The Mother-Priest

A week and a half ago I was struck by inspiration in the bathroom (always the shower with the inspiration). The house was blessedly quiet, as I was on Molly-nap-guarding duty while Tom walked with the older girls to the church you can see from our back windows. I was thinking how glad I was to have recently prioritized Molly’s mid-day nap over punctuality for church (especially when she’s been sickly).

Probably now is a good time to say that when it comes to the priesthood, as much as I dislike it when women say (or feel like they have to demur that) they don’t want the priesthood because it’s just more work or they don’t want the responsibility, etc, the truth is that I really don’t want most of the priesthood or authority as it’s exercised, either. I’m not asking to be the bishop! No, really! (I don’t want Tom to ever be a bishop, either, but that is because I am selfish and want him all to my family’s self.)

What I would like is . . . here’s a story:

Angelica’s husband is an engineer, and one day he came home from working with metal shavings all day and feeling fine. Later that evening, though, his eyes started to hurt. The pain was bad enough, by the time the kids were all in bed, that they were looking up online the treatment for metal shards in the eyeball, and wondering about a trip to the emergency room to stave off imminent blindness. At one point he was lying in the bathroom weeping, the pain was so bad.

Angelica sat on the floor in there with him, cradled his head on her lap and prayed. She prayed and prayed and prayed. Moments later he remembered that his coworkers had been welding in the corner of the shop during the day and he realized that what he was experiencing was flashburn, an extremely painful, totally temporary condition and that he was not going to lose his sight.

Now you can say that I should just stop there and agree that the power of God is in the priesthood and in prayer and everything is okay (and it is, and okay), but what about the other things?

What about Primary?

That Sunday ten days ago, I realized that perhaps that was the day our Primary chorister (a wonderful, otherwise-sensitive man) would devote Singing Time to the boys’ practice of A Young Man Prepared for the sacrament program. We had already spent the majority of a different Sunday on the song, and by “we,” I mean that the boys and he had worked on learning the song while the girls and women sat dumbly, numbly, mutely along. That introductory Sunday included a lot of motivational commentary about how awesome and “Superman”-like the priesthood is and how “nothing is better than the priesthood.”

I am sure that these things are all true. What then, is there for girls? Are girls obviously and naturally then inferior, unworthy? But wait, women also have a God-given power — that of giving birth, of creating life itself.

And so what struck me in the shower was that I should liken that song unto myself and my daughters, in preparation, and in hope that I would not end another Sunday, sobbing quietly, ugly, deeply, out in the hallway.

Here is the original:

              A Young Man Prepared

Though a boy I may appear, yet a man I soon will be.

If I prepare and live clean in every thought word and deed

I will be worthy to hold the sacred priesthood of God.

So I now prepare myself, I will serve my fellowman.

Being armed with the truth, with the scriptures my guide,

I’ll go forward a young man prepared.

I’ll go forward a young man prepared.

And here is mine:

              A Young Mom Prepared

Though a girl I may appear, yet a mom I soon will be.

If my womb can expand and my egg be fertilized

I will be worthy to hold the sacred uterine power.

So I now prepare myself, I will snare a handsome man.

Pray for fertility, with the moon as my guide,

I’ll go forward a young mom prepared.

I’ll go forward a young mom prepared.

Tom and Avery were not amused, when I passed them my lyrics as the boys sat and sang, and stood and sang, with great gusto. When I explained, on the way home, that I knew it was ridiculous, the point was how ridiculous!, Tom said, why don’t we have Avery write a version that is not ridiculous, and then submit that somewhere. I said (and say to you, my challenge to you) go for it!

Instead, in the ensuing days, Tom has had what I would call a feminist awakening and has politely pointed out to our Primary President that perhaps the all-boy focus in singing time is a bit sexist and insensitive, and that perhaps having 40+ boys sing a song in the Children’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation is not even prescribed in Handbook 2. (Pending bishopric oversight, of course.)

But even if they stopped singing it for twenty minutes straight with a captive audience, and even if it got nixed or balanced by equal girl time, this whole thing only highlights the fact that this song is in the Children’s Songbook and is the only song in there (as far as I can tell) that is for only one gender.

Because the priesthood is for only one gender. And, yes, men can only use the priesthood to bless others, and yes, in the temple . . . somehow . . . women . . . but that’s not what the song says! That’s not what anything in the daily life of the church says! (on the temple thing, not the daily life thing; most of the time, in my experience, good men use the priesthood to bless the lives of others.)

