Friday, May 21, 2021

Where, When I Languish


lan·guish verb

  1. 1.
    (of a person or other living thing) lose or lack vitality; grow weak or feeble.
  2. 2.
    suffer from being forced to remain in an unpleasant place or situation. (Oxford Dictionary)

Like many people I know, I have been languishing. I have been "lacking vitality, growing weak, and suffering from being forced to remain in an unpleasant situation."

For the past few weeks I had been coping by finding purpose in one of the few refuges I had left, my garden. Having it all buried in snow, even though not unexpectedly (after all it happens just about every year) feels poetic, in the pathetic fallacy kind of way. Every perennial I have nurtured over the years is left hanging in uncertainty, and now I wonder which ones will withstand the long freeze. I wonder that about other things in my life, as well.

So yeah, this pandemic has got me languishing. It has cancelled many things that made life meaningful for me: family gatherings, making plans for the future, little outings with my kids, vacations. It put a halt to church meetings and forbade me to sit elbow to elbow with people I love and respect, making it hard for me to feel belonging in my community of saints. It even cancelled the temple, which was my monthly lifeline for many years, connecting me to God and my family and giving me perspective and divine strength in my trials. 

For me, isolation is something I don't do well. Every apologetic attempt to gather in order to find strength and connection from loved ones is tainted by guilt, anxiety, and often brings with it less connection and more disconnection—a feeling of division with others who either believe the restrictions are a total conspiracy, or else they are an unbending standard. I have found myself feeling frustrated and angry with people I once respected and loved, both the rigid and the lax, something totally new for me who once saw only good in everyone. It has shone a light on my own surprising lack of charity, and on my own unwillingness to build Zion with people who see things differently from me.

This whole thing—the pandemic, but also the entire political and social landscape of my church and community—has gutted me. Watching setback after setback has filled me with doubt. For my whole life I have been a diehard optimist. I was always cheerful in difficulty. I possessed a curious reserve of faith and hope in even the most difficult situation. I always thought I could do anything. The past few years have tested me in heart wrenching ways, and I have simply come up insufficient. I now have to live with that about myself.

Parenting, of course, has taken me to a new level of Dante's inferno. I don't need to go into details about that, the failures, isolation, and frustrations of parenting in a pandemic. Talk about "being forced to remain in an unpleasant place or situation." My poor kids.

I have learned before about mental illness, specifically depression and anxiety, from close family who battle this kind of thing every day. They are veterans in this feeling of being stuck, this emptiness, this languishing. I feel newfound respect for them. For me, this is a new experience. It sucks.

In the hymn, we sing:
Where, when my aching grows, 
Where when I languish,
Where in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He only One.

Lately, I have been wondering what Christ knows about languishing. Does He, a God, really understand about uncertainty, about our mortal limitations and constant "need to know?" Does He understand what it's like to know what you should do, but are unable, for whatever mental and emotional reasons, to actually do it?

I don't know the answer, but I do have enough faith to believe that Christ does understand uncertainty. I believe He faced it in the garden. I believe He continues to languish under the load of our collective uncertainty, as well as our stagnation, sorrow, and sin. I do not believe Christ was an omniscient being when He entered Gethsemane. He does not enter Gethsemane, either His or ours, as the triumphant Son of God, but as a sensitive, anxious, frightened mortal being. The voice I hear as He asked, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" is not one that knows exactly how His trial will end, or how long it was meant to last, or if He could even perform the task at all. In my mind, it was a voice that trembled with bone breaking doubt. That vision of Christ is relatable to me. The record says He fell on His face under the weight of it all. He knows what it is like to be totally alone in that feeling, to have disciples falling asleep at the crucial moment He needed them. He knows what it is like to feel "exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." (Matthew 26:38-39)

I don't know how much longer this pandemic will last. I don't know how much longer the other garbage my life is throwing at me will go on. And I have learned a bitter truth that some trials in life do not have a foreseeable mortal end. For all I know, they may go on forever.

However, I believe Christ knows about the trials that feel neverending. Christ continues to suffer with us to this day, 2000 years after His Gethsemane. He has yoked Himself to us, even now, treading the winepress alone until every grape is turned to wine, and every dredge from our bitter cup is drunk. I have to believe He knows how to succor His people in their infirmity. (Alma 7)

As I languish "in my Gethsemane," I want to believe that He knows how to "reach me in my reaching." Looking out my window at the snow falling again, I believe that "spring has to come." I don't know what damage this long freeze, metaphorical and literal, will have on us all when it's all over, but I believe life is always strong enough to heal and prevail. I want to believe God will prevail in my life. I want to believe that this languishing must end.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Equation of Trees

I have been thinking a lot about trees.

