Saturday, December 3, 2011

Declaration of Intent

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd

This book is my beginning. It is about breaking free from a patriarchal society, discovering the feminine side of the Divine, and becoming a whole person. Technically this process already began a few months ago for me (and the argument could even be made that it began eight years ago)--but when I came across this book I became aware of the process, and discovered a path it might take.

"In order to voice the soul, we will have to balance our inner experience with an outer one... Having had a transforming experience within, [a woman] begins now to find the impulse and the means to express it."

I haven't undergone the transforming experience yet; I am only just beginning to search for it. But I've already been talking about this process as I've begun it, and even before I knew I was beginning it, or that there was anything to begin. I can't retreat inward at this stage, to have the inner experience before I address the outer one. In fact, for me I think this process will involve learning to balance the outer experience with the inner one, because the outer experience is what will come more naturally to me. I have never learned to connect, not with myself and not with any Divine, and that is something I now need to learn to do.

When I first began this journey, I was sure that no matter what happened to my feelings about the LDS church, I would always be Christian. I spoke to friends who'd become pagan when they left, or atheist, and I knew that that wouldn't be me. But for a few weeks now, I think about God and find myself unable to see how he actually could exist. As I've read this book, a little question has popped into my head every time Kidd has mentioned the necessity of accessing the feminine divine: Why? What does that even mean? What divine is there really, and why does it matter if there's a feminine one? The need to escape the patriarchal society, yes, that makes perfect sense to me. But the more I try to grasp the idea of divinity, the less probable it seems.

I don't like this. I'll be honest--it worries me. I don't want to be atheist; but then, deep down, I don't really think I am. I think what I am is disconnected. I want to believe in divinity, but  I can't grasp it consciously because I've been cut off from it for so long (it's been almost four years since I stopped going to church, and seven or eight since the distancing started). My spirit, or whatever, is stagnant. Incidentally, I think this has affected my body, too--I thought about it yesterday and realized that my weight gain corresponds pretty darn closely with the times when spirituality started to fade from my life. (In fact, it also corresponds with some other kinds of stuck-ness in my life, including financial and educational. Interesting.)

I think I need to feel connected to divinity again--both to the God I grew up with, and to the feminine divine that I know must be out there too. If there is a Divine, I need to have it flow through me, to cleanse, to reanimate, to strengthen. Ultimately I need to figure out what I believe. We'll start with this divinity, and from there we can address my issues with being Mormon. After that... I guess we'll see.


  1. Okay, I think I am confused. I didn't know you hadn't been going to church for four years. I once told you I was a cultural Mormon and you thought that was the opposite of you. You said you believed in all the Momorn stuff but not the cultural side. I was saying cultural in that I was born into it and it is just who I am although I believe nothing of it. I just got confused in that one paragraph here.

    As far as God. I am an atheist who still prays. How crazy is that? I pray for guidance. I pray for thanks, but I don't pray often and I don't think he or she is there for me. I do believe that it helps me to cope however and that is good. I believe that if their is a God that he or she created science or the way things are and then they left it at that. He or she in my mind does not get involved in our lives. He or she must have made a rule in the beginning saying it is good and I am done. Then when things went wrong, people started to be unkind, people killed, raped, people suffered God couldn't get involved because he or she said they couldn't. To me God can only exist if he or she can't be there for us. Otherwise if God is here for us why is he or she not their for our African brothers and sisters or for the many others in the world suffering.

  2. Yeah, my situation's weird. I haven't been going to church for four years, but not because I didn't believe things--it was more because of depression and anxiety and not wanting to deal with super pushy ward members who don't know how to just leave you alone to attend church the way you want, especially since when you miss Sundays here and there it becomes established that you now need to be "fellowshipped" so they harass you even more. As far as beliefs of the church, though, up until a few months ago if you'd asked I would have said I still believed almost everything in a totally orthodox way. Crazy, right?

    As far as God goes, I was just talking about this with someone on Facebook, so I'll basically paste what I wrote there:

    I'm sort of in a place where it just all seems random, you know? No matter how ultra orthodox I was, I have ALWAYS had trouble feeling any response to my prayers, and I guess my problem now is that I'm realizing I just don't feel any kind of connection to a divinity, feminine or otherwise. So I suppose that's what I'm trying to find out.

    I definitely can understand what you're saying about God being able to intervene in our lives. I don't know, though, because I also know there have been times when I was absolutely certain that God had something to do with events... which obviously proves nothing, but it's something I think about.

  3. When I considered leaving the church, I knew that no matter what, I believed in God. I still believed in the message of Jesus Christ and I used that to anchor me. I just don't always believe in all the narrow ideas that sometimes confound the Mormon idea of God. I actually considered attending a local Methodist church and eventually ended up switching to a ward where I felt I could worship in a more open environment. I gave myself permission to choose what I wanted.

    You probably saw my post about how I don't connect to a need for the feminine divine, but that's partially because I quit seeing capital-G God as Heavenly Father and started seeing God as a force of nature and life that is both male and female. I also started communicating with God on my own terms.

  4. I like that, Lauren. I think that's where a lot of the problem comes in--if you're going to say that God is a father figure, then the lack of a mother figure becomes kind of important. Have you ever heard the theory that Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost, the Comforter? It's an interesting idea, but I don't know that it really resonates with me. Of course I haven't given it enough thought to really be justified in saying one way or the other.

  5. I also don't have a problem relating to a male God, like a lot of women do. I'm fairly certain that just because we see Him as a father doesn't mean He doesn't understand me as a daughter. I think a lot of Mormon Feminists have a problem with a male Heavenly Father because they conflate him with all the male authority they experience at church. Just a theory though.