Does it matter? Can’t I just accept that men and women are different with different roles and different stewardships? Here is a pretty compelling work around the motherhood /= priesthood equivalency, arguing that motherhood = fatherhood and as such, motherhood administers physical birth and fatherhood (thanks to the supplement of priesthood) administers (through ordinance) spiritual birth.

Couldn’t I just pray long enough to see that This Explains Everything?!?*

Maybe I could, but I find myself even more compelled by this:

“Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior.” (Nicholas Kristof, at the end of an excellent column about The Elders)

and this:

“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Of course (of course!) I don’t think our church is that bad. (Though sometimes I do think modesty madness –>victim blaming is on a par.)

In contrast to women across the world and time who experience the horrible fruits of power corrupted, I have an indescribably easy and blessed life in a rich, peaceful country with education and food and leisure and the freedom to write these things at my fingertips.

I also have a husband I would be proud and happy to submit myself to. Yes, really! And you know why? Because he would never ask that of me.

——–

Have you read these?

Neylan McBaine To Do the Work of the Church at this year’s FAIR Conference and Stephanie (Mormon Child Bride)’s response.

Rebecca J Why I don’t like the priesthood-motherhood analogy  and My feelings about not holding the priesthood.

*I’d like to see this taken to its natural conclusion — that women should administer physical birth at all levels, e.g. midwifery reinstated as a spiritual calling and all-female ob’s. Meanwhile, I cannot get past the plight of infertility in this analogy, among other things, one being, isn’t this trying a little too hard/relying on sophistry/violating Occam’s Razor?

adult spaghetti

Tonight I made two kinds of spaghetti sauce. The good kind had onions and garlic and country sausage, a cup of cream and an entire diced zucchini from the garden. The kid kind was just the frugal #10 can of marinara from Costco, unadorned, or if Avery was to be believed, undefiled.

Lucy asked for the adult kind first. She is our great lover of zucchini, the one who led Nana Marian into the temptation of grilled zucchini rounds before dinner. Nana confessed their devouring of our daily zucchini; it felt too odd to scold for gluttony of the vegetal variety.

Tom served Molly our mixed noodles (white and wheat) bathed in garish red and ladled on the demur (spiked) creamy sauce at her demand. She prompted naked noodles on top of that. Avery discounted the baby’s sophisticated preference as simply wanting everything, no serving dish left out.

Callie polished off her kid portion in record time, after downgrading spaghetti from her favorite food to merely one of her favorite noodle dishes. Then she asked for some with my special sauce.

After a couple bites, she turned to sage Lucy and said, “Spaghetti is the thing where we just don’t talk about the onions in it. We know they’re there, but we don’t need to talk about it.”

So Avery, the oldest, was the lone holdout for the kid kind, and Callie, my tall, difficult, almost-eight and black-and-white, simmering pot of incitable emotions, is capable of more complexity than I had imagined.

Hear me

William Blake’s Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Tate Gallery

Tonight I told Tom a story that I have told him many times, it turns out.

When I was twelve, a new Beehive, our weekly activity for church was a panel question and answer with the full-time male missionaries in our area. I raised my hand (I want to say I was the first to volunteer to ask a question, but only because I have always had questions and no problem with the asking). I asked about the priesthood, why do girls not get it? why only boys? And my leader, our bishop’s wife, dismissed my words with her hand, waving them out of the air between us, apologizing to the nineteen-year-old boys, “Don’t mind her, we’re still trying to get her to let the men wear the pants.”

Eighteen months later we moved to another small town in Utah, a town people moved to on purpose, instead of a town of the children of coal miners and cowboys. Young Women groups got better, my memories get better, but what was her motive, when the whole purpose of the evening was for us to ask questions, is my question now.

This week Tom has been uncomfortable about the Singing Time(s) wholly devoted to the boys preparing their Superman Priesthood number for the program, he is aghast that the boys for scouts get money and time and purposeful adventures unheard of for the girls, and when I point out how endemic these things are, that women aren’t even allowed to pray in general conference, he is quiet for a moment and then admits he’s never noticed that women are silent at the endings and beginnings of our sessions.

I listened to his plans for how to approach our lovely primary president on these issues, the boys flying to Kolob/Krypton while the girls sit by and the scouts/activity days disparity on the way home from third Sunday dinner at my parents. I listened, and listened, and then I got distracted by a post on my phone, a post unread as I had righteously left my phone in the car as we ate and visited and strained the morning’s teachings through the colanders of our experience.

