Mother in Heaven: The Quotes Behind the Essay

On the Saturday evening session of General conference, Elder Renlund stated that: “Very little has been revealed about mother in heaven but what we do know is summarized in a Gospel Topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject.” While there were cautions he offered that have raised concerns in some sectors of the Church, there is also a strong affirmation for the Gospel Topics essay on the subject. In that light, I felt that it was appropriate to collect and present all of the quotes about Heavenly Mother that were referenced in that article to make them more easily accessible. (With the caveat that the Paulson and Pulido BYU article that is referenced is extensive enough that the quotes referenced in that essay will be presented in a separate post.)

 

Susa Gates on a Zina D. Young recollection from 1839:

An interesting sidelight is given to this time through a possible glimpse of the thought-kernel which grew into such fragrant bloom in the full-voiced poem of Sister Snow [“O My Father”].  It was told by Aunt Zina D. Young to the writer [Susa Young Gates] as to many others during her life.  Father Huntington lost his wife under the most trying circumstances.  Her children were left desolate.  One day, when her daughter Zina was speaking with the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the loss of her mother and her intense grief, she asked the question:

“Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over on the Other Side?”

“Certainly you will,” was the instant reply of the Prophet. “More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.”

“And have I then a Mother in Heaven?” exclaimed the astonished girl.

“You assuredly have.  How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?”[1]

 

William W. Phelps (1844):

A VOICE FROM THE PROPHET. “COME TO ME.” BY W. W. PHELPS, ESQ. –TUNE — “Indian Hunter.” —

Come to me, will ye come to the saints that have died,

To the next better world, where the.

Come to me where the truth and the virtues prevail;

Where the union is one, and the years never fail;

Where a heart can’t conceive, nor a nat’ral eye see,

What the Lord has prepar’d for the just: Come to me.

Come to me where there is no destruction or war;

Neither tyrants, or mobbers, or nations ajar;

Where the system is perfect, and happiness free,

And the life is eternal with God: Come to me.

Come to me, will ye come to the mansions above,

Where the bliss and the knowledge, the light, and the love,

Death, the wages of sin, is not here: Come to me.

Come to me, here are Adam and Eve at the head

Of a multitude, quicken’d and rais’d from the dead:

Here’s the knowledge that was, or that is, or will be

In the gen’ral assembly of worlds: Come to me.

Come to me; here’s the myst’ry that man hath not seen:

Here’s our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen,

Here are worlds that have been, and the worlds yet to be:

Here’s eternity, — endless; amen: Come to me.

Come to me all ye faithful and blest of Nauvoo:

Come ye Twelve, and ye High Priests, and Seventies, too;

Come ye Elders, and all of the great company;

When you’ve finish’d your work on the earth: Come to me.

Come to me; here’s the future, the present and past:

Here is Alpha, Omega, the first and the last;

Here’s the fountain, the “river of life,” and the Tree:

Here’s your Prophet & Seer, JOSEPH SMITH: Come to me.[2]

 

Eliza R. Snow (1845):

POETRY, For the Times and Seasons. MY FATHER IN HEAVEN; By Miss Eliza R. Snow

 

O my Father, thou that dwellest

In the high and glorious place;

When shall I regain thy presence,

And again behold thy face?

In thy holy habitation

Did my spirit once reside?

In my (first) primeval childhood

Was I nurtur’d near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose

Thou hast plac’d me here on earth,

And withheld the recollection

Of my former friends and birth:

Yet oft times a secret something

Whispered you’re a stranger here;

And I felt that I had wandered

From a more exalted sphere.

I had learn’d to call thee father

Through thy spirit from on high;

But until the key of knowledge

Was restor’d, I knew not why.

In the heav’ns are parents single?

No, the thought makes reason state;

Truth is reason — truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother here.

When I leave this frail existence-

When I lay this mortal by,

Father, mother, may I meet you

In your royal court on high?

Then, at length, when I’ve completed

All you sent me forth to do,

With your mutual approbation

Let me come and dwell with you.

(City of Joseph, Oct. 1845.)[3]

 

Orson F. Whitney / First Presidency (1909):

All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.[4]

 

Rudger Clawson (1910):

It does seem strange, indeed, that sensible, reasoning, liberal and high-thinking people should have overlooked the Motherhood of God. It is stranger still that when the fact is brought to their attention they should fail to rejoice, and even will frown down the thought. …

And what is there in the natural man or woman that revolts at the idea of a Heavenly Mother? The sublime attributes which are ascribe to Deity, are just those which have immortalized the name of mother. Fatherhood and motherhood are co-equal in sacred office on earth, but childhood wants mother. That’s why babes delight to hear of the Heavenly Mother. …