    And I don't really buy the "Heavenly Mother as Holy Ghost" theory. There are some metaphysical issues with that since we believe that the HG doesn't have a body, but furthermore, I don't like ideas about Heavenly Mother that paint her as "nurturing" in a very gendered sense. I do think the Holy Ghost could be female, especially since I've heard that early Saints were taught he had no gender,

  6. I read an article (maybe on By Common Consent??) in which the author expressed a hope that there is no Heavenly Mother because if there is, what does the silence on the subject of feminine deity say about the whole Mormon conception of Godhood and womanhood.
    For years I experienced profound pain whenever I went to a temple endowment session. Women, prized on earth for their ability to create - whether it be in the womb, through 'homemaking', etc. - did not participate in the creation of the earth?! I think not. And that is just the beginning of my struggle with the temple.
    I feel like I am agnostic most of the time. I don't know that this is a spiritual place to stay, but it is a place to rest, to figure things out, and to learn to listen to my own spirit while I heal. I have suppressed my concerns for a long, long time to the detriment of my mental health. And that, my friend, is over. Any God I would wish to believe in is no patriarch, nor would that diety expect me to sacrifice my very soul to make myself believe things that harm my spirit. And God/dess knows I tried to do just that.

  7. Linds, I think I read that article too, wherever it was--or at least a similar one. And I have to admit, I can understand that sentiment. I don't remember if it was in the comments or in the original post, but someone said, essentially: If there really is a Heavenly Mother, if she is a goddess, then do you really think she could be prevented from communicating with her children? If she can't be, then why hasn't she made herself known to them? And if it happens that she does exist but Heavenly Father really CAN prevent her from making herself known, then is that a God we really want to know?

    It's funny, actually, that I haven't been through the temple, and yet it was the temple sealing that was the first chink in my Molly Mormon armor, long before I could have even begun to imagine myself ending up in the situation I'm facing now. It was in a seminary class my senior year of high school, eight years ago, when my teacher expounded rapturously on the subject of names... when she practically glowed as she told us about the faith that made her not even mind that she was never allowed to know her husband's name, though he knew hers. There was a knot in my stomach that day, and there's been a knot--a painful, nauseating knot--in my stomach every day since then that I've tried to think about that in a way that would make it okay.

    I've been thinking a lot about a line by Walt Whitman.

    "This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

    That aspect of the temple sealing insults my soul. It makes me feel sick, and for eight years I've been believing that it was my own lack of faith that prevented me from being able to reconcile my feelings with it. I don't believe that anymore. I think this concept, of dismissing whatever insults my soul, is one of the most important foundations of this process I'm going through.

  8. Lauren, I think the exclusively male authority of the church probably does have something to do with those issues. The more I think about God, the less I see a Heavenly Father and the more I see something like what you described--a force of nature and life that is both male and female. And if that's the case, then there isn't a need for a specifically female divinity. I need clarification on one point though: is God both male and female, or neither? Does it matter?

    I really do like this idea... but then I don't know what that would mean about Jesus. And I know even less what it would mean for Joseph Smith--the first vision, etc.--and for the entire LDS church. Could this concept of God mesh at all with the Joseph Smith story? Feel free to expound on this if you have anything to share, but for me, this is the point where I don't have even the slightest idea where to begin.

  9. To me, "God" has become gendered when really, God is both our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother. Somewhere along the way, that was changed and God became male an synonymous with Heavenly Father. "Elohim" is actually plural. When I pray to God, I feel as though I'm praying to my Heavenly Parents and they are both hearing me. I think the reason we don't hear more about Heavenly Mother absolutely IS NOT because she doesn't want us to know about her, but because our leaders (who are all men) are not asking the right questions. Our church definitely has an agenda and our current trend of normalizing Mormonism would not mesh well with acknowledging a Goddess. Interestingly, Joseph Smith was never interested in "fitting in" with other branches of Christianity the way we are today.

    I also have problems with the temple, the name issue being one of them, but there are things about the temple I really like, so I try to remember those ones more. I haven't done an endowment since my own a year ago. It was just too traumatic and I can't really deal with it again, but I have done sealings with my husband a few times. I try to remember that God didn't make life easy and our leaders aren't always aware of the differences between culture and doctrine. It's hard and I've fought with my husband about the temple more than a few times, but I do my best.

  10. When I first stopped going to church and really looking at my beliefs, I didn't know if I could believe in God and Christ outside of the LDS faith. Honestly, I've been more open with people about my problems with the LDS church than about my problems with Christianity in general.

    I've started to come back around though. Like Laura, I've started to pray again. Sometimes for myself, but mostly for people who have asked for prayers or positive thoughts. I guess I feel like if they think it will help them, then I'll try.

  11. It's a lot easier to complain about the crappy cultural issues with Mormonism than it is to confess that you question Christianity itself.

    I don't really know how to pray right now, since I no longer feel comfortable with "Heavenly Father" and the standard Mormon script. That's one of the things I'm hoping to figure out, if I can ever settle on some idea of God that makes sense and feels right to me.

  12. I loved that book!!!

    I still pray, although I don't use the Mormon script. And it's not that I expect any being will step in and change things, but I do feel more balanced and centered when I pray.

    To me, God is goodness, a connection to the world around me. Prayer connects me to all that is around me... the perfect intuition within myself.

  13. Hey Jen, thanks for commenting! I like the idea of prayer being about connecting to the world around you. Described in that way it makes me think of meditation... Would you say that's anything like what you do? Do you address your prayers to someone?

    I really do like the idea of prayer, even praying specifically to God. It still makes sense to me--it's just that I've been doing it my entire life and it's never worked for me the way I was told it was supposed to. If it weren't for that, I probably wouldn't even be questioning it; but then combined with all the questions that are raised when you realize that the church is a patriarchy, that all of Christianity is a patriarchy... It's hard to figure out what makes the most sense anymore.