By Dayna Patterson

Dayna Patterson is a writer, editor, textile artist, macro photographer, amateur fungophile, and Thea-curious recovering Mormon. Find her at

As the camera zooms out to capture the last scene—a paved road winding through Switzerland’s rolling green—I feel myself about to break. We’re sitting on the bed in pajamas, me and my husband. I’d reluctantly agreed to watch, knowing this director’s reputation. The credits begin to roll, and I turn to him. “Why do you make me watch such sad movies!?”

And then I start to sob.

And sob.

And sob. He puts his arm around me as my shoulders shake. I’m heaving, pressing my eyes with sweatshirt sleeves. Partly to hide. Partly to staunch the tide.

When I calm down, he says, “After all these years, you still surprise me.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“It was a happy ending. I thought you’d be okay. She was going to see her daughter again.”

What he says is true. The movie we just finished, Julieta,1 written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, does have a happy ending. Or, at least, its trajectory is a hopeful one. After being separated from her daughter for over a decade—no telephone calls, no visits, no email—the protagonist is invited back into her daughter’s life. She’s in the car with her boyfriend driving towards the return address scrawled on the back of her daughter Antía’s latest letter.

“Yes,” I agree, “but I wanted to see them hug. I needed that closure.”

I get up to scrub my face—my nightly routine. I feel raw as a fresh scrape, but I can’t help rehashing the plot in my mind. Antía’s father, a fisherman, goes out on his boat in a storm after Julieta confronts him about his infidelity. His boat capsizes and he drowns. When Antía learns the circumstances of her father’s death, she blames her mother, she blames the woman her father was sleeping with, and she blames herself for being away at summer camp, where she was happy. When she turns eighteen, Antía decides to cut off all contact with her mother. The film follows Julieta’s descent into near madness over the loss. Every year for Antía’s birthday, Julieta sets out a beautiful cake, hoping her daughter will come home. The cake always ends up in the garbage, untouched. After years of waiting, Julieta is on the verge of moving to Portugal with her boyfriend to start a new life. But what if her daughter comes back? Or sends a letter? The apartment building where they lived is the only link she has with her absent Antía.

I pull out the dental floss, careful to curve around each tooth, staring into the mirror. I think of my own mother. She and my father had been married for seven years when she made the decision to leave. Their long struggle with infertility ended abruptly with three babies in three years. She would tell me later, over and over, that she was in such a dark place, so numb. Post-partum depression. Bulimia. She had to leave to survive.

I step out of the bathroom. “You know, I think the whole mother-daughter separation theme is still a deep wound for me, even all these years later. My mom was absent for almost a decade. She wasn’t interested in being part of my life until I was about eleven, and it still hurts. That movie walked me through my own private version of hell. If either of our daughters chose not to be part of my life, I think it would kill me.”

My husband is quiet, nods empathetically. “You know,” he says, “I’ve heard Almodóvar goes around eavesdropping on women’s conversations, to get inside their heads.” I believe it. He has certainly gotten inside mine.

I learn later that Almodóvar intended the film to be absolutely tearless. In an interview with Elsa Fernández-Santos of El País, he says, “I battled a lot with the actresses’ tears, against the physical need to cry. It is a very expressive battle. It wasn’t out of reservedness, but because I didn’t want tears, what I wanted was dejection—the thing that stays inside after years and years of pain. [. . .] Put simply, this had to be a very dry, tearless film.”2 I wonder if my sobs were a natural reaction to that two hours of restraint, the bottled despair aching for release.

Wrung out, I walk down the hall to my daughters’ bedroom to tuck them in. I put on false cheer like a soft robe, not wanting to worry them. I’d like to climb onto the bottom bunk and sandwich my adult body between their child bodies and just hold them until they fall asleep, and then lay awake listening to them breathe, cherishing each inhale, exhale.

