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,
â€œIt 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 Fatherâ€
(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.