During my “coming of age,” the years when I grew from girlhood to womanhood, I lived with my dad and stepmom in Massachusetts. At the time my dad and stepmom both had private practices as mental health professionals. My dad worked specifically with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, many of them referred to him by LDS bishops. Living with two therapists, talking about deep spiritual and emotional stuff was normal to me. I talked to my parents a lot about everything.
However, I don’t think I fully grasped until very recently how fortunate I was to come into womanhood in a home where we spoke often of Heavenly Mother. My dad talked about Heavenly Mother a lot. In working with his clients, especially his female clients, Heavenly Mother was frequently an important part of their healing journey. Many had been abused by male authority figures, so it was difficult for them to connect with God the Father. My dad always emphasized that both of our Heavenly Parents are involved in our lives and sending their love and healing to us when we need it. It was my dad who introduced me to the hymn “O My Father” and its mention of Mother in Heaven.
I am so grateful to have experienced my development into womanhood while being tutored by a father who had developed such respect and love for women and Mother in Heaven. I would guess that one of my dad’s first powerful learning experiences in that journey happened on his mission among the Cuna people in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama.
The Cuna people live in a matriarchal society. Daughters are prized and given elaborate celebrations when they reach puberty. The Cuna also have many beliefs and traditions in common with Latter-day Saints. Their greatest spiritual teacher Ibeorgun (“Man of Light”) descended out of heaven, taught them principles of honesty and chastity and respect for others, and organized their leadership (three top chiefs with twelve chiefs under them). That’s just one of many interesting parallels.
In my dad’s mission journal, he shared his discovery of another theological belief we share in common with the Cuna. Dad had been working with his companion and a Cuna young man on translating the first missionary discussion into the Caribe Cuna language. This discussion included teaching concepts regarding man’s divine heritage as children of God. Here is the rest of the story in his words:
We were in the middle of this project when our Cuna woman friend brought a load of laundry. She had her daughter with her and we stopped to engage them in conversation and decided to try our translated content with her.
After going over the discussion introduction, we came to one of the first questions [spoken in Cuna], “Who created the earth?”
“Pap Tumadi,” she answered. “Great Father” is their title for God.
The next question was, “And who created you?”
We fully expected the same response, “Pap Tumadi,” because that was the “correct” answer.
But, what she answered led me to know we had miscommunicated, “Andi pap e ome.” (“My father and my mother.”)
“No, I’m not talking about the creation of your physical body. I mean, who created your spirit?”
Her answer caused my hair to stand on end, “Pap Tumadi e Ome.” (“Great Father and His Wife.”)
“Are you saying that Pap Tumadi is married?”
“Of course! We have earthly parents, and we have Great Father and His Wife who created us spiritually. The Christian missionaries tell us we are confused when we tell about them. But our traditions are very clear – we have two Great Parents.”
I’m sure it gave my dad great pleasure to tell this woman that he agreed with her 100%. He went on to bring many, many Cuna brothers and sisters into the waters of baptism. His mission was, in part, a fulfillment of a prophecy given by one of the Cuna chiefs, Iguagindibipulele: “The salvation of the Cunas will arrive when Mergies [Americans] come two-by-two to teach the Cuna people.”
My heart is full of gratitude to be part of a Christian church with an understanding of divinity that honors both masculine and feminine. My heart is full of gratitude for an earthly father who instilled within me a knowledge and love for my Divine Mother. And I smile when I think of the young Cuna mother who helped to plant those seeds of respect for Heavenly Mother in my father’s young heart nearly fifty years ago.