Amber Richardson is a storyteller with many credits in many mediums. She has produced a YouTube series, “Splitting the Sky,” and a podcast, “On Sovereign Wings.” She has performed in festivals and plays, such as “Mother Wove the Morning” by Carol Lynn Pearson. One of the common threads running through her creative work is the desire to expand the female experience within a spiritual context. The audio for this interview is available at the Mormon Women Project podcast (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher) or at the bottom of this page.
What does it mean to you to be a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
My answer to that question is always in flux. The core, I guess, that never seems to fluctuate is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has taught me how to have a personal relationship with God, so I am faithful to those teachings by cultivating that relationship.
Sometimes that means that my relationship with the Church is healthy and happy, and sometimes that means I go through seasons of winter where I have a lot of questions and things to sort out. Recently, I have come into this beautiful realization that really it’s between me and God. So as long as my heart is true and I’m moving in the world with integrity, everything is okay.
How did your relationship with God start?
I have had an awareness of God since I was very small, and I’m not totally sure where that came from. I was raised in an active home and attended church weekly my entire life, and I imagine it probably came through that channel. But I recall saying prayers and feeling divine response or feedback early on in my childhood; it’s just always been very real for me. As I’ve grown older and continued to communicate through that channel, if you will, the relationship has grown and born fruit. God continues to be a bastion in my life.
Right now, in your journey, how do you have a relationship with God? What are some of the primary ways that you do that?
I practice meditation. Everyday I spend probably 15 minutes meditating and that has been helpful. I also do a lot of creative work with gospel related topics or themes. I’m working on a book right now about women in the scriptures. I’ve found that creating something out of the gospel is a really lovely way for me to commune and grow my roots a little bit deeper into that relationship. So, there isn’t a lot of classic sitting down with my scriptures reading a chapter every day kind of stuff, but I’m almost always working with holy texts and teaching and meditating. Those things seem to be very helpful.
I’ve been noticing a real increase in meditation within our community as a way of communing and expanding how one does pray and commune with the Divine. What does meditation look like for you? And if somebody is interested in this, what are some of the steps that you would recommend that they would take?
In 2013, I was in a very deep depression. Several times during that period I felt God direct me towards meditation. At that point, the only kind of meditation I had tried was the sit down clear your mind and focus on your breathing variety. And at least for me, in the throes of depression, trying to clear my mind and think of nothing was maybe worse. It was horrible actually. I tried doing it twice and was just like, “God, this is atrocious. I can’t keep doing this. I imagine you have something else in mind, so if you could help me find someone like a mentor who could teach me what you have in mind… I’m willing to try it, but I’m drawing the line here.”
Sometime within the next six months, I made a new friend who was a Kundalini instructor. I come from a very pragmatic, conservative Idahoan family. So, I was like, “Oh, this is very woo-woo, but I told God if He introduced me to somebody who could teach me I would meditate… so I guess I’ll do it.”
I started with a meditation called the Adi Shakti meditation. It’s really old, a couple thousand years old probably, and it’s in a language called Gurumukhi, which Sanskrit is a derivative of. The Adi Shakti meditation is about the Divine Mother. Part of the reason I was so depressed was because I had had a series of experiences with God that had not turned out the way I had expected. The language I had to access God was inundated with bad connotations, like repentance. It just feels like such a shameful word. So, I couldn’t find my way back to God. This new language, these new words, as foreign and woo-woo as they felt at the beginning, didn’t have any of that weight or baggage attached to them. I was able to start contemplating on and reconnecting with God in a new way. I think that was part of why it was so successful for me.
I sometimes joke that within the Latter-Day Saint faith, we talk about how we have the fullness of the gospel, but David O. McKay mentioning meditation one time in 1975 is not the same thing as a line of men who have been practicing meditation for thousands and thousands of years in India. I believe that Zion, whenever we get there, is going to be this beautiful tapestry where we’ll be weaving in truth that has been maintained and developed all over the world. So tapping into that tradition, there’s just something about it that’s deeper, different, real, and very complementary to my faith. Once I opened up to the strangeness of it.
As I’ve been studying some of your work in preparation for this interview, one of the things that really jumped out to me was that I was perceiving you as a seeker. As someone who is willing to go out and find things that are happening in this world, and bring them back to us—your tribe. I think it’s the embodiment of the 13th Article of Faith—searching out things that are ‘honest, true and chaste and benevolent,’ and bring them back. When you were talking about meditation, that was very much in the spirit of that.
