Fiona Givens | July 27, 2017
I was fortunate to be raised Catholic and to be educated in Catholic schools, where the student body comprised only girls and most of our teachers were women. The influence of a female educative environment and worship had a considerable impact on my spiritual development. I relished the symbolism, scriptures read out loud, and sacred music sung in girls’ and womens’ voices in a chapel replete with stunning stained glass depictions of the life of Christ, the Saints—many of whom were women—as well as the Madonna. Each day started and ended in sacred space and song.
The numerous depictions of Mary holding the baby Jesus, and then holding His crucified, lifeless body developed a sensitivity in me of the ability and power of ordinary women to live extraordinarily courageous lives. These visual reminders along with beautiful images of Mary being crowned as a queen in heaven, worked powerfully, albeit subconsciously on my soul.
Another important sacred moment in my spiritual development was my accidental encounter with Mother Teresa as she was emerging from one of the side chapels of a great cathedral.
The power of her unexpected, light-filled presence was overwhelming. I stood riven to the spot, struck by her tiny and already frail body. How, I thought, was it possible for someone so physically challenged to accomplish all that she was doing for good among the diseased, the despised, the dying and the abandoned in Calcutta and around the globe?
Perhaps it is through pain and suffering like that of Mother Theresa, that our subconscious knowledge is brought into the light. I have, in my own painful experiences, discovered that “wilderness walking” is the only way to the Tree of Life and Wisdom. When my conversion to the Church, although Spirit-filled, resulted in the loss of my family—the pain was deep and to this day, never leaves me. I truly felt like I was a woman walking in deep wilderness. Somewhere in this journey I re-encountered Eve—She who is despised among women because of a tragically flawed understanding of her heroic role in the launching of The New and Everlasting Covenant.
Because the Plan of Redemption and Healing begin for us as Latter-day Saints in pre-existent councils long before the creation of the world, our perspective is significantly different from traditional Christianity. There are many who see the Garden of Eden only as a representation of sin, fall, punishment and then banishment from God’s presence. Our version of the story is dramatically different. Eve remains true to the sole command—to multiply and replenish the earth—which can only happen through experiencing the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. In examining closely the fruit of that particular tree, she notices that it has the power to give her (and by extension, us) one vital divine attribute in particular—Wisdom—an attribute closely associated with our Mother in Heaven and Her dominant symbol—the Tree of Life. This symbol is present in the Garden narrative and also dominates Nephi’s own visionary experience.
In order that we could have the privilege “to advance [and] to be exalted” “we [became] part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.” Mortality was a vital step towards obtaining the divine attributes necessary for exaltation. It is through Eve’s courage and sacrifice that the New and Everlasting Covenant could be implemented. Rather than being the instigator of the Fall, as Eve has been presented for so long, the Mormon faith presents her as a woman of unparalleled courage. She chose that which concerned the good of others—the greater law—rather than that which would have chiefly benefited herself (remaining in the static safety and security of the Garden)—the lesser law. God’s response to Eve’s choice as seen in the Mormon tradition is one of joy and not condemnation!
As she exclaims with gladness in her Ode to Joy: Had Eve not partaken of the fruit: “we never should have known [experienced} good and evil, and the joy of our redemption (Moses 5:11).” Or, as God elaborates: “It is given them to know good from evil” in that “they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the [G]ood (“the Joy of our redemption”), who is Jesus, the Christ (Moses 6:55-56).”
She thus introduces the “discipline of suffering” to which we all, who experience mortality, agreed to in the preexistence. Christ’s goal is to relieve us from the collateral damage that is part of our mortal journey, to heal us from the consequences of injurious choices and lead us into the “abundant life” of the Divine Family. I believe that Eve truly understood her role in this plan and I am grateful to her—The Mother of all Living—for her compassionate courage in making it possible for our access to The New and Everlasting Covenant. Eve, Mary, Mother Teresa and other women in the Gospel of Jesus Christ by whom I am surrounded who forge forward in spite of the heartbreaking challenges in their own lives, give me the courage and strength I need when I am flagging. The unselfish examples these valiant women set for me fill me with a stronger desire to follow the Saviour as have they. For they trust His promise: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)