October 30, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Kathryn,

    One think I’m not sure of, though, is just how far back the injunction to pray to Father (and not God) extends. I don’t know a lot on the topic, but a recent discussion I had with a knowledgeable historian suggested that this trend may be a relatively recent development.

    If early church leaders (such as Joseph Smith or Brigham Young) prayed mostly to “God” rather than “Father,” would that change your analysis any?

  8. Adam Greenwood on October 30, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Clever title.

    I got in trouble as a teacher for always praying ‘Lord.’

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    I don’t think it’s okay to do something just because the Church used to do it (polygamy, anyone?) I think it’s only okay to do what our current leaders tell us to do as a church. Esp. regarding something like praying in public. I trust there’s a good reason why we’re instructed to pray explicitly to the Father nowadays.

  10. Kaimi Wenger on October 30, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Careful, Kathryn, the Danites will get you. :)

    But seriously — there’s potentially a difference between acts (polygamy) and understanding about the nature of God. We base much of our current belief system on Joseph Smith’s writings and teachings about God.

    I’d be interested in finding out more about the progression of forms and addresses of prayer. (Anyone know of a good article on this?) One thing’s for certain — we don’t address prayers to Jehovah anymore. :)

  11. JGwynn on October 30, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    I thought “God” was the title of an office. I have a calling (office) in the church as does my wife. They are separate. Heavenly Mother is possibly not a “God” and has other responsibilities than answering our prayers.

  12. Mark D. on October 30, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I think one think is notable – Due to the prevalent use of more specific terms such as “Heavenly Father”, Mormons seem to use the term “God” rather less often than more conventional Christians.

  13. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Kaimi, I’m just saying that it’s wrong to nix current protocols in favor of old ones, just because we want to. Even if we think the old ones are better. However, public worship and private worship are not the same thing. My spiritual life is larger than my participation in the Church as an institution. If someone wants to pray to “God” in private, I seriously doubt a lightning bolt is gonna fry ‘er. But she shouldn’t pray that way at Church, and she shouldn’t try to convert others to alternative practices.

  14. Mark D. on October 30, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    thing, that is.

  15. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    #11– “Then shall they be Gods” is a phrase from D&C 132 that refers to men and women. Since women can be Gods, I can’t imagine that the Father’s wife would not be one.

  16. Ray on October 30, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    My mother prays to Heavenly Father, and occasionally she asks Him to say hi to Mom.

  17. Alan Jackson on October 30, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    This is a good example of the need to distinguish from speculation and practice. We’ve been told not to pray to “Heavenly Mother”, we know that the Godhead is the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, lets leave it at that for our worship and attempts to be close to our God (or Godhead). Coming as close to the line as possible while not crossing over doesn’t seem like a good idea — I’m willing to listen to our leaders on the subject.

    We can speculate that there must be a Heavenly Mother up there that loves us and cares for us, but it shouldn’t intrude on our current worship, covenants, ordinances or doctrine.

  18. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Alan, female Gods are part of our doctrine, covenants, and ordinances. Not part of our worship, though. We need to be careful not to expand OR shrink what we’ve been given.

  19. Julie M. Smith on October 30, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    “Didn’t Julie make a comment along these lines at FMH a while back, about praying to “Dear God” to include both Parents? I can’t find that comment at the moment.”

    Yes. My personal belief is that we are always addressing both, even when we use gendered language, even if we don’t think about it that way, because I understand “God” or “Heavenly Father” or any other title/name to encompass both of Them.

    I’m not interested in making any converts to this idea and I am clear that I am outside established LDS thought/practice to some extent on this one. The only horse I have in this race is this: don’t give me any nonsense about Her being “too sacred” to interact with Her children. That’s ex post facto reasoning slash LDS folklore if I’ve ever heard it.

  20. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Julie, I just put big money on your horse.

  21. Megan on October 30, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    I’m with Julie, sort of. I’m not totally sure that I think the office of God is occupied by both a man and a woman, jointly, but if it is, then I’d imagine even when we say Heavenly Father, we are addressing both.