Instead, I give them each a hug, remind them to brush their teeth, admire the dragons and superheroes they’ve been drawing on the (forbidden) printer paper. I sniff their shampooed hair, blow one more goodnight kiss, then shuffle back to my bedroom.

As I fall asleep, I think of the two other movies that had this effect on me—uncontrollable, wrenching, gasping sobs. The Duchess, with Keira Knightly, after she is forced to hand her illegitimate newborn over to her lover’s family. Arrival, when Amy Adams’s daughter succumbs to a terminal illness. Each film shows the separation of a mother from her child.


I don’t remember the day my mother left. In fact, I don’t have any memories of her at all until age seven or eight, something that continues to pain her. No matter how hard I try, I can’t conjure any images of her until a rare visit to her apartment in Salt Lake City when I was in elementary school. My younger brother has no memory of her living with us either, being only one when she left. But my sister, a year older than me, remembers my mother’s suitcase. Me playing with blocks on the living room floor—oblivious. The look on my dad’s face. The screen door swinging shut. Watching our mother walk away through the screen’s wire mesh.

“Someday,” my mom said to teenaged me, “I hope you’ll be able to understand.”

The closest I’ve come was when my own girls were babies, fourteen months apart. There were days I felt I could sleep for a month, days of such searing monotony and Saltine-cracker sameness I gagged through the hours. I held my mother’s hard, heavy story in my hands and began to comprehend its heft.


My mother had been a stay-at-home parent while my dad worked full-time at a bookstore. I imagine my toddler brain, chock-full of neurons, reacting to and absorbing the world around me. According to attachment theory, my ability to take risks, develop a personality, and explore my environment depended on the strength of my attachment to at least one of my parents—I assume that attachment would have been to my mother. But as she was spiraling deeper and deeper into depression, maybe I found the few hours with my dad more nurturing and responsive. When I dig into my memory, the earliest image I can muster is me on a tricycle peddling tiny circles around him. We’re in a basement with a hard floor, maybe cement. He sits on a chair in the middle of my circle.

We spent most of our days after Mom left with my dad’s mother, Grandma Kidd. We began to call her mom. Playing on her backyard swing set. Watching Sesame Street. Eating raspberries in her garden. Petting a new litter of kittens.

My dad remarried the summer after I turned five. My stepmom had a tempestuous relationship with her own mother and later confessed to me that she absolutely dreaded having daughters. Our relationship was difficult from the beginning. I remember aching for my dad to get home in the evenings, listening for the sound of his car pulling into the driveway.

As a teen, I would fantasize that I could step back in time and convince my mother not to leave. I daydreamed  two scenarios: 1) I would enter my toddler body with my teenage brain and future-memory and somehow make my mom’s life easier so she’d want to stay. I’d quickly potty train myself and then my sister. I’d change my brother’s diapers. I’d clean up after my siblings. I’d offer toddler cuddle therapy. Or, 2) I would step through a shimmery time portal as my teenaged self, visit my parent’s house while my dad was at work, and tell my mom everything that was going to happen if she left. Surely, if she knew how miserable she’d make her kids, if she could conceive what a millstone her regret would be in a mere decade, it would stop her. I thought through these scenarios obsessively. Daily.

What are the long-term effects of early parental separation? For me, it is a mother-hunger. A yearning that influences my relationships with both my mother and my daughters; that triggers emotional responses to films and stories; that surfaces in my art and my evolving theology.


I was raised Mormon, and for most of my life I was content with worshipping and praying to God the Father only. In Mormon theology, God the Father and God the Mother exist as coequal creative partners, parents of all the souls on earth. However, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have been instructed by their prophets and leaders not to pray to—or worship—God the Mother. Despite this prohibition, the past few decades have given rise to a burgeoning number of conversations, academic studies, poetry, and art on God the Mother, although she is still considered a taboo topic to many church members.