Trees are an important part of regulating the earth's gases. Forests are sometimes referred to as the earth's lungs. The process of photosynthesis uses the energy of the sun to release oxygen back into the atmosphere. While all plants do this, forests do this on a tremendously significant scale. Without trees, our earth would be an uninhabitable place for any kind of life.

But that isn't all they do. Not only do they produce life-giving oxygen, but they also capture carbon released by all living things and store it back in their wood. Trees are basically magicians. They literally make wood out of thin air. The vast boreal forests and rainforests capture a significant amount of the earth's carbon. The majority of the stored carbon of earth was originally put into the ground as oil and peat by ancient forests. See? They’re superstars.

Ever since I had to memorize the equation of photosynthesis in High School biology, I was fascinated by it. It read like a miracle. Carbon dioxide plus water, by the power of the sun, creates oxygen and glucose. The two basic things we need for survival. Air and energy. They are trees of life. It just felt ripe with spiritual application.

In the center of the garden stands the tree of life. Our journey to that tree requires a daily dose of spiritual oxygen, the spiritual breath of life. The Holy Ghost. Our journey also requires creating spiritual glucose by cleaning up the inevitable "carbon emissions" we make along the way.

Christ is that tree of life. He has the power to clean up our pollution, and He also has the power to provide us with spiritual oxygen by His Spirit. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the light that makes photosynthesis possible in our own lives. He is the living waters in the equation. He is the glucose, the bread of life. He is every part of the equation of spiritual photosynthesis. He is the equation.

The only thing we need to work on having is chlorophyll. We need to make sure our receptors for light are spread as wide as they can be to the heavens. In a darkening world, we need to stand in holy places where the light can reach us.

I believe we can synthesize a new creature as we come to Him and apply His spiritual equations.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"Have I a Mother in Heaven?"

Zina Diantha Huntington
My great great great grandmother, Zina Diantha Huntington, once asked the prophet Joseph Smith a remarkable question: "Have I a Mother in Heaven?" What she learned from the prophet she shared with her close friend, Eliza R. Snow, which may have influenced her hymn "Oh My Father" that we often sing on Mother's Day because of this one line: "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." 

And then we go the rest of the year largely ignoring this huge, earth shattering piece of information. (Not a very genuine way to honor mothers on Mother's Day, in my opinion.)

Now, almost 200 years later, I often wonder: Whatever happened to Her in the restoration?

In my searching, I have come to believe we need a new generation of both men and women who are willing to ask the same question my ancestor once asked: "Have I a Mother in Heaven?" 

To obtain spiritual truth, I believe that God does not often give us answers to questions we are not asking. We cannot passively wait for God to tell us more. We are commanded to seek. The restoration is ongoing and unfolds only as fast as we collectively ask the questions. I believe many members do not ask questions about Her because they believe She is somehow taboo.

For personal reasons, I have had to ask the question my ancestor asked, and while I still have much to learn, I have found enough of an answer to believe that I am indeed the son of Heavenly Parents, Father and Mother. I have both their spiritual DNA deep in my soul. This understanding has guided me to define myself not only as their son, but also shaped my decision to become a husband and father in spite of challenges.

I share here some thoughts and ideas I have wrestled with about Heavenly Mother. I recognize that this topic, for whatever reason, makes some people feel uncomfortable, and to be honest, I struggled whether I should share this at all. But because I feel strongly that the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother needs to be brought up and addressed more openly, I have outlined some of my personal beliefs below.

I emphasize that these are my personal beliefs, and some of them may resonate with you while others may contradict your own feelings. That is okay. I believe getting to know God, both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, is a process we must each go through for ourselves, but I also believe we can learn from each other as we respectfully share insights along the way.


1. Heavenly Mother is not too sacred to talk about, any more than Heavenly Father is too sacred to talk about. She is not fragile. She is not someone who needs our protection. She has the same might, power, knowledge, involvement, and love that our Father in Heaven does. I believe we can talk about Her as openly and as reverently as we do our Heavenly Father.

2. Worshipping Heavenly Mother is not a sin, and acknowledging that she hears our prayers is not apostasy. I believe Heavenly Mother hears our prayers the same way Heavenly Father does.

3. When we say, "We shouldn't ask about Heavenly Mother because she is not important to our salvation right now," we are also saying that the eternal identity of a woman is not important to us right now. We are saying women's identity is a topic that can only be addressed if it is relational to men. This hurts both men and women.

4. We cannot effectively teach eternal marriage, and then hold up as our celestial model a Single Parent household. We cannot preach equal partnership on earth without preaching equal partnership in heaven.

5. Monogamy is the law of heaven. Polygamy has been authorized on earth at specific, brief times, but only as a test of faith, commanded as an Abrahamic sacrifice to which there is a ram in the thicket. (Even, I believe, for my ancestor Zina.) I do not believe polygamy can be an eternal law because it is harmful to both women and men's development by making a woman's identity secondary to a man's. It makes united, intimate, and creative partnership between husband and wife impossible.

6. Acknowledging Heavenly Mother can help strengthen our doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. It also makes us better equipped to battle cultural practices that are misogynist or limiting to women, including ones we have inherited in our own faith tradition, the "wicked traditions of our fathers."

7. Our doctrine is not just that God has a wife. It is that God can't even be God without Her. "Neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:11)

8. Heavenly Mother is not just for girls. Boys need Her, too. Men need to talk about Her as much as women do. We are just as much Her children as women are.

9. Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother work side by side in the garden. Creation brings men and women together, not divides them into separate spheres. I do not believe the economy of heaven is based on gendered divisions of labor, nor on our current understanding of gender roles. These are a result of the Fall. If we try to frame Her using our current gender constructs, we will likely misunderstand Her.

10. I have heard some explain Heavenly Mother might somehow be the earth, or that She might be the Holy Ghost. I believe She is neither. I believe She has a resurrected body "of flesh and bone, tangible as man's." (D&C 130:22) To deny Her a body is to deny women the promise of a resurrection.

11. Heavenly Mother is not unavailable, too busy, or out on a "spa day." Her apparent absence is our own fault, not Hers. I believe She is as involved in our lives as Heavenly Father is.

12. Understanding Heavenly Mother better will help us to heal the earth as we begin to respect creation more deeply, and find balance between "masculine" and "feminine" ways of knowing. It will heal our lopsided, male-oriented systems of power. It will help us to develop male-female balance inside all of us. This will change the way we interact with the planet, and the way we interact with each other. It will help us to be more chaste.

13. The concept of Heavenly Mother is not new. She was not invented by the feminists. She was worshipped anciently in the Old Testament. She has always been there, though She was regrettably expunged from the scriptural record at various times. This has led to some devastating spiritual consequences. We are still dealing with those consequences in our worship today.

14. It is significant to me that the restoration of the church began in a sacred grove. Anciently, groves of trees were the standard place to worship the Divine Feminine. I believe She was very involved in the Restoration, which also involved a restoration of Her. I believe if She had appeared to Joseph Smith, She would have also called Joseph by name and pointed him to Her Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the same way Heavenly Father did.

15. Scholars have pointed out that one of the names for Heavenly Mother in the Old Testament is "Wisdom." I find it significant that the restoration began with the scripture "If any of you lack Wisdom, let him ask of God." Today we lack Wisdom. The way to learn more about Her is simply to ask, nothing wavering, and we will receive liberally. (James 1:5)

16. Recognizing Heavenly Mother can help us focus better on the Son, because a son must have two parents. Christ is the only way to the Father, but also to the Mother. We can get to know both the Father and the Mother better by getting to know their Son. In learning about Her, we must never lose focus on Christ.

17. Mary, the mortal mother of Jesus Christ, was the handmaid of Heavenly Mother, not of Heavenly Father. I believe this because scripturally, men don't have handmaids. Their wives do. Mary's role is significant in the plan of redemption, and reminds us of our Mother in Heaven. (See 1 Nephi 11) Christ's commandment on the cross to John to "behold thy mother!" is also for us today.

18. The world is hungry for Her. We should not be ashamed, or hide our unique doctrine about Heavenly Mother in the Church of Jesus Christ. It can, in fact, be a beacon of truth, a bold and refreshing doctrine that could attract many who are earnestly seeking to know more about God.

"Goddess with Short Hair," by J. Kirk Richards