What did you say? I asked, surfacing from my bright little screen. My not hearing exasperated him, I apologized, he started again at the beginning and I said of course I heard that part, skip to the ‘what are you going to do about it part’ please.

But no, wait. How did you not hear me? I told you years and years ago about the sisters not praying in conference and the activity days of frosting sugar cookies and wrapping chocolates for primary prizes. I told you, and told you, and you never heard me.

And then I told him that story, my first and worst memory of when I was old enough to realize that the boys my age were not only getting cuter and smelling better, they were passing the sacrament and becoming the experts to answer our questions.

Last night Tom attended a Mormon Women Project salon with me, a Women in the Scriptures event that gave me a great quote from a colorful apostle character, about our Mother in Heaven — “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 mother in our affection,”

But also a lot of disappointment about the timidity we embrace and the “if only you look through the right lens, you’d see, and you’d know and not need to ask that question any more.”

And maybe my question, all of my questions, are one-issue voter questions and I need to pray and read my scriptures more, dedicate myself to the spiritual as I do the soul in my yoga hour that is so sacredly-guarded from outside encroachments.

Yes, I need to do that, of course I do, I’m not asking for the oil in your lamp, and frankly none of us are virgins waiting virginally here, are we? I’ll fill my own lamp in between caring for the one I gave that virginity to and the four who could not be here if that impediment had not been surrendered. (Why all the female body imagery and false conflation of virginity with virtue when motherhood is so proclamationally virtuous?)

I will do my part to see and hear and ask well.

But I need you to hear me. I need Him to hear me.

 

 

 

Sheepish

I thought several times yesterday of the fact that today was September 11th. And that I should take the time to remember and be more grateful. And then I had the worst day ever, notwithstanding my greatest prayer of the last two weeks was answered. I was granted a happy baby, but given also nineteen bottles of peaches that were unsecurely sealed after a marathon preserving weekend, and a torrent of Monday-like kid debris and minutae.

Even after I carved out a few minutes to report and rejoice over the happy baby, I couldn’t turn the lumbering boat of everything-bothering that was the day.

So this morning I remembered again. (How could we forget? We will never forget.)

And what I remember is that even that day, as I sat on the border of the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, what I knew I must do to honor their death, their sacrifice, their bravery, was to remember them and then appreciate my own life, my own ease, my own blessedly normal peaceful existence.

I worried four years ago that this inclination is just a shade of making it all about yourself-itis, as every post and article (except the biography ones) inevitably are.

And I am sheepish anew that what I wrote most recently is complaining about a 99% happy, healthy baby.

This is the blessing and the curse of young motherhood immersion. I am on the older end of young motherhood but not the shallower end of the immersion. I have not space in my brain or heart to be consumed properly by the heartache of the world. What matters the Dow Jones when there is another diaper to change? What room for the heartache of strangers when childhood hurts and tender stumblings crowd around?

But it is precisely as a mother, a mother of daughters, that I do care. What kind of world will they have? How will they be treated as women, as Americans, as Mormons? How can they make the world better as women, as Mormons, as Americans? How can I?

My kingdom for a happy baby

Last week Molly was miserable. She was fine (a different baby! said my dad. Happy to see us and quick to warm up!) when passed around from aunt to grandparents to dad while I got psyched about nutrition, organization, parenting and marriage at Education Week. And then I came home, after a week of unconcerned nights and peaceful days.

At the end of my retro-stay at BYU, I realized I hadn’t sworn in a week. And it wasn’t hard, either: I didn’t even have to try. I didn’t mumble or think or start to mumble-think a single naughty word in six whole days. And then I realized — I didn’t get mad for an entire week. No anger, no frustration, no wearing a rubber band around my wrist to remind me that the f-word was off-limits.

Just: no kids = no anger = no swearing.

Shouldn’t I be able, I asked myself, to give said self this gift all the time of not getting angry? If I simply refused to get mad, couldn’t I be happier all the time?

No. No I could not, I realized about twelve-hours post re-entry into my real life.

But now that I’m writing this (instead of making dinner, while the kids watch a movie upstairs) (post homework and swimming) (we haven’t fallen that far), instead of writing the post I sat down to write, about how Molly is, instead this has become about how I am, instead instead instead. I realize/remember/recommit that I shall simply choose to be happy (or at least not mad).

