Was there truly no other way?

It's one of the oldest and most debated questions when discussing the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Did Eve make a mistake by eating the forbidden fruit? Was there any other way?

With the latter question, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might wonder if the answer to that question is a reliable "No" or not because of the reenactment of the Creation during the temple endowment ceremony. Largely because the one saying there was "no other way" is Satan, and he's not exactly intended to be a reliable character in that story.

The first place I'll point to for an answer is another line from the Creation reenactment. Before Adam and Eve had ever fallen, God says "If they yield to temptation, we will provide a Savior for them." This line represents the Plan of Salvation as it was always intended to play out. 

The only way for Adam and Eve to make a valid choice would be to let them break a law, then providing an escape from the consequences. We, as the human race, were always meant to fall and need a Savior, whose role was always meant to be filled by Jesus Christ. This was the plan from the very beginning.

Does this mean God set them up to fail?

In order to understand the answer to that, it's important to understand what God was trying to save humanity from. Was it Satan? Or was it the demands of the law that govern moral agency and consequences of sin?

To answer that, it is valuable to review 2 Ne 2:22-24 and Moses 5:11 and consider that the "never" here is literal. Adam and Eve were never, ever leaving the Garden of Eden until one of them broke the law. And if you don't believe me, Bruce R McConkie echoes that same sentiment in his talk The Pillars of Eternity. He says Adam would still be in Eden today if not for their transgression.

And unlike some of the other things Bruce R. McConkie said without any sort of scriptural foundation, this one isn't one of those.

When there's Racism in Relief Society

I was just released from Young Women after two years. As a result, I went to Relief Society for the first time since the election.

 Holy crap, y'all.

You know when a room with fluorescent lighting has a bulb that is going bad? That constant humming in the background? If someone is there all the time, they don't really hear it. But then you come in and say "Wow, that's really annoying."

That was me today. Only the humming was this weird, angry subtext that I can't really describe. 

Our lesson was President Uchtdorf's talk, Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear. Letting go of fear about people, accepting differences, and love. And there were several women who were bristling at the very notion of Christ-like love. It showed in their comments and demeanor. One of them, because of past interactions I've had with her, I know is racist and harbors ill will towards anyone who doesn't fit a certain mold. That mold being white, Republican, and permanently plugged into Fox News. And I'm not putting words in her mouth. I've heard her describe herself that way.

The dynamic in that room was off. Uncomfortable. And I took two things away from our lesson. One was the sense of why we're studying President Hinckley this year. His words regarding love, acceptance, and racism are so timely right now. The other is that my return at this time is no accident and I have work to do here. Hard work that may not endear me to some people.

But changing racism is like changing a light bulb. You don't leave it like that because it's easier to sit in the dark, or put up with the sound. We change it because we are children of the light. We did not come to sit in darkness.

The only unique thing that qualifies me to do this is I'm not afraid to open my mouth. I don't care about social consequences. So if it has to be me, let it be me. Racism is not allowed in my backyard.

Finding Heavenly Mother in the Scriptures

The first time I heard of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, I was sitting on a beanbag chair in a ward member's unfinished basement. My friends and I were talking about being Mormon in hushed conspiratorial tones, away from the eyes and ears of parents and youth leaders. Anyone who has been a teenage Mormon knows these conversations. These unstructured moments are where many decide what to believe, and make critical decisions about their future in the Church.

The Assumption of Mary
Image: Wikimedia Commons
I was the daughter of a single mother, a non-practicing Catholic. I had memories of going to Mass as a child at Immaculate Conception, the only Catholic church in my hometown. Most of the memories I have of that experience are brief snapshots, which are also jumbled together with memories from at least a dozen other Protestant churches. But nothing in those experiences, not even the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary, had prepared me for the conversation I was about to have.

I don't even remember what my friends were saying in vivid detail. I just remember hearing those words, "Heavenly Mother," and everything suddenly coming to a halt in my brain.

"What did you just say?"

My friends stopped their banter, looked at me, then began looking at each other for expedients. Once again, they had forgotten that anything they brought up in front of the convert, they were going to have to explain. And they tried, mostly by asking questions about how logical it was. "How can we have a Heavenly Father without a Heavenly Mother?" one of them asked me.

How, indeed. But that wasn't enough. I wanted proof.

"Show me where this is in the Bible," I said. It was a familiar request coming from me. My relationship with the full Mormon canon of scripture was still tenuous at this point, mostly because I hadn't read them yet. If it was in any of those other books, I thought to myself, it should be in the Bible, too. But I also had the unfortunate habit of not listening to people when they gave me these answers. I'd crack open the books myself, based on what they told me, and find "my answer." Being religious, in terms of simple faith, did not come naturally to me. This was the only way I understood how to believe at that point in my life.

But this time, my friends were not prepared. The most scripturally literate of the three came up with the only answer I still remember.

"Look at the hymn, 'O My Father.' It talks about it in there."

The conversation dropped, mostly because my friends could see the effects of the massive bombshell they had dropped on me. You'd think after months of bumping into proverbial walls, I'd be used to it.

But how do you ever get used to having everything you thought you knew about life, people, and God himself upended?

Or should I say, herself?

* * *

Ten years later, and my life is completely unrecognizable. I've gone to college in Provo, Utah. I've served a mission at both Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and in Sao Paulo. I've been sealed in the temple, and have had my third cross-country move in less than ten years. My husband has a new job and has doubled his salary. In our minds, we're not far from starting our family and living the Mormon dream.

Except, it doesn't happen. Month after month, year after year. No children.  After years of being told that nothing I would ever do could be as important as motherhood, I was failing to do the job. I began questioning if my infertility meant that God didn't trust me. All of the changes, the educational and professional sacrifices I'd made to be a mother. It all was beginning to seem like a giant waste of time. I felt like I had no purpose, and completely inadequate materials out of which to fashion a new one. My life stretched out before me with no direction. And even if I somehow managed to find one, what would be the point? Who would remember me once I was gone?

I didn't have any answers. Just a vague sense that if I could wait it out, something would eventually change. And I hate that feeling. Like I'm sitting on a bench, watching other people's lives happen. Waiting for my life to begin. Impatience and existential angst were becoming inseparable from the rest of my personality.

But I wasn't waiting for something in my situation to change. I was waiting for someone, and didn't realize it until she had arrived.

That was how Heavenly Mother came back into my life. Not as a topic of conversation. Not as an abstract principle. She came much in the way my Savior had, on my road to Emmaus. She simply sat down on the bench next to me and waited with with me for a while. She was listening to me before I fully understood who she was.

This visual is so important. Imagine being on the road to Emmaus with the Savior after his crucifixion. You don't recognize him, but he's asking you about what has been happening in Jerusalem. So you tell him all about what you saw. You tell him about your pain and confusion. It's only once the stranger is gone, and you see the change within yourself, that you realize who it was.

What would Heavenly Mother talk to you about if she got the chance? Who is she? What is she like? What does she do with her time? Is she equal to our Father in Heaven? Does she have all knowledge? If someone started asking you these questions, how would you respond? Where would you go to find the answers?

As I poured out my heart and soul to my Father in Heaven over many years about how I felt, these questions came back. Again and again, with a growing force. This summer, they sat resolutely in my heart, refusing to move. The only way forward for me was to turn and address them.

So I got up off the bench. I opened my scriptures. I pulled up the essay on Mother in Heaven published by the Church. I started walking, knowing for the first time in years where I was going, but not knowing what I would find.

To be continued...

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