    I kind of like the idea though, or at least I can see a way in which it very much makes sense. I’ve always seen a bit of a disconnect with the notion that gender is eternal and having a gendered God. To me, the notion that gender has any kind of meaning in the eternities (which, I know you can think that gender doesn’t have significant meaning in the eternities, but is an eternal characteristic nonetheless, but to me that seems very similar to saying something like hair color is an eternal characteristic) presents a problem if we look at our Heavenly Father as a gendered being. Because, if gender has a substantial meaning, then it seems to me that it must, in some way, limit perfection. And if Heavenly Father is, in fact, a Father, and his gender is still important, it seems that our notions of an eternal gender are incongruent with our conceptualization of God. However, if Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are, jointly, God, then they are two halves of a whole, and the notion of gender being meaningfully eternal makes a bit more sense. It does mean, however, that God isn’t gendered, and that neither one being is, individually, God. They are only God together.

    While I find this plausible, I’m not sure I actually could believe it.

  22. ed johnson on October 30, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    It occurs to me that we are taught, when praying in English, to use “thee” and “thou,” which have always been singular, rather than “you,” which started out plural and now can be either singular or plural.

  23. Kathryn Lynard Soper on October 30, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    There are three beings in a marriage–the male, the female, and the combination of the two.

    “Heavenly Father” could refer to both the individual and the team. There is scriptural precedent for the male’s name incorporating the female as well:

    Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam in the day when they were created. (Gen. 5:1–2.)

    Spencer W. Kimball referred to “Mr. and Mrs. Adam, or Brother and Sister Adam.”

    “God” can mean an individual or a team. (We can refer to the Father and the Son simultaneously by saying “Lord.”)

    Here’s more of the Erastus Snow quote that inspired my post yesterday:

    I sometimes illustrate this matter by taking up a pair of shears . . . composed of two halves, but they are necessarily parts, one of another, and to perform their work for each other, as designed, they belong together, and neither one of them is fitted for the accomplishment of their works alone. And for this reason says St. Paul, “the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord.”

    We do not need to toss out our traditional view of the Father in order to include the Mother. We can simply consider that as a married man, he is part of a larger unit as well as an invididual.

  24. Kevin Barney on October 30, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    When I first saw your post I was going to suggest that anyone concerned about it simply understand the term “Father” to encompass both Father and Mother. That’s the linguistic path of least resistance. But I see that Julie has already suggested this and in fact this is her understanding in her own prayer practice.

    Of course, other people aren’t going to understand the full extent of what you mean unless you explain it to them. But if you are privately satisfied in this equation, you can have your cake (praying to both) and eat it too (without offending others).

  25. m&m on October 30, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Kaimi, I think prayers addressed to any being other than “Father” fall outside the established paradigm.

    I agree with this. I think the Lord was pretty clear about praying to Father.

    But I can’t imagine a Mother not involved, even if She isn’t directly being addressed. My kids have interviews with their dad, but he and I talk about what is discussed, and we work together to address our children’s needs. I can’t imagine a heavenly model any less partnership based, even if the prayers really do go to just Father.

  26. mmiles on October 30, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    m&m
    I think there is a difference between saying we are praying to Father and then he goes and communicates with Mother in Heaven (not direct involvement), and saying we are praying to Father and we are actually praying to them both directly when we say Father.

  27. Cordeiro on October 31, 2007 at 11:01 am

    As much as it pains me to point out the obvious, it seems to be missing in this discourse.

    “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven…” (3rd Nephi 13:9)

    Seems to answer the question for me anyway.

  28. Kaimi Wenger on October 31, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Cordeiro,

    As much as it pains me to point out the obvious response, it seems to be missing in your comment.

    3 Nephi 13 (beginning in verse 9 that you cite, and going on for five verses) reads:

    After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

    When was the last time you saw an LDS prayer that looked anything like that?

    We don’t typically say “hallowed be thy name.” Or “For thine is the kingdom.” Or any of the other portions as instructed in 3 Nephi 13, do we?

    So, what’s your theory for why the first half of verse 9 should be binding, while the second half of verse 9, plus verses 10 through 13, are completely ignored on a regular basis?