Thank you. That does capture pretty well the pattern that I follow. I feel a very strong connection to the community of Latter-Day Saints and a lot of love. I see how my leaders and family and parents have shaped my life and created opportunities for me. It’s the language that I speak the very best. It seems the right place to invest and to return the gift. Also maybe, that it’s a sustainable practice, to kind of build where you stand. That’s my thought process.
You asked if there were resources I could share for anyone who might be interested in meditation. My guru (if you will) is Felice Austin, a Kundalini instructor based in Ojai in California. She’s also a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Her website is www.treeoflifekundaliniyoga.com. She has a lot of resources explaining the Kundalini tradition for members of the Church, and vice versa. She’s just a giving, lovely and intelligent woman and I’m really happy to be learning from her.
I’ve heard you speak in some of your other platforms about the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother being something that is really important to you in our faith. Can you speak more about that, what that doctrine means for you and how it impacts you?
Absolutely. That depression I was describing was at the end of my undergraduate career at BYU, and there were a lot of factors that led to my collapse into that state. One of them was that as a theatre major, I was being exposed to ideas that I never encountered growing up in Idaho—like feminism. I found myself really resonating with feminism. Like Kundalini, feminism gave me a language to start articulating some of the pain I had been carrying around my whole life. Before feminism I didn’t know it was okay to say that I had felt some of that pain, and I also didn’t really know how to say it. So feminism gave me tools that later became tools of strength. At the start it didn’t feel like strength. It was like opening up this old wound, and there was a lot of darkness that came out of that.
I had been carrying around this hurt for my entire life. A lot of it had been informed by things that I’d experienced as a small child. A lot of it had just been informed by growing up as a woman in our society. As that wound was opened and started clearing out, I encountered a deep sense of loss regarding Heavenly Mother. I didn’t know who I was because I didn’t see who I was going to become. I missed that maternal love and influence. The more acquainted I became with my wounds, the more acquainted I became with my grief. It was a really painful process to acknowledge and witness all of that, but the joy on the other side was that that honesty and vulnerability has led me to a relationship with that Goddess, that Mother figure. That was very much worth the price that I paid.
The price being, that out of depression that information came to you. Is that what you mean by the price?
I think that there’s a lot of great excitement and buzz surrounding terms like vulnerability and authenticity, but the dark side of vulnerability and authenticity is that sometimes you have to acknowledge that you are carrying deep, deep grief and pain. So the price I paid to know Heavenly Mother was acknowledging that grief and pain. Really knowing it. Letting myself feel it. It was a lot.
That makes sense to me and echoes my own journey. Have you found in being able to hold all of it, as best you can and as best you understand, that there’s liberation and expansion of who you are and who you’re capable of being?
Oh, I think so. Heavenly Mother, to me, is everything. I don’t mean to downplay Heavenly Father or Christ in His role. I truly believe that they are a unified family in a way that won’t make sense to us anytime soon. But having a vision in my mind’s eye of the glory, love, uprightness, wholeness, and majesty of this Eternal Woman, it changes everything. I definitely have seen myself rising to that slowly and humanly. There’s a space now that I can fill, and it’s infinite, big, thrilling, and joyful. It’s a space that I want to fill and emulate. Whereas previously, I wasn’t sure. It was a vacuum and anything can live in a vacuum – really horrible things, really scary things. Or nothing. So to not have an absence anymore, and instead to have a picture and a presence is thrilling and ennobling.
I can imagine that some people when they encounter this interview may feel challenged in the way that we’re speaking about Heavenly Mother. You did touch on it, but I think it warrants more unpacking. In building and actively building a relationship with Heavenly Mother, have you found that it has taken anything away from or undermined your relationship with Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ or the role that they play in your faith?
I had heard that a few times from people. When I asked, “Why don’t we talk about Heavenly Mother?” in years gone by and heard, “Well, they don’t want you to play them against each other.” You know like here on earth, if your dad tells you no then you might go ask your mom.
I thought that was strange, but it did produce a concern in me that if I went into the Feminine Divine world, that I might get bored with Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ. Like I might just not care anymore. That has not been my experience. I have gone through about a year of intense and focused study on the Feminine Divine. I decided to put the Masculine on the back burner, so I could really figure out what was going on with the Feminine Divine. That wasn’t a choice that I made out of ego. I felt really led to do that. It scared me a lot. But after that year came to a close, I learned what I needed to and it circled back.
