Friday, June 13, 2014

Mothers and the Fall


Another version of this post was originally written for Normons, and published there on Mother's Day, May 11th, 2014.


In Which Amber Expresses Some Insecurities

I've avoided the Internet for a long time. I don't feel qualified to share my thoughts or feelings to such a wide audience. And, guess what? I'm not! I've been graduated with a degree in theatre for about a year. And while I admit that I probably spend more time thinking than most people (so much that's it's socially unhealthy), I have not spent a lifetime studying literature theory, or a lifetime studying Eve, or a lifetime studying the Gospel.

I am also hesitant to share things online for fear of the vitriol that seems to follow any post on any subjectbut especially those which are deemed controversial. It is a shame to me that especially within the Church, we tend to throw so much mud at each other at the slightest mention of the word gender.

And... the cat is out of the bag! That's what this post is about today.

But here is, I suppose, what might prompt you to keep reading.

I have struggled deeply with personal questions about my place in the Plan of Salvation as a female. It has taken me several years to come to a place where I can talk about my experiences without immediately feeling as though my top might explode and molten lava might come shooting out of my head all over my Sunday School class.

The answers I've received (what I'd like to share today) have given me the peace I couldn't find anywhere else. They are very close to my heart. So please, be kind.

So that's me. Amber. And now, hopefully sans lava, I’ll try to share some of those lessons. I hope that if anything, this post will inspire you to seek more light on this sacred topic. I believe that if I can get answers, so can you. But before we can get to those, I need to lay a little groundwork, because to understand what I believe about women and men, you're gonna first have to understand what I, as a Mormon, believe about the Fall.


What Mormons Believe About The Fall

Theologically speaking, we the people of Mormonism have a lot in common with many of our Christian sisters and brothers. Like other Christians, we believe that Eve was a real person, and while it is sometimes unclear if all of the events that took place in the Genesis account are strictly allegorical, we do believe that Eve and Adam were the progenitors of the human family. However, there are many places where we diverge in our beliefs. One of those places is in our understanding of the Fall. That episode where Eve partook of the fruit, and Adam followed suit (I rhymed. Is that tacky?) and everybody got boot-ed (IT’S ANOTHER RHYME.) out of the Garden.

Our slightly different understanding comes from the books of scripture we study in addition to the Bible—the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Mormon teaches us that: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:26)

So, on a most fundamental level, we believe that the Fall was a necessary part of the Plan. Extend that idea a bit further, and yes, we even believe that the Fall was as integral to the Plan as the Atonement itself. Check out this excerpt from a Bruce R. McConkie address to see what I mean:

“If there had been no fall of man, there would not be a mortal probation. Mortal man would not be, nor would there be animals or fowls or fishes or life of any sort upon the earth. And, we repeat, none of us would be on the way to immortality and eternal life… The fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world, and the atonement of Christ ransomed men from these two deaths by bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. This makes the fall as essential a part of the plan of salvation as the very atonement itself.” (“The Three Pillars of Eternity,” 1981)

I suppose that we believe these things are true because we believe that there is purpose in suffering. Likewise, we believe that by being separated from God, by entering a world of trouble and pain and heartache, we have an opportunity to becoming more like Him. But it’s more than that because without sorrow, there really would be no such thing as joy. In Mormon lingo, we call this the law of opposition. Because we believe that the Fall is so purposeful, we believe that Eve was very wise to choose it.


What Mormons Believe About Eve

Oh man. We love Eve. We admire her in much same way that we admire our own moms. We believe that she was Adam’s equal and participating partner. We believe that she was righteous and awesome. In the Church’s Women’s Meeting a month ago one of the members of our First Presidency spoke about Eve. He said:

"You have her example to follow. By revelation, Eve recognized the way home to God. She knew
that the Atonement of Jesus Christ made eternal life possible in families.” (Henry B. Eyring,Daughters in the Covenant,” 2014)

"The Creation of Eve" by Rose Datoc Dall
We also believe that the choice she made, with the fruit? We believe that is was her decision to make. Adam couldn’t have made it.  Eve’s calling was given to her by God in the name He chose for her —Eve—which means the mother of all living (see Moses 4:26). This calling made her both the conduit through which life for the entire human family would begin and the representative for that entire human family in the making of this rather monumental decision.

Joseph Fielding Smith, one of our prophets taught that “she partook of that fruit for one good reason, and that was to open the door to bring you and me and everyone else into this world, for Adam and Eve could have remained in the Garden of Eden; they could have been there to this day, if Eve hadn’t done something.” (In Conference Report, October 1967, italics added.)

That’s just a sum-up. I’m barely scratching the surface here. If you’d like to learn more about who Eve is to Mormons, I’d suggest this article by Beverly Campbell, the former Director of International Affairs for the Church. She published a much longer version of her research in a book (which is also hugely worth your time) called Eve, and the Choice Made in Eden.


Binaries

Okay, so we’ve talked a lot about the Fall. But let’s take it back for a moment to the law of opposition. Here’s what The Book of Mormon has to say about the law of opposites:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness or misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Ne. 2:11)

For the purposes of our exploration, we’re going to rely on a concept developed by linguistic theorist, Ferdinand Saussure, called the binary. Monsieur Saussure believed that as humans, we create meaning in differences. He looked at the world through opposite pairings, which he called binaries. That scripture above is full of binaries. Righteousness versus wickedness; good versus bad; life versus death; and so on.