  29. Kiskilili on November 2, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Interesting post!

    Kathryn writes:
    “I pray to my Father. But in doing so, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on communion with my Mother. I believe that I am part of her consciousness just as I am part of the Father’s and the Son’s. I can’t reach Father without also reaching Mother, because they are one.”

    “I envision Father when I pray to him, extending my feelings and thoughts toward him–and I believe Mother is right next to him, receiving my prayer also, even though I don’t address her directly. Language is only the surface layer of prayer. I suppose that whatever we send through the medium of the spirit is available to any being who is linked in consciousness with the Father. ”

    I have difficulty understanding, on a logical level, what this all means. We’ve been asked to pray exclusively to Heavenly Father. As you say, language is only the surface level, but if it does not signify something of importance, why limit ourselves to the language of the phrase “Heavenly Father,” especially for those who believe that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are “intertwined” and “one” and prayers to the Father reach both Parents? That is, if “Heavenly Father” is a sort of shorthand for “Heavenly Father and Mother,” both of whom “perk up” (as it were) at the phrase, then what could possibly be objectionable about the longhand form, in which both parents are specified?

    I submit that if we believe Heavenly Mother listens to our prayers and responds anyway, we might as well just invoke her by name (=title). If we insist, on the other hand, on praying to the Father to the specific exclusion of the Mother, the implication is that we believe that the Father hears and responds to our prayers in a way the Mother simply does not. (Or we believe Heavenly Mother’s personality is entirely suppressed by and assimilated into Heavenly Father’s more dominant persona.)

  30. JGwynn on November 3, 2007 at 11:50 am

    #15 Thankyou for reminding me of a scripture with which I am very familiar. Perhaps my question in #11 was too simple as I tried to keep it short. Unfortunately the scripture doesn’t answer some interesting questions. Are all gods equal? Do all gods do the same thing? What distinguishes a god from another celestial spirit or will all who go there be gods? We speak of God, The Father, God, The Son, and God, The Holy Ghost but rarely of God, The Mother. If she is a god, she clearly doesn’t concern us the same way the three members of the Godhead do. As to the question of praying to God, The Mother … I don’t … but I am sure she is there and loves me just the same.

  31. Kathryn Lynard Soper on November 3, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    #29– Language is only the surface layer of prayer, but it’s still very important. Using the correct name is something stressed over and over again in holy writ. I don’t pray to Mother by name (title), because I’ve been taught it’s the wrong name (title) to use for prayer. Names are literal keys. We must use the one given to us, or the door won’t open.

    Additionally, prayers are answered through the authority of the Father. Whether this authority is held jointly (Father and Mother), I don’t know, and don’t care to guess.

    I’ve seen a diagram on church blackboards that shows a horizontal line between mortal man and woman (marriage), and a vertical line between God and man. Women have their own direct relationship with God, but in some matters the man represents the couple. I believe the same dynamic holds true from the other end. But as I’ve been reminded, this belief constitutes imposing a mortal paradigm on deity, and is mere speculation.

    My point is this: I don’t feel that praying to Father means Mother is excluded from knowing what’s happening with her children on earth. I am confident she knows us just as the Father does, and when I meet her again, she will not be a stranger to me. As her daughter, she’s part of me, and I’m part of her, and this closeness is intertwined with the relationship I have with Father, kept strong through prayer.

  32. Cordeiro on November 5, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Kaimi:

    You missed the point entirely. There was a reason why I only cited the first part of that scripture. Your post centered on “who” prayers are directed at, not the exact language contained in any given prayer. The scripture says “after this manner pray ye”, meaning its given as an example, not boilerplate. Find me a scriptural example where Jesus prayed to anyone but the Father and I’ll entertain the rest of your arguement.

  33. Kaimi Wenger on November 5, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Cordeiro,

    So you don’t have a theory to explain it, do you?

    Kiskilili writes,

    If “Heavenly Father” is a sort of shorthand for “Heavenly Father and Mother,” both of whom “perk up” (as it were) at the phrase, then what could possibly be objectionable about the longhand form, in which both parents are specified?

    That’s a good question, K.

    I think Kathryn’s answer is the best one we can give. It’s what we’ve been told to do. But you’re right, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason why that would have to be the case — other than that it’s how we’ve been instructed.