Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Dylan, Tevye, and Heavenly Mother

I was listening to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs today, Shelter from the Storm, and thinking about how it reminds me of Heavenly Mother.

Aside #1: yes, I know, Dylan most likely wasn't actually thinking of Heavenly Mother per se when writing this song, but one of the beauties of Dylan is that his songs can mean a lot to a lot of different people. Aside #2: I realize that the third verse especially seems to be speaking specifically of a lover, but the other verses make it clear that Dylan is also thinking of a much more broad feminine subject. Bear with me...

There are two clear references to Christ in the song, one being a "crown of thorns" that the unnamed woman takes from the singer gracefully. And then, probably my favorite verse,
In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an' they gave me a lethal dose.
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

I see this as an expression of our Heavenly Mother's love and concern for, in this verse Christ, but throughout the song for all of Her children. Whether we've been hunted, whether we question, whether we're hopeless and forlorn, whether we feel there's a wall between us and Her, she (alongside our Heavenly Father) is still waiting, loving, soothing--offering us shelter from the storm.

So where does Tevye come in? I watched Fiddler on the Roof today as a cultural experience for my Biblical Hebrew class (which I recommend to everyone--aside #3?) and it came to mind too as I thought about Shelter from the Storm. At the end of that film, Tevye is acting like his youngest daughter is dead, ignoring her completely, because she married a gentile. Now, to be clear, I don't think that our Heavenly Father does that to us when we act against His wishes, but I do think that with our cultural baggage we tend to see father figