Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a 12-part Tuesday/Thursday Meridian Series that explores some of the most remarkable and exciting doctrines of the Restoration. Read the two-part introduction to this series here, and here, and read article 1 here, and article 2 here, and article 3 here.
You are invited to comment and turn these questions into an interactive dialogue or forum here on Meridian. This series poses fundamental and intentionally provocative questions about the doctrines of the Restoration, and in many cases includes the author’s own interpretation of certain Gospel beliefs and principles that do not pretend to be official doctrine of the Church and that are necessarily endorsed by Meridian Magazine. The intent is to stimulate thought and questions that will lead each of us to our own conclusions
The title of this article is designed to get your attention, because this question may be the most provocative and personal of all–and perhaps ultimately the most important. To whom do you pray? Who do you see in your mind’s eye as you pray? To whom do you direct your words? And who do you envision listening and responding?
Ponder first, before you answer, what a blessing we have in the Restoration, wherein we have additional insights about God, about His person, His nature, and His Fatherhood of our spirits. Joseph saw Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ—he did not have to envision anything in his mind, because he saw them with his eyes. And that glorious sight can give all of us the potential of a real and faith-filled answer to the question of this article.
For many, the question sounds like a simple one with a simple answer based on the first vision and on how we have been commanded to pray. “I pray to my Heavenly Father.”
Others who may think of it as a simple question nonetheless give very different answers:
–Well, I pray to God, but I don’t envision anything because I have no idea what He looks like.
–I envision Jesus.
–I pray to the Godhead, I talk to the Father through the Son, and answers come from the Holy Ghost.
–In my mind’s eye, I see Heavenly Mother.
–I pray to Heavenly Father, but I envision Jesus because they look the same.
–I see a very wise and benevolent face
–I pray to a God that I think is too magnificent for me to envision.
–I just throw it out there and hope someone is listening.
— I pray to Heavenly Father. I don’t visualize Him particularly, but I try to incline my heart to Him. I’m aware of how inadequate my language is so I rely on the Holy Spirit to translate my thoughts and words to God and to translate God’s message back to me.
—I can easily picture my own father’s face, his smile. Because I know how much he loved me, I am able to picture him working alongside our Father in Heaven. The same transfer of feelings from my earthy mother is easily made to my Mother in Heaven.
–I used to pray to Heavenly Father, but now I pray to Heavenly Mother and feel more tenderly heard.
–I imagine a personal God listening intently and focused entirely on me.
— I need to commune and feel connected to nature/creation. This feels like a connection with Divine Mother to me.
–I pray as Heavenly Father told me to—directly to Him in the name of Jesus.
— When I ‘break through in prayer’ I don’t know if I am talking to a wonderfully talented angel in a heavenly call center, but I have ‘broken through’ and it feels heavenly. How it happens, I don’t know, but I get the message ‘stamped’ with the TOP signature and that works for me—not unlike a mission call letter.
For the world at large, neither the question or the answer is simple. Those who believe in God as a formless force or an omnipresent spirit don’t envision anything tangible or visually recognizable. Those who pray to Allah have a different paradigm and vision. Buddhists and others may focus on their own breath and mindfulness as they meditate or pray. And agnostics may pray to “God if there is a God and whatever God is.”
Is the question of what we see as we pray relevant? Is it important? Does it make a difference in our prayers or in the answers we receive? Most would agree that the best communication happens when we can both hear and “see” the person we are talking to. But would that apply to communication with God?
Should those of us blessed with the insights of the Restoration have the capacity to be more specific and clearer in our answers about who they pray to?
That last question, of course, begs another question: What do we know about the nature and power and even the appearance of God?
- We know that He has a body as tangible as man’s.
- We know that He is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, powerful, abundant in goodness; and a great deal about His other personal attributes and character as discussed by Joseph Smith in his third and fourth Lectures on Faith.
- We know that he is separate from but one in purpose with his Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ and with the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost.
- We know that He told us to pray to Him, but through and in the name of Christ.
- We know that He is the literal spirit father of all people and loves all of His children totally and equally.
- We know that we also have a Heavenly Mother.
- We know that we each lived with our Heavenly Parents in the premortal existence.
- We know or Their plan of agency which necessitated this mortal separation from Them. And we know that we stood for that plan.
- We know that They, with Christ and Michael, created this earth and this mortality for us.
- We know that we are and always will be a part of Their family and can progress eternally to become more and more like Them.
- We know that Christ atoned for our sins, creating the possibility for us, despite our inevitable imperfections, to return to Them.
- We know that They are always aware of us, always willing to give us all They have, but that They always honor our agency.
- We know that each of us, either on this earth or in the Spirit World that follows, will have the opportunity to emulate Them by having offspring and creating a oneness marriage.