This is a strange way to articulate this, but I felt like I reapproached Heavenly Father after going on this long journey of getting to know my Mother. I really missed Him. In the reunion, it was like I loved Him more because I understood in an infinitesimal way who He really was in relationship to this Woman. I understood how much He loved Her. I saw Their partnership, and I saw in Christ this deference and devotion to His Mother and the women around Him. I would say my study of my Heavenly Mother has enhanced my relationship with my Father and my Brother. And enhanced isn’t really a strong enough word, it was pretty radical.
Is this journey and studying what led you to create Woman, Crowned? Do you want to speak some about that?
Absolutely! A focus on women in the scriptures actually came before Heavenly Mother for me. I was on the Eve train for a while. I did a lot of work with Eve’s story, and that was exciting. It opened my eyes to the other stories of women that are in holy texts, and I devoured those. It was around that time that Heavenly Mother opened up. I did a lot of studying around Asherah, and goddess symbols in ancient Sumer, and the wisdom texts and all of that. As that was happening, I was seeing a hole. All of the texts I was finding were scholarly in nature and kind of obscure; they’re very dry and not interesting to read. It took a lot of brain power to make sense of. I’m a storyteller and that’s usually where my drive for research comes from. I’m looking for material to inform my work.
You talked about there being a growing awareness of meditation in our community, and I would add that there’s a hunger for the Divine Feminine that seems to be on the rise. As I was reading all of this material and becoming acquainted with it, I thought, “Somebody should do something with this and make it palatable.” There are so many patriarchs and men in the scriptures that I’ve been taught over my years of Seminary and Institute are types of the Father or the Son. It must stand to reason that there are women who typify our Mother. What I know about our Mother is that She is a Queen and a Priestess and a Mother. So, I broke up all of the women in the scriptures into those three categories, and I decided I would start with the queens. I started culling their stories and doing more research into the traditions surrounding them and looking for access points into the Divine Feminine. I wrote a series of blog posts called Crowned in Charity and Power about my initial findings. They were shortened down quite a bit. I had a photographer friend named Anna Killian approach me about that essay. She did a BFA project at BYU depicting the Divine Feminine and she wanted to collaborate and create images based on the women I had profiled. One thing led to another and we decided to take the project to Kickstarter in the hope of self publishing a book with more of the research and her beautiful photos.
I think that combining beautiful images with prose is a nice way to break up some of the information to make it palatable, especially to an audience that lives in this image saturated world. It’s also going to allow us to create a diverse depiction of the Feminine Divine. Many of these women in scriptures would have been dark, ethnic, and beautiful. We’re excited to be representing some of these ideas within the pages of Woman, Crowned. More than anything, I’m hoping to weave together the last five years of research in a way that will feel comfortable and familiar to people, while still urging them forward towards more light and investigation.
It sounds like a very exciting project! Where is it now in its development?
We’re hoping that the book will be ready by Mother’s Day of 2020, that’s what we’re shooting for.
Congratulations! So in this process, what have you learned about femininity and faith and striving towards exaltation as a goddess in working in this project Woman, Crowned?
I would say first of all, that just because so many of these themes and topics feel invisible doesn’t mean that they are. Especially in an eternal schematic. Once I got through that veil of invisibility, I feel like I’m just splashing around in this deep vibrant river. It’s always flowing. I’m so happy here, and it’s very real. I don’t have all of the answers about why it has to be veiled in the first place. The jury is still out on that one for me. Anything that you have to do to exercise your faith to access those mysteries is worth it. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made in terms of the yield. I think there’s a kind of knowing that has been developing for a long time.
When I’m talking about women in the scriptures, I’ll often share this metaphor, it feels applicable here. In the beginning of my journey, I felt like I was in a wilderness, like a desert maybe somewhere in Arizona. Really sandy, endless, I’m all alone. I’m wandering through this wilderness parched and asking the sky, “Where is my mother?” Only an echo comes back to me. So depressing and horrid. Eventually, somewhere along my journey I’m thinking, “I just don’t want to be alone.” I round the bend and there’s a big scary cactus waiting for me. I’m thinking, “God, you’re the worst! When I said I didn’t want to be alone, I didn’t mean send me that thing!”
But I’m thirsty, and I guess I just have to deal with this. So eventually I learn that the cactus has fruit. I can only access that fruit if I get really comfortable with prickles and thorns, and if I am able to process my fear enough to befriend the cactus.
I did. And I tasted her fruit, and it was good. This encounter occurred over and over again. With each repetition, I became braver and stronger and more comfortable here in this wilderness. Eventually one day, the landscape shifted. My eyes opened, and I discovered the wilderness was just this illusion. It turned out I was in a verdant forest where the cacti were actually trees, and there was a river.
I know that’s pretty conceptual and maybe a little lofty even, but it’s the best way I know how to communicate the change that I’ve experienced, at least in this aspect of my spirituality. There are many aspects that are still under construction and that feel like wildernesses, but at least here, within the framework of my identity as a woman and the identity of my Mother, I feel very much at home. I feel very nourished and feel like I exist in a place of abundance that would not have made any sense to me if you had sat me down and told me this a few years ago.
What you shared is like an allegory. I think there’s an idea if something doesn’t feel right or doesn’t feel good, it’s not from God. I just haven’t found that to be the case in my life. A lot of times God hands me a cactus and says it’s going to be painful, but it’s what you’ve got to do.
I can echo that. That’s definitely been my process, especially when it comes to the Feminine Divine. I see people who don’t know how to deal with the prickles. The prickles send them on a totally new journey in another direction, and that’s okay. Learning how to be long suffering, to be truthful, for me has ultimately resulted in an abundance that I was not expecting initially.
I very much want to talk about “On Sovereign Wings,” your podcast. For those people who are listening to or reading this who aren’t familiar with “On Sovereign Wings,” can you speak a little bit about what it is and how you came to create it?
I once produced an interview series called “Splitting the Sky.” We had a video within that series go Mormon viral, which we were not anticipating and which was not the design of the project but it happened anyways. One of the results of that experience was that we suddenly had a lot of women reaching out to us who were wanting to be interviewed, more than we could sustain. I was keeping track of their inquiries and within a few months #metoo went viral and we discovered, looking back at the inquiries we had received, that half of the women who had reached out to us wanted to talk about sexual assault within a spiritual framework.
Within the scope of “Splitting the Sky,” we had created a space that felt very safe and nurturing and we had touched on sexual assault briefly a few times, which I guess was enough to kind of clue people that this topic was an option. Like I said, we weren’t able to do anything with those inquiries, but after #metoo went viral I sat with it. I thought, “I have the skill set, and I definitely have a certain level of empathy for this experience and so maybe I would be a good person to facilitate the conversation.” And that is what started it, to be totally honest. I prayed a lot to know how to brand it and and was introduced to the concept of sovereignty. Sovereignty has mentored me and been extremely relevant in the experiences I have had over the past year.
So, I started doing interviews. Then, within about six months of beginning to conceptualize the project, I had a repressed memory of childhood rape come back, which I was not expecting. So, the project suddenly started looking very different. I had a lot of new considerations to make, and a fair amount of trauma that was suddenly affecting the process. But on the flip side, this project has given me a community of women who understood what I was experiencing. Who could teach me how to cope and how to deal with it. I’d basically been plopped down in the middle of the sexual assault support network here in Utah County where I live, which was miraculous and so needed.
So, I finished developing “On Sovereign Wings.” I work with a sex therapist named Tasha Diaz and an event planner named Mae Warner. Together we create the podcast and gatherings for women who want to meet up outside the internet. It has been deeply meaningful, but probably one of the most difficult and exhausting endeavors I’ve stepped into thus far in my creative life. I interview survivors, sometimes they go by a pseudonym, sometimes they use their name. I focus the interviews on their experience of healing, I like to hear what has worked for them and what’s resonated. We usually hear about the assault itself as well. Each episode that follows one of the interviews, I sit down with Tasha Diaz the sex therapist and we unpack the story. She highlights elements of healing from each story, and adds her own insight and professional expertise to the conversation. So far we’ve produced eight episodes. I have eight more interviews that are currently sitting on my hard drive. I’m right in the middle of trying to figure out how to move forward with “On Sovereign Wings,” but those eight episodes are available for listening on iTunes, we also have an Instagram page It’s been a really meaningful and beautiful endeavor, and taught me a lot.
I think it’s a real gift to our community and I really appreciate the way you have framed this conversation and the fact that you take the time to unpack and expand on the experience. What do you want our community, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to know about sexual assault?
So many things. The first thing I’d say is that we don’t need to buy into the polarity that surrounds these stories, or the tendency to sensationalize them. Typically when a survivor is ready to tell their story, they are telling it because they have a desire for healing. Oftentimes people will interpret that telling as an attack or an affront against men, against the perpetrator. I think very rarely is that the case.
Truthfully, in my own experience and in my studies within this realm, the healing journey for a perpetrator and a survivor is essentially the same. You have to be honest. You have to be honest about what is yours to own and what is not. You have to be honest about how it’s hurt you and how it’s affected you. You have to take all of those pieces to the source of healing. If denial is present in our community’s ability at large to step into the feminine experience, it is present even more so if you have experienced something like a traumatic violation or an assault. Generally if a woman or a man, a survivor, has come out on the other side of that, they have done a considerable amount of work and oftentimes been pushed to break through that denial because they can’t survive if they don’t. if that person has done that kind of work, then they will likely understand that the denial a perpetrator is experiencing is as great, if not greater than the denial that a victim is experiencing.
As outrageous as this sounds, the depth of sorrow that I feel for perpetrators is large. It’s very big, because I know how hard it has been for me–as someone who did nothing wrong–to unpack my story and to find healing. But to be on the other side of that is… it’s difficult to fathom how challenging that must be to heal and to return to your true self.
When a survivor raises their voice and says this is what happened to me, almost always it’s been out of a desire to protect themselves, to protect others, to give themselves a voice after they’ve had that voice taken from them. It is an invitation to their perpetrator to walk that same path in their own sphere. I think if we started interpreting these interactions in that way, it would create a lot more space for both perpetrators and victims to find healing.
That’s part of what’s missing in our community, but we also seem to have a difficult time tolerating the kind of pain that is at the heart of these stories. Until we can learn to sit with that pain, I don’t think that sexual assault survivors are going to feel the support that they need within the community. If we really want to help we have to go deeper ourselves and be able to sit with people in their loss and their grief and their trauma.
I think it’s time for us as a community to start understanding what trauma is and how it affects people’s lives and spirits. I don’t know if the block is that we feel that trauma studies are too secularized, or if the water is just not getting down the line and bishops aren’t getting trained.
For a lot of sexual assault survivors it seems to be an either or. They’re going to go into their bishop and be completely misunderstood and not going to be given the resources that they need to deal with the trauma that they have experienced. So then they’re pushed outside of the faith community into these secular spaces, which is great, right? I don’t feel any fear about that. But if you’ve experienced trauma within the faith community–if it was a ward member, or someone you met at BYU, or a missionary, or a home teacher, or whatever, (and usually it’s someone you know)–then experiencing that kind of blindness within your house of worship compounds the whole experience. It makes church feel really unsafe when you try to use your voice and it’s pushed down again. When your trauma is completely and blatantly misunderstood and not seen it creates severe consequences. I would hope that moving forward, as we’re able to break down this polarity and reject it, that we’ll be able to start educating ourselves about how this particular beast works, so that we can give people compassion and tools rather than a blank stare and judgement. I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh.
I think it’s a necessary call to attention. I have a similar hope as you that we can.
I believe in the law of opposition. As I’ve allowed myself to surrender and descend deeper into my own pain, doubts, questions, and trauma, I have experienced an equal and opposite harvest. I have been blessed with a greater and more divine understanding of who I truly am, and who my Mother is. I feel very strongly that there is recompense that is available to women, whether or not they’ve suffered personally from something like sexual assault. I will say that sexual assault is a great microcosm for studying how to find healing and sovereignty after being disempowered.
I truly believe that every woman has experienced disempowerment on some front, even if it’s only inherited from her mother and grandmothers. It’s something we carry. In those moments of clarity and connection with eternity and Heavenly Mother, I have slowly been learning about that recompense. When God promises that He will open up the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing so big that there isn’t room to receive it, that’s more of what we’re dealing with here. Discovering our eternal destiny and our relationship with our Mother, will feel like that, a blessing that’s poured out of the windows of heaven that is too big. Too glorious. Too much. I believe It will wash away and consume all these pains. I guess I want to offer that as a comfort or a gift or a perspective that I really cherish. On the other side of this experience is something that will so far exceed our expectations.To say it will make everything worth it, is insufficient. It doesn’t convey enough how glorious, how happy, or how fulfilled we will be when we meet Her and when we meet ourselves again.
At A Glance
Name: Amber Richardson
Location: Utah County, Utah
Marital Status: Single
Convert?: Born into the Church
Schools Attended: Brigham Young University
Favorite Hymn: Nearer My God to Thee
Interview Produced by Elizabeth Ostler