Here is a list of binaries that apply to the topic at hand:

man/woman
spirit/body
day/night
light/dark
priesthood/priestesshood
fatherhood/motherhood
Fall/Atonement

So that was Monsieur Saussure’s first point—that meaning is derived in differences. That you can’t have one without the other. But his second point might be even more significant. He believed that it is our human tendency to wrongly value, or privilege, one half of any binary over the other. I want you to look at the list again, and ask yourself, which one do I privilege?

man/woman
spirit/body
day/night
light/dark
priesthood/priestesshood
fatherhood/motherhood
Fall/Atonement


The Three Pillars of Eternity

One of our best remembered apostles, Bruce R. McConkie, taught that the Plan of Salvation stands on three pillars: The Creation, The Fall, and The Atonement. If we examine these three themes of eternity through a gender lens (which is exactly what we’re gonna do) the equality that is imbedded in the Gospel becomes more clear.

We’ve been taught that God created the world. Because of modern-day revelation, we believe that God is a title referring to both of our Heavenly Parents, the union of a perfected man and woman. In fact, referring to the text in Genesis about the creation of Adam and Eve—

“and God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness…so God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:26-27)

 —prophet Brigham Young taught that “we were created . . . in the image of our
father and our mother, the image of our God.” (See Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 51)

So we can see how the genders were equally represented in the Creation. And we’ve already discussed whose choice it was to enact the Fall. And I’m gonna go out on a limb here—but I’d guess that you know who enacted the Atonement. Eve, a female, and Christ, a male, have created a pattern for us in their roles. The Fall was an inherently Feminine act, and that the Atonement was an inherently Masculine one. And I don’t mean that in any trite or trivial form. I’m not talking about breadwinning versus knitting here. I’m also not talking about a stereotypical interest in nail polish as opposed to automobiles. I’m talking about the glorious, grand, and perfectly equal plan of our Heavenly Parents. Equal, but not the same. Equal and complementary.

Their respective roles speak volumes about what it means to be a man and a woman in an eternal sense. And this is the pattern. It is the pattern of beginning and returning.

Women, with our bodies, bring people into the Fall. And men, with their Priesthood, bring people out of the Fall, back to God. Through the processes of gestation, childbirth, and lactation, women are giving life to the mission of Eve. Through the ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and the ordinances of the temple, men are embodying the Atonement.

Interestingly, the Latin root of the word transgress means “a downward but forward movement.” Imagine in your mind the kind of line that creates. The Atonement is its inverse, an upward, forward movement. Together, they create the crucible of life.

"two women understanding the same mystery" by Caitlin Connolly


A Digression About Priesthood

As a principle of the Gospel, the priesthood is often separated into two subdivisions—the Power of God, and the Authority to Act in his name (keys).

In our Mormon vernacular however, we use the term priesthood to describe a lot of different things. Church leadership, quorums that range from 12-year-old boys to seasoned-with-life elderly men. Sometimes priesthood just means men. It can be the lesser priesthood, or the greater priesthood. Somehow the term encapsulates saving ordinances, and those that don’t save, but those that exalt. It refers to blessings of counsel and blessings of healing. It means a mastery over the elements, and an ability to perform miracles.

I could probably continue.

Dense term? I think so. And when you look at that list, can you see places where there is room for womanhood? I can.

Women can heal people. We can give counsel that is directed by the Spirit. We can perform miracles. We have access to the ministry of angels (which the D&C describes as being attached to the Aaronic Priesthood.) We also can cast out devils and evil spirits. And we certainly lead, do we not? We are leaders in our families, leaders among our friends, leaders in our female-based auxiliary organizations.
So then, what don’t we do?

We do not provide saving ordinances.

It seems to me that the Church’s primary function is to provide saving ordinances to people who desire them. The Church does a lot of good in addition to fulfilling that mission, but ultimately, the ordinances are what are most important. In my mind this may be much of the reason why men are at the helm of the Church.


A Note on Gendered Linguistics

If I were reading this for the first time, I’d probably feel a bit hesitant about some of the information being presented. One of my major qualms would be: “Okay, so I like everything you’re saying about Eve, but she isn’t really talked about that explicitly in the scriptures. In fact, whenever we talk about the Fall, we call it the Fall of Adam, or Adam’s transgression.”

In case you’re like me, I have two answers for you.

In Moses 6:9 we read: "In the image of his own body, male and female, created he them and blessed them, and called their name Adam" (emphasis added). “Adam” then is referring to the union of Adam and Eve, in much the same way that many couples choose to take the last name of the husband in a marriage.

While this linguistic tradition says lovely things about the unity that can and should exist in a marriage, it doesn’t really provide for Eve to have an identity that is separate from her husband. This is a flaw, I think, of the English language more generally. We don’t have any gender-neutral pronouns, and often times, particularly in the scriptures, we use masculine words such as “man” “he” or “his” are used when what’s actually trying to be conveyed is more inclusive.

You can see how using these words allows for two readings. The human race more collectively (men and women), or just the men. We don’t have a linguistic mechanism to do that for women.

While I believe that Eve and Adam had an exemplary marriage, I also believe that because her mission and contract were with God, and not with Adam, it is important to see Eve as an individual first, and then in connection to her husband. In the same way it is important for women to see themselves as individuals, outside of their relationships with spouse or children.


In Conclusion

Men and women are both so important, so necessary in the Plan of our Heavenly Parents. Each sex is loved, and each gender has been given a divinely mandated mission. But as this post focuses on Eve, our first mother, let’s take a moment to think about our own mothers, women who have walked Eve's path. Let's realize that not only was it mom who gave you a heartbeat, who taught you right from wrong, left from right, baking soda from baking powder, but it was your mom who brought you into the Fall. It was your mother who gave you the opportunity to know the Atonement, and the reason to need it. That is her divine role.



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