- We know that none of us, individually, is a perfectible entity, but that the New and Everlasting Covenant provides a path whereon a oneness union creates a new, combined entity that is perfectible and that can exist with Them in the highest part of the Celestial Kingdom.
You may have noticed that I like to capitalize divine pronouns like He and His, and I like it even more when I can also capitalize She and Her, and I enjoy it most of all when I can capitalize They, and Them, and Their. For me at least, this divine paradigm becomes more personal and more intimate even as it becomes more humbling and awe-inspiring.
We know then, that it is right and good to perceive of “God” as both our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother, or better yet as the Oneness of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. We are taught in John 17 of the Oneness of Christ and Heavenly Father—a perfect Oneness of purpose. And that insight can help us to at least try to imagine the Oneness that exists between our Heavenly parents—Two individual beings, radiant beyond imagination, joined in a synergistic Oneness wherein their complete Godhood total is somehow greater than the sum of their two perfect parts. (And these words, my words, any words, are inadequate, because only the Spirit can give us the briefest, slightest glimpse of this Oneness.)
Please do not think of this Oneness as something that lessens our Heavenly Mother. One friend who read an earlier draft of this article felt that possibility and said, “somehow incorporating Her into Him feels like losing Her more. Being swallowed up into Him feels to me like less of Her. I am more comfortable living with not knowing than with losing Her more into Him-ness.” My intended meaning is the opposite. As in Temple Marriages here (though with far more power and gravity) the joyful giving up of independence in favor of interdependence strengthens and extends each individual even as it creates a Oneness synergy. I believe there is no swallowing up or diminishing of either in the Godhood union of our Heavenly Parents. His Him-ness and Her Her-ness are maximized and optimized because of their Oneness. As the result of this reader’s concern I hope I have clarified, because she also told me that she is “confident that all knowing will come” regarding our Heavenly Mother, and I agree, and believe that knowing will encompass Her unspeakable beauty and glory.
By now, you may have figured out where I am going with the question of this article. So, let me now approach my own question with an answer which you, of course, can take or leave according to your agency and the Spirit’s promptings:
I believe that I pray to the Oneness of my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. I have not always done this, but I try now to see our them both in my mind’s eye when I pray. I do not know what they look like, but I know I am made in their image and that they are surrounded by unspeakable glory, and my spirit can form a kind of picture out of that knowledge. I speak to Heavenly Father as we are commanded, but do so feeling and believing that in doing that, because of their Oneness, I am speaking to Them both. I try to humbly direct my words and thoughts to Heavenly Father within that inseparable Oneness, and envision Them listening and responding through the Holy Ghost or whatever other means They choose.
I am certainly not claiming to know any more about God than what we have been taught by our prophets, and what Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother look like, or the science of how they hear and answer prayers is not a subject that revelation has spoken to or covered in any detail. But I love the singular and unique doctrine of the Restoration that They are both there, that They are the literal parents of our spirits, and that we can, as we progress not only individually but within our marriages and our families, becoming ever so slightly and ever so gradually more like Them.
I love praying to Heavenly Father, as we are commanded, while thinking of our Heavenly Parents and of Their Oneness and feeling the awe of Them loving me as a son.
Another friend who reviewed this article shared a very interesting perspective, “Many focus on the words and feelings they wish to express without as much thought about who they are praying to. And I think that is for good reason. Given His perfection, it is difficult even to try to envision Him. We learn in childhood that we have a Heavenly Father (and Mother) who love us. And we learn that we have an Elder Brother who loved us enough to die for us. If we could penetrate the visualizations of a child in prayer, I think we might learn much from their faith and understanding of who they are praying to. Too bad we don’t have a kind of camera that could capture the images in our children’s minds as they pray. As we grow older our pre-mortal memories fade, and these images dissolve.”
And another highly insightful reviewer said this, “For many religions over the centuries, having something tangible and visual (to pray to) was so important that idolatry became a central point of worship…and even biblically a bush, a pillar of fire and a voice are all far cries from the God of the restoration. (We learn much from) The Brother of Jared’s account which was sealed up specifically for the restoration…when he made the very particular request “to touch these stones…with thy finger.” Any possibility that this was a symbolic request to some amorphous power is immediately dispelled as The Lord stretches forth his hand to touch. In that moment his nature and appearance are revealed to mortal eyes…This changes the nature of prayer from simply tossing another token into the well of wishes into the concept we find in the restored doctrine of mighty prayer, where the desires of mankind may not only be realized but indeed move and sway the hearts of our perfect parents to our need and plight.”
Please add your comments with your thoughts or questions, and join me here again on Tuesday when we will discuss three related questions: Is Christ the “Means” or the “End?” Other than “Savior,” what Key Roles does Christ play in Mortality and in Eternity? Was He, as Jehovah, a Jealous and Vindictive God?
Richard Eyre is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author who served as Mission President in London. He and his wife Linda are frequent Meridian contributors.