An unknown author has said, “Not only from the mouths of babes and sucklings has the cry gone forth for a Mother in heaven. Men, strong and brave, have yearned to adore her. The heart of man craves this faith and has from time immemorial demanded the deification of woman.” It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections, in fact, the love of one is a complement of our love for the other. We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype. And, man may never hope to reach the high destiny marked out for him by the Savior in these encouraging words: “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” without woman by his side; for “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”[6]

 

Susa Young Gates (1920):

That wonderful appearance in the Gove, at Palmyra, held in its heart, like the half-opened calyx of a rose, all the promises of future development for woman, foreshadowed by that revelation given to Moses concerning the creation when he saw “man” created in the express image of his Maker, “male and female created he them.”  There was to be no bond and free in Christ Jesus, but all were to be free.  Therefore, the Vision held the bright promise of equality and freedom for women.  The divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities, in heaven and on earth, all this was foreshadowed in that startling announcement of the Son: “They were all wrong!  They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me!”  In an age-long darkness and apostasy, woman had been shackled because of her very virtue, tender sympathy, and patient desire for peace.”[5]

 

Harold B. Lee (1964):

We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.[7]

 

Gordon B. Hinkley (1991):

I speak of those who advocate the offering of prayers to our Mother in Heaven. I quote from that earlier address:

“This [practice] began in private prayer and is beginning to spread to prayers offered in some of our meetings.

“It was Eliza R. Snow who wrote the words: ‘Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.’ (Hymns, 1985, no. 292.)

“It has been said that the Prophet Joseph Smith made no correction to what Sister Snow had written. Therefore, we have a Mother in Heaven. Therefore, [some assume] that we may appropriately pray to her.

“Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me.

“However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.

“The Lord Jesus Christ set the pattern for our prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, He declared:

‘After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.’ (Matt. 6:9; italics added here and in following references.)

“When the resurrected Lord appeared to the Nephites and taught them, He said: ‘After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.’ (3 Ne. 13:9.)

“While He was among them, He further taught them by example and precept concerning this practice. The record states that ‘He himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.’ (3 Ne. 17:15.)

“Furthermore, He said: ‘Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.’ (3 Ne. 18:21.)

“On another occasion, ‘Jesus departed out of the midst of them, and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said:

“‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world.

“‘Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.’ (3 Ne. 19:19–21.)

“And so I might continue with other specific instances from the scripture. Search as I have, I find nowhere in the standard works an account where Jesus prayed other than to His Father in Heaven or where He instructed the people to pray other than to His Father in Heaven.

“I have looked in vain for any instance where any President of the Church, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, has offered a prayer to ‘our Mother in Heaven.’

“I suppose those … who use this expression and who try to further its use are well-meaning, but they are misguided. The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”

That is the end of the quotation from the talk I gave earlier, to which I may add that none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.[8]

 

Elain Anderson Cannon (1992):

Latter-day Saints infer from authoritative sources of scripture and modern prophecy that there is a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejects the idea found in some religions that the spirits or souls of individual human beings are created ex nihilo. Rather it accepts literally the vital scriptural teaching as worded by Paul: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” This and other scriptures underscore not only spiritual sibling relationships but heirship with God, and a destiny of joint heirship with Christ (Rom. 8:16-18; cf. Mal. 2:10).

Latter-day Saints believe that all the people of earth who lived or will live are actual spiritual offspring of God the Eternal Father (Num. 16:22Heb. 12:9). In this perspective, parenthood requires both father and mother, whether for the creation of spirits in the premortal life or of physical tabernacles on earth. A Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Heavenly Father. This concept leads Latter-day Saints to believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness.

Elohim, the name-title for God, suggests the plural of the Caananite El or the Hebrew Eloah. It is used in various Hebrew combinations to describe the highest God. It is the majestic title of the ultimate deity. Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them” (emphasis added), which may be read to mean that “God” is plural.

For Latter-day Saints, the concept of eternal family is more than a firm belief; it governs their way of life. It is the eternal plan of life, stretching from life before through life beyond mortality.

As early as 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the concept of an eternal mother, as reported in several accounts from that period. Out of his teaching came a hymn that Latter-day Saints learn, sing, quote, and cherish, “O My Father,” by Eliza R. Snow. President Wilford Woodruff called it a revelation.[9]

In the heav’ns are parents single?

No, the thought makes reason stare!

Truth is reason; truth eternal

Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,

When I lay this mortal by,

Father, Mother, may I meet you

In your royal courts on high? [Hymn no. 292]

In 1909 the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, issued a statement on the origin of man that teaches that “man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father,” as an “offspring of celestial parentage,” and further teaches that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity”.

Belief that there is a Mother in Heaven who is a partner with God in creation and procreation is not the same as the heavy emphasis on Mariology in the Roman tradition.

Today the belief in a living Mother in Heaven is implicit in Latter-day Saint thought. Though the scriptures contain only hints, statements from presidents of the church over the years indicate that human beings have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father.[10]

 

Dallin H. Oaks (1995):

The purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to help all of the children of God understand their potential and achieve their highest destiny. This church exists to provide the sons and daughters of God with the means of entrance into and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. This is a family-centered church in doctrine and practices. Our understanding of the nature and purpose of God the Eternal Father explains our destiny and our relationship in his eternal family. Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. Under the merciful plan of the Father, all of this is possible through the atonement of the Only Begotten of the Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As earthly parents we participate in the gospel plan by providing mortal bodies for the spirit children of God. The fulness of eternal salvation is a family matter.[11]

 

First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (1995):

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.[12]

 

M. Russell Ballard (2001):

We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.[13]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911], 16.

[2] W. W. Phelps, “Come to Me,” in “Poetry, for the Times and Seasons,” Times and Seasons 6 (Jan. 15, 1845): 783.

[3] “My Father in Heaven,” in “Poetry, for the Times and Seasons,” Times and Seasons 6 (Nov. 15, 1845): 1039.

[4] “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13, no. 1 (Nov. 1909): 78.

[5] Susa Young Gates, “The Vision Beautiful,” Improvement Era, 23 no. 6 (April 1920), 542-543, https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/improvement-era-volume-23-no-6-april-1920.

[6] “Our Mother in Heaven,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 72, no. 39 (Sept. 29, 1910): 620, https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2022/01/05/our-mother-in-heaven/.

[7] Harold B. Lee, “The Influence and Responsibility of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 51, no. 2 (Feb. 1964): 85.

[8] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 100.

[9] “With regard to our position before we came here, I will say that we dwelt with the Father and with the Son, as expressed in the hymn, ‘O My Father,’ that has been sung here.  That hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman—Sister Eliza R. Snow.  There are a great many sisters who have the spirit of revelation.  There is no reason why they should not be inspired as well as men.” (Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 61-62.)

[10] Elaine Anderson Cannon, “Mother in Heaven,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:961. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/EoM/id/3962

[11] Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84.

[12] “The Family, A Proclamation to the World,” Conference Report, October 1995, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1995/11/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng

[13] M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted: Continuing Our Search for Happiness (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2001), 62.

 

8 comments for “Mother in Heaven: The Quotes Behind the Essay

  1. Thank you for taking the time to collect and provide these lovely references. I especially enjoyed the one by Susa Young Gates. I will bookmark this for the future. I am not one who anxiously seeks the feminine divine, although I have always assumed She was there and equal to Heavenly Father, despite the scant modern evidence for Her in the church. I certainly respect and honor the right of others to seek Her and find Her through personal revelation. This revelation is as valid as any the leaders of the church may provide.

  2. I do think praying to Heavenly Mother is misguided, however well intentioned. I love that we have this doctrine. I wish we had more. I don’t think it’s ever wrong to ask for more light and knowledge and that it’s perfectly fine to ask for a revelation about what we can and cannot know about her. But I also understand if the answer to that request is, not at this time.

    I do know that some of those behind wanting to expand on this doctrine are hoping to expand priesthood authority explicitly to women. I certainly understand why someone might want to do that and I have my sympathies with that point of view in that regard, but I think that very sentiment might be a roadblock as to why we are not able to learn more, sadly. I wish we had more insight on why priesthood is the way it is, why JS suggested that the RS would be a kingdom of priests, etc, but to me if we are to know, that seems that it needs to be a request for a separate revelatory response to the more broad doctrine of heavenly parents.

  3. “On the Saturday evening session of General conference, Elder Renlund stated that: “Very little has been revealed about mother in heaven but what we do know is summarized in a Gospel Topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject.”

    A few notes on the Divine Feminine:

    First, “she” might be plural. So we might be dealing with heavenly mothers, emphasis on plural. Second, the heavenly mother archetype may not be the sweet mother many LDS women hope to manufacture in personalized worship: Mother Earth begs to be cleansed of her children in Moses 7, (amounting to their destruction). Eve casts Cain out from her presence, cursing him. Sarah casts Ishmael out into the desert. Esau was manipulated by his mother. In the birthright-purity biblical motif, the mother is a powerful gatekeeper.

    The task is to recognize her divine image–Sophia, El Shaddai, Shekinah, Lady Zion–in a construct of sovereignty and strength. The literature is there, if folks would only read it. Jewish women have a healthy relationship to the feminine aspect of diety because they are informed by a deeper body of literature (mother-in-heaven isn’t a new concept for Jews). LDS may draw deeply from Jewish literature and sociality in this respect.

    The study of Divine Feminine is important to LDS eschatology because temples are fundamentally feminine. The wellspring, the tree (menorah), the cistern (cup), the weaving of the veil, and the altar–all are feminine representations. LDS theology is incomplete without formal recognition of the personification of “woman” as the central temple archetype.