So Molly anyway. Molly has been clingy and teary and whiney, sitting on my lap at the dinner table, sometimes edging one leg over her own chair pushed up close to mine but still keeping one leg draped on me. I must turn to the empire for whinging or grizzling — is that not the best term for baby fussiness?

I took her to the doctor the week before last, worried (hoping) it was an ear infection, we aren’t demanding antibiotics, of course not, just let this horrible constant neediness have a reason and not be the new normal.

Then Molly turned two and I thought (horrified), is this the terrible twos that I blocked out of my brain, always thinking the independent threes were harder to deal with? Please bless no!

Before things could get much better (and after I felt stupid at the doctor’s with the “no visible signs of illness but she could still have a virus, you did the right thing, head-pat mommy”), we got her two-year vaccination and a flu shot and rounded the corner on another week of give-me-some-sleep-or-shoot-me enduring.

Well, all that grumbling and groaning on my part to tell you that, knock-on-wood, happy bouncing Molly is back, and if she will stay for a while at least, we need never speak of those two weeks again.

e

Modest is Goddess

I think a big part of the problem we have with fetishizing modesty, objectifying women and female body-image dysmorphia is directly tied to our absent Female God. We do not know or talk about our Mother in Heaven. We do not sing to or about Her, except in O My Father(!). We do not see Her in our art or read about Her in our scriptures. We have no model for what an ideal female body could look like (unless we accept Cosmo’s version) or what an ideal female person could do and be.

The church we belong to is part of the (male) body of Christ, and the God we worship has a physical male body. There is no perfected female body to pattern our perfecting after.

So instead we hate our bodies and live in fear of the judgments of others:

“Am I sexy enough to keep my husband from straying?”

“Am I modest enough to not get raped?”

Sexy? Modest? SexyModest. Kind of has a ring to it.

I do not accept this: not for myself, and certainly not for my daughters. Something has to change. If I were an artist, I would paint the Mother God. If I were a singer, I would sing Her praises. If I were a weaver, a sculptor, a poet, I would produce something that would bring Her here, to look at and worship and know.

I do want my daughters to be modest.* But I want them to be so for the most immodest of reasons: because they take after a Goddess.

——

Modesty is Love

(to the tune of Reverence is Love)

Modesty’s not about covering shoulders, it’s thinking of Mother above.

It’s knowing my body is just like her body. I’m modest for modesty’s love.

When I’m modest I care for my inner soul, instead of the clothes that I wear.

And when I am modest I know in my heart, Heav’nly Mother and Jesus are there.

See also: Esther’s Courage and Follow the Prophetess and Heather’s With Your Mutual Approbation.

—–

If you’ve missed the modest-pharisee protest online, some of my favorite recent posts include Stephanie’s Fresh Meat, Sue’s epic modesty rant, Cynthia’s cap sleeve art, and How the Modesty Doctrine Hurts Men, too. See also Breastfeeding in Public.

—–

*modest:

adjective

1. having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one’s merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions.
2. free from ostentation or showy extravagance: a modest house.
3. having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.; decent: a modest neckline on a dress.
4. limited or moderate in amount, extent, etc.: a modest increase in salary.

 

 

 

 

 

Family motto

A quick look at Pinterest will tell you that it’s important to choose a family motto or theme. Here are some that we considered:

(Latin)

“Invicta”

“Tempus Fugit” (in Mrs. Shinn voice)

(Joan of Arc)

“Work and God will work also”

(scriptural)

“Awake, awake, Deborah!” Judges 5:12

“Cheerfully do all things” D&C 123:17

“To me he doth stink not” Alma 19:5

(British vintage hipster)

“Keep calm and carry on”

(Anne of Green Gables)

“What would Marilla do?”

But then I realized that we already have a few signature family sayings. Imagine one of these on your chalkboard-painted kitchen wall, mega cross-stitch, vinyl lettering or, even better, in 3D: helpful sing-song by your little sister:

(for glasses)

“On your face or in your case”

(for homework)

“It’s not done until it’s packed”

(for crap, figurative)

“If in doubt, throw it out”

(for naptime)

“Happy or Asleep!”

I don’t want to take the credit for these humble confections, but honestly, I think I may have invented them. Feel free to adapt or incorporate as needed!

(Please add any your family loves to hear both day and night)

(gratuitous Pride and Prejudice quote)

Elizabeth Bennet: Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.