What Disney's Coco Taught Me About Heavenly Mother

Monday, June 11, 2018

My family has been enjoying watching Coco (1) since it made its appearance on Netflix in early May. The movie is a beautiful story of family and forgiveness. If you haven't seen it yet and don't want any spoilers, don't keep reading! Watch it and come back. It will be worth it!

I loved so much about this movie. The music and messages are beautifully interwoven to create a two-hour experience of color, culture, and adventure. I could go through and name everything that touched me about the show, but I'm not in the business of movie reviews. So I'll just tell you about when Coco collided with my experiences in church on Sunday.

In my Relief Society meeting we had a lesson about being a child of God (2). One of the questions that was asked during the lesson was "How do we become familiar with God?". I was surprised by the weight of the question. As I considered my answer, my heart began pounding. My body became really warm and my fingers got tingly. That is usually a signal from my soul that I need to share my thoughts. So I stood, and though my voice shook a little, I spoke.

"I'm really nervous to share this," I said, "but I used to think that the word "God" meant only Heavenly Father. As I grew and desired to know my divine nature more deeply, I studied and searched and found that I do not just have a Heavenly Father, but a Heavenly Mother too. In my studies, I learned that each of my heavenly parents have scriptural symbols that correlate to the mortal world, such as birds and trees (3). As I became familiar with these symbols, their characteristics, and what they had to teach me, I became familiar with my heavenly parents also. One of the most important lessons I learned from that experience was that if a tree or a bird could be sacred and precious to God, so can I."

I was too nervous to notice how my comment was received. One of my friends whispered her words of support and it comforted me. It took at least five minutes after I shared my comment for my heart to stop pumping so hard that I could feel the blood rush through my fingers. Why was I so scared to share my heart in a community of women I love and who love me? I think its due largely to the fact that the topic of Heavenly Mother, the divine feminine, is still kind of a hushed topic in LDS communities. Even though there is no doctrinal or prophetic ban on learning and speaking about her, she is viewed culturally as "secretly sacred". I worried well into Sunday afternoon if in breaking this unfounded and unspoken rule, I was willfully rebellious. I worried I had done something wrong. For whatever reason, every time I thought about my comment I felt shame.

I reached out to a friend who reminded me to focus on the most amazing part of the experience - the spiritual confirmation I received, accompanied by the unmistakable prompting to share, and that I listened and obeyed. Her gentle support was exactly what I needed.

My kids were watching Coco as I made dinner. As I listened and watched from the kitchen, I held my experience from church and the messages from Coco together and watched them weave beautiful music into my mind and heart.

The movie begins with young Miguel who feels called to music. His family has banned music thanks to his great-great grandpa, who was a musician and seems to have abandoned his wife and young daughter. The setting is in Mexico on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the one time a year when those who have passed on to the next life can cross over to this life and share time with their families. If their family has the deceased's picture on the ofrenda, or family altar dedicated to ancestors, they can cross over. If not, they cannot. Early in the movie, Miguel innocently takes the photo of his great-great grandmother Imelda off the ofrenda. The plot really gains traction when it is discovered that Imelda cannot cross over to the living world because her picture is gone.

Watching that scene on Sunday night made me wonder, is anyone missing from my divine ofrenda? I am not of Hispanic descent, so I don't have a physical ofrenda. But the ofrenda's purpose is to remind the living of the stories and influence of those who came before them. That is not so very different than the LDS focus on family history. Members of the LDS church are enthusiastically encouraged to seek out their ancestors, learn their stories, find their pictures, and perform salvific ordinances on their behalf. It is believed that doing so not only is an essential part of missionary work but also gives a person a deep sense of belonging, purpose, and legacy.

I humbly submit that additionally, if someone is missing from the picture of our divine heritage, we cannot have a full understanding of our belonging, our purpose, and our legacy. I guess a good question we could ask ourselves, both personally and as an LDS community, is this: is anyone missing from my divine ofrenda? Is my divine family tree complete with photos and stories? Do I have personal visceral experiences with my divine parents?

When She is left off the table
She cannot return to us
for our thoughts
and memories
and hearts
are turned from her (4).

Later in the story of Coco, Miguel finds his great-great grandfather Hector and explains that "My whole life, there's been something that made me different and I never knew where it came from. But now I know. It comes from you." Miguel is talking about his love and talent for music. Because Hector was forgotten from the family - photos, stories, and all - Miguel does not have a complete understanding of the working parts of his life. Family legacy is passed down in stories and in DNA - we do not pick and choose our talents, affinities, and passions just as we cannot personally select our father's bright eyes, our mother's smooth hair, and our great aunt's nose for our physical features. Our mortal or our divine heritage cannot be nullified by simple erasure from memory. It is an eternal truth residing in our cells and spirits.

When we forget who we came from
our talents and gifts and callings seem a mystery.
We fear we do not belong.

and yet

She finds ways to reach us
through art and music and poetry.

Coco is full of song, which is poetry set to music. It is full of culture, showing that family reaches across all lines and divisions to unite people and give them a place to belong. Coco is full of art, thanks to many nods to the well-loved Frida Khalo. Art and music have power that words spoken or written on some random girl's blog do not - they reach through the senses straight to the feeling center. Straight to the heart, straight to the soul they travel, bypassing our prejudiced and hardened minds. They teach and soften us to truths and to Truths.

Coco ends with Miguel's grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, remembering her father and restoring a photo of him she had saved for decades. Hector's photo is placed on the ofrenda and the Rivera family story, which savored strongly of curses and hate and abandonment, is restored to one of love and forgiveness. The legacy is repaired. A family is healed.

Wholeness heals. Balance heals. We cannot claim to be children of a singular God. Eliza R. Snow says "the thought makes reason stare" (5). You can find it plainly stated right there in our prophetically-dedicated hymnbook.

I have mentioned before that I do not believe Heavenly Mother is "secretly sacred". In fact, just the opposite. I often find her pleading, "O remember, remember" (6).

I hear her call
in the gentle music of birdsong:
Remember me.

1. Coco, Walt Disney Pictures, 2017
1. Am I a Child of God? Elder Brian K. Taylor, April 2018 General Conference
2. A Thoughtful Faith Podcast with Rachel Hunt Steenblik
3. Malachi 4:6. Inspiration attributed to Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt Steenblik
4. O My Father - Eliza R Snow, LDS Hymnal
5. Helaman 5:12

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