    Some texts for LDS leadership and scholars:

    The Hebrew Goddess, Raphael Patai?
    The Great Mother, Erich Neumann?
    The Mother of the Lord, Margaret Barker?
    Sophia: Wisdom of God, Sergei Bulgakov
    The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop?
    The Privileged Divine Feminine, Moshe Idel
    Men and Women, Gender, Judaism and Democracy, Rachel Elior
    Zion and Jerusalem as Lady Wisdom, Samuel Zinner

    Texts are important because many LDS adopt the mother-in-heaven fad, without really understanding the fuller archetype she represents. Some appropriate their own images upon Her–they claim to know Her, but their knowledge is based on who they hope her to be–-as if to “wish” an image or a god into existence. When our gods are manufactured by palatability and preference, they are false images, false gods. Those LDS fashioning the mother-goddess create an image for themselves. This is eschatological golden calf stuff, quite serious.

    The Brethren are right to pushback on LDS activist attitudes, whose end-plan is to weaponize a mother-goddess image in order to confront the patriarchal covenant and diminish the eternal template for family. The intersection of mother-goddess activism and LGBTQ activism is run by the same crossing-guard.

    The LDS leadership and the CES have neglected their responsibility to study these things: if they know anything about temples, they should know everything about the Divine Feminine.

  4. Chad, this is a treasure. Thank you!

    Travis, I’d echo some of Elisa’s sentiments in the “Wheat and Tares thread” (where you posted essentially the same comment), and just say: you have some good insight, and I value your comments, but you’re coming off as the authority of who She is, when there’s been little to no binding revelation—nothing in the LDS tradition (that I’ve read)—that compels us to accept traditions of the Divine Feminine from any of those authors you list as “right” or “correct” when describing Heavenly Mother. I don’t doubt they’d be good to read—I would treat them like the Lord recommends treating the apocrypha (see D&C 91), with some insight for the discerning!—but none of them are in our canon or pre-requisite, I believe, to receiving revelation of our Heavenly Mother.

    And given the lack of revealed insight, calling vague, unnamed speculators “golden calf worshippers” seems ridiculous hyperbole of the highest order. Besides not naming specific speculators or specific speculations—always dodgy in an argument—there’s this mistake: the golden calf episode was so bad because it came AFTER major revelations of God’s character, will, expectations, and law, and AFTER God had commanded His people to worship only Him. There is no equivalent revelation for Heavenly Mother to condemn us, and certainly not enough to make anyone (you and me included!) worshippers of a golden calf. Nature abhors a vacuum, and we can’t HELP but make Heavenly Mother in our image, you and I and all of us, given the vacuum of revelation.

    I’m reminded of Thomas Merton’s quote: “Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” It’s a divisive quote, but in the case of Heavenly Mother, it certainly applies, and I wouldn’t mind a Heavenly Mother who is both strong and kind, sovereign and merciful. (And if She’s against patriarchy, well, so much the better.) I really hope, like 0t, that we ask and receive.

  5. Several thoughts, which, unfortunately, I don’t have time to organize coherently.

    1. Renlund states that everything we know about Heavenly Mother is in the Gospel Topics Essay and “reason cannot replace revelation.” But in reading Chad’s compilation of quotes from the Essay, I see many references to reason and none to any affirmative revelation. If reason was good enough in the absence of revelation then (especially when engaged in by women–specifically Eliza Snow), it should be good enough now.

    2. We are told it is “arrogant” to demand revelation. Fine–let’s skip the demands and settle for the urgency expressed in 1978 when announcing the end of the Priesthood/temple ban: “We have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the upper room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.” The days of Rudger Clawson in which “[m]en, strong and brave, have yearned to adore her” seem to have past.

    3. In response to Travis. Both science and religion affirm that we are all descended from a single earthly mother. In light of that, the possibility that we are descended from different heavenly mothers “makes reason stare.” God may or may not have multiple wives, but only one of them is our Mother in Heaven.

    4. When you strip out all of the references to Jehovah, whom the Church teaches is the pre-mortal Jesus, there is remarkably little information that has been revealed about our Father in Heaven. He introduces his Son on occasion and we are instructed to pray to him. What else?

  6. I’ve always wondered why HM didn’t appear at the First Vision or ever for that matter. I would think she could.

  7. The idea of Heavenly Mother(s) is precious to some Latter-day Saints, but we know that one member’s doctrine is another member’s folklore. Certainly, the idea is one of the many and varied threads in the great tapestry of Latter-day thought.

    But inasmuch as there is zero revelation or scripture on the matter, and to avoid re-creating God in our own image, I do not endorse the idea as doctrine and I prefer for the idea not to have place in our common worship assemblies. I am satisfied to look to our Savior, and Him alone. I do not separately look for the Father, for in seeing the Son I am also seeing the Father. I do not want to look beyond the mark. But I am just one Latter-day Saint, and I speak only for myself.

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