Mormonism is not alone in its peculiar relationship to God the Mother. The Bible scholar Margaret Barker recounts how there was once a Lady of Jerusalem worshipped in the temple. But during King Josiah’s reign (641–609 BCE), the young monarch instigated a purge of all emblems meant to represent and honor her from the temple’s inner sanctum: “the item named the Asherah, the host of heaven, the horses for the sun, the menorah, the oil, the manna, the high priest’s staff that bore almond blossoms, the ark, the fire and the Spirit.”3 Although Lady Wisdom had been worshipped for centuries before Josiah’s reform, he labeled her followers pagans and her priests heretics. The hammer-fist of patriarchy eventually resulted in monotheism: one God only, a God that is male. What remained of the Lost Lady’s cult of worship went underground, leaving archaeologists, Bible scholars, and historians to do the work of piecing together her former glory.

During the past few years, I’ve begun to wonder: What are the long-term spiritual effects of this parental separation? How is society affected over centuries when only God the Father is worshipped while God the Mother is purged from temples, forgotten, ignored, placed off-limits, edited out of sacred texts, effaced, erased? What does separation anxiety and mother-hunger look like on a scale that large?

Maybe it looks like millennia of misogyny: baby girls exposed on hillsides, witch hunts, foot binding, female circumcision, acid thrown on women’s faces when they refuse sexual advances, homophobia, sex trafficking, rape culture on college campuses.

Maybe it sounds like a maniacal president bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. Maybe it sounds like stuffing our ears. Maybe it’s the silent spring we’ve been warned about, billions of birds decimated.

Maybe it smells like the lungs of the world burning, like the hot metal bite of Iodine-131 fallout after decades of nuclear testing, like the absence of sweet as bees and other pollinators dwindle.

Perhaps it tastes like apocalypse.


My mission companion and I drove the short distance on icy streets to the Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Cap. With a stack of cards in our mittened hands, we stationed ourselves near the entrance to the chemin du rosaire, a meandering path adjacent to the church that wound past bronze and ceramic statues depicting the twenty mysteries of the rosary. It was January. Not many Quebecois would brave the weather that morning, not even to visit the shrine in its cold cloak of snow. We talked to very few people, mostly devout old women. One in particular, wearing a black wool dress coat, asked if we prayed to Mary. When we told her we didn’t, tears streamed down her face as she began preaching to us of Mary’s divinity. She fervently invited us to come into the basilica, and because we were half-frozen, half-moved, we consented.

Inside, the basilica was warm and dim. The priest intoned the Ave Maria, the words washing over us:


Je vous salue, Marie pleine de grâce;

le Seigneur est avec vous.

Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les


et Jésus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est


Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,

priez pour nous pauvres


maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort.



Sometime during that half hour of little light and mumbled music, I felt the first pangs of hunger for the feminine divine. A sinking sense of guilt set in—why would I want to rob these people of a Mother to pray to? The guilt was laced with envy. How delicious it would be to pray to God the Mother: to speak to, thank, petition, beg, bless, question—all directly, without an intermediary. But this was forbidden fruit! I tucked it away in the satchel of my mind.


Carol Lynn Pearson, revered in Mormondom as an early seeker and advocate of God the Mother, writes in her poem “A Motherless House”:


I live in a Motherless house,

A broken home.

How it happened I cannot learn.


When I had words enough to ask

“Where is my Mother?”

No one seemed to know,

And no one thought it strange

That no one else knew either.


I live in a Motherless house.

They are good to me here,

But I find that no kindly

Patriarchal care eases the pain.5


I was electrified when I first read these words—home from my mission, a young mother myself—for I had grown up in a twice-motherless house. Even though I’m close with my mother now, I only get to see her once or twice a year because we live so far apart. Even when I’m with her, I miss her, as if her long-ago absence is a cavernous hollow, an aquifer that can never be filled no matter how heavy the monsoon. I try to conjure her presence by placing her favorite color around my home, little reminders: a purple paisley plush throw on the couch, a pot of lavender by the front door.

