McArthur Krishna, Bethany Brady Spalding, and Caitlin Connolly. Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016. To be published August 22, 2016, available now for pre-order.
Ostensibly a book for children, Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families by virtue of its publisher becomes a groundbreaking theological text for LDS grown-ups — who may have been taught not to discuss Heavenly Mother beyond occasional frail references, or who may even doubt Her existence and active involvement in the universe. (Microsoft Word underlines a capitalized “Her” in green, but not a capitalized “Him,” as I write this.)
It’s not that whatever Deseret Book publishes constitutes doctrine. It’s that this book’s publication, from the Church’s official publishing authority, grants church members permission to consider a true parallel between an earthly mother and our Heavenly Mother — framing the latter as a divine woman who loves us and is as actively engaged in our mortality as our Father. (“Our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are involved, concerned parents who help our heavenly family.”) It grants us permission to ask questions about Her, an exercise the book models. (“How does it feel to know your Heavenly Parents love you?”) It perhaps even grants us permission to include Her in references to God that until now have almost always excluded Her, replacing “Heavenly Father” with “Heavenly Parents” wherever logical. These are not small things.
In spite of the earth-shifting potential of all of the above, authors McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding present their simple, sweetly short lessons in clear, earnest paragraphs any child would understand and be drawn to. Each topic begins with a description of the pattern our Heavenly Parents have set for us, followed by a discussion of our earthly family life. Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families describes how families make us more godlike — as we preserve hot water for the showerers to come, let Mom sleep in on Saturday, use games to make chores fun, help Dad bring in the groceries, practice yo-yoing, forgive each other… learn zydeco dancing. Creative examples of family joy and family struggles knit the book together in a delightful, truthful tapestry.
Krishna and Spalding present a very inclusive reality. I believe I could read this book as a married mother, as a single adult, as a childless woman, as an adoptive father — or as the child of a single parent, a step-parent, divorced parents — and feel it was written for me. The authors focus not so much on the structure of a family, as they do on a family’s purpose and potential. Lines such as “conflict is a part of family life,” and “what can you do to make your home a place where your family wants to be?” are an invitation to admit, accept, and address the challenges a family faces. With all this, Krishna and Spalding also celebrate the fun, the responsibilities, the joy, the growth, and the connection of family life.
Connection is the key theme. Not only do family members connect to each other as they help around the house, cultivate talents, comfort and forgive — they connect to their Heavenly Parents. The book quotes Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “What would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” What indeed! Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families urges us toward a connection not only with our Heavenly Father, but with our Mother. There is no reference in the book to Him unaccompanied by Her. Nineteen quotes from Church authorities scattered throughout the book reference Them together. (More than a fair number of women authorities are quoted alongside apostles and presidents of the Church). The cover art by Caitlin Connolly, unprecedented, depicts Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father smiling over a colorful cornucopia of their children — their rich colors and shapes meet and blend, suggesting beautiful unity. Connection. All of Connolly’s impactful artwork, with its triangular themes, points us upward toward Them.
Scripture, as we have it, is mostly silent on the topic of a Heavenly Mother. We have little to go off of as we attempt to sharpen Her image in our theology. It is easy to wonder if the authors of Our Heavenly Family, and the authorities they quote, are creating Her in their own image: projecting onto heaven the devoted and powerful mother of our earthly ideals. But until new revelation illuminates the whole truth (in the hearts of seeking individuals, or for the general Church), we are left with this earthly family model on which to build our eternal hopes. It is a model we feel is deeply good, a model we love and hope for; a model wherein we progress, we stretch and become. These are feelings and experiences resonant with eternity.