The Gospel Doctrine lesson #32 manual objective is “to encourage class members to seek promptings from the Holy Ghost and to avoid attitudes and actions that will keep them from receiving these promptings.”
To consider both women’s role in teaching and expounding doctrine, and a shared longing for the divine feminine.
Once I sat in a room with a friend right after she put her daughter to sleep with a story, and I asked her what stories the young girl liked best. My friend told me that her daughter liked very complicated stories, and that of every tale, she asked the same question: “Where’s da mama in this story?” because at two, she was young enough to know that a mother should be present, and old enough to know that she often wasn’t. I’ve written elsewhere how I have borrowed this good question, for our theology and faith: “Where is the Mama in this story?”
I asked it while reading the scriptural passages for this lesson, and was pleasantly surprised to find, if not an answer, at least a shared asking. I also posed a more general question: “Where are the women?”
One woman is found–and named–right away. Indeed, Acts chapter 18 begins with Paul leaving Athens for Corinth, and finding “a certain Jew named Aquila…with his wife Priscilla” (v. 2). The couple shows up again, in two additional verses. In 18, we learn that Paul “tarried there yet a good while,” before taking “his leave of the brethren,” and sailing “thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila.” While we don’t yet know their testimony, we can guess at their faith.
We meet another Jew, “named Apollos,” who was “instructed in the way of the Lord.” He “spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord,” but knew “only the baptism of John” (vs. 23-25). Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos speaking “boldly in the synagogue,” and “took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (v.26).
There is so much that I love about this, but the thing I love most is that Priscilla taught together with her husband. It seems like such a nice model, women and men teaching together. The thing that I love second most, is that we know the person Priscilla helped teach was himself a learner and a teacher of the things of the Lord. He wasn’t a child or spiritual novice. Still, she had something to offer and “expound.”
This reminded me of Mormon historian, Claudia Bushman, who once reminded me that the role of women as set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 25 is “to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church” (v. 7). In that section, Emma was told that her “time shall be given to writing, and to learning much” (v. 8). During the first official meeting of the Nauvoo Relief Society, Joseph read the whole section aloud, and again reminded Emma that she was “ordain’d” to “expound the scriptures to all…and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings” (p. 8, Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book). Priscilla did this, and we may, too.
The second half of Acts 19 references the Ephesian worship of the “Great Goddess Diana.” A silversmith who makes shrines for Diana is nervous that Paul’s teachings of “they be no gods, which are made with hands,” will hurt him financially (Acts 19:24, 26). He gathers others in his trade, and eventually the whole city. In a theater, “all with one voice…cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for “the space of two hours.” They were only appeased when their town clerk reminded them that Paul and his people were “neither robbers of churches, nor not yet blasphemers of your goddess” (35, 37). The account has no record of Paul becoming such. He wasn’t present at the assembly, and we don’t have his words or thoughts.
Mine are that while the silversmith might have been nervous about finances, the rest of the worshippers seem sincere. I see in them something I see in myself and others–a longing for a divine feminine. It makes me feel new gratitude for the restoration and for Eliza R. Snow’s poem, “O My Father,” that B.H. Roberts once referred to as “that splendid hymn of ours on heavenly motherhood, the great throbbing hunger of woman’s soul.”1 We do have a “Great Goddess,” a Mother in heaven, “crowned with glory and majesty” (James E. Talmage)2. This knowledge does not take away from our faith and love for either our Father or Brother in Heaven, which latter, Jesus, we know is the name that saves.
1B.H. Roberts, “Review of Address to the World. Ministerial Association, Salt Lake City.” In Defense of Faith and the Saints, vol. 2, 256-288, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1907.
2James E. Talmage, “The Eternity of Sex,” Chapter 21, Essential James E. Talmage, ed. James P. Harris, Signature Books; the Young Woman’s Journal 25, October 1914, 600-604.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Life, By Design, Alyson Von Feldt
Years ago when I was a new mother, I was studying the topic of revelation. I was in D&C 76 and I followed a cross reference which took me to the book of Proverbs and I read the first dozen or so chapters as if for the first time. When I came to Proverbs 8:22-31, I read about a woman named Wisdom speaking in that poem and had a significant spiritual experience. One of the most profound of my entire life. I felt like the top of my head was opened up and light and understanding poured into it. I read in this poem about a heavenly woman named Wisdom who was present at creation and I could not believe that I had never noticed her there before nor had anyone ever called her to my attention at church or in my religion classes. It just seemed to me plain as day that a divine woman was telling her story in that poem. I remember standing up in astonishment because I always wondered why the scriptures never mention a heavenly woman of any sort. Not an angel who is a woman, not a heavenly mother, not a single noble and great female intelligence performing a heavenly role. Of course there are many great strong, mortal women in the scriptures, but here was what appeared to be a heavenly woman speaking in her own voice, plain as day.
Where Her Truth Is, Moragn Lon Cotti
I think a stronger female voice is crucial. I used to teach in the Young Women and now I am in the older teenager Sunday School. I love the new lessons. I love how it is an open curriculum. But the talks and videos that are listed are usually are of or from men. So I usually have to go searching for a talk or quote by a woman. In my opinion, we are going to have to have some mixture of grassroots efforts and having women be more willing to speak up. And then at the highest level, I hope we will continue to see great changes like the mission age change and the emphasis on women’s voices being included in ward council.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Charity Never Faileth, Elaine L. Jack
As sisters in Zion, we still have pressing calls. We have calls to teach the gospel, to lift our families, to bless our neighbors, to aid our friends, to live by example, to share our understanding with others, and to bring souls unto Christ by the way we live and the way we love one another. Yes, as sisters in Zion, we are going to do something extraordinary.