As much as I ache for my mother, and possibly because I’ve ached for her since before memory, I also yearn for the Mother. I keep circling round and round her, like a divine axis, a magnetic core drawing me to its brilliant, liquid heat.

I’m deeply grateful to be a beneficiary of so much dedicated effort over the past half-century to invite God the Mother back, through scholarly excavation, academic explication, conversation, music, and art. And I’m awed to witness the more recent surge of interest in God the Mother, gaining momentum in the new millennium. We stand on the shore of what was once a timid tide tasting the sand, threading round our ankles—now a majestic wave, licking us head to toe, pulling us toward spirit womb’s memory.

It seems to me that more and more people around the globe are rolling up their sleeves, readying salves for the Mother’s redelivery—and not just within Mormonism. Jewish poet and literary scholar Alicia Ostriker writes in her essay “God the Mother” about Jewish mysticism and the idea that in the beginning, God was separated from his Beloved, the Shekhinah. Then, invoking the metaphor of the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, she describes how God the Father swallowed God the Mother. But, like the grandmother in the tale, the Mother is still alive and kicking, waiting. God the Father is pregnant and in pain. How is the Mother going to be released? Ostriker emphasizes that we can all act as midwives to help re-birth/reimagine the Shekhinah, the Goddess, back into being after centuries of being swallowed—centuries of purgation and explicit erasure. In her poem “earth: the shekhinah as amnesiac” she writes to the Beloved:

come on, surely by now you remember

who you are

you’re my mother my sisters my daughters

you’re me


we will have to struggle so hard

to birth you

this time


the brain like a cervix6


My feeling is that an integral part of the struggle for gender equality must engage with humanity’s concept of divinity, re-birthing and re-enthroning the feminine aspect of God in our sacred spaces, our rituals of worship, our creative urges and outpourings. Ostriker states:


I believe that when women’s multiple and layered spiritual experiences and revelations, and the poetry born from them, contribute as much as men’s spiritual experiences and revelations have, everything will perhaps look different on our speck of a planet. God, and the soul, good and evil, will have new meanings. Maybe we’ll have a better world.7

I wonder how the world would exist differently after reconnecting with the feminine divine. How would our interactions with each other and the Earth soften when we make space for the Goddess in the private corners of our inner rooms? What does a society look like whose Mother-hunger is, at last, sated? Perhaps the trajectory is a hopeful one. 


Maybe it looks like embracing the feminine-masculine in all of us. Maybe it looks like fewer teen suicides across the Intermountain West, like an end to transphobia and homophobia, like honoring everyone’s personhood across the wide and fluid spectrum of gender identities and sexualities.

Maybe it sounds like the silence of oil derricks and fracking instruments, like the deep silence of blue-veined glaciers wrapped in winter, snow lips sealed over the dens of white bears. Like ears bent to the Earth’s perpetual hum, like the music of a billion billion insects rubbing their legs together, a million million birds beating their wings as they migrate, navigating by the light of stars.

Maybe it smells like clean air, like clear water.

Maybe it tastes like the salt of tears, released at last after years and years of pain. Maybe it tastes like honey, sweetness gathered under the wondrous eye of the Queen.



  1. Julieta, directed by Pedro Almodóvar El Deseo (Culver City, CA: Sony Home Pictures Entertainment, 2016) Blu-ray.
  2. Elsa Fernández-Santos, “Almodóvar’s Most Restrained Drama,” El País, 23 Mar. 2016,
  3. Margaret Barker, “Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?” (accessed 10 Nov. 2021).
  4. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
  5. Carol Lynn Pearson, “A Motherless House,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 3 (Fall 2003), 224.
  6. Alicia Ostriker, The Volcano Sequence (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002), 38.
  7. Alicia Ostriker, “God the Mother,” in A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith, Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler, eds. (North Adams, MA: Tupelo Press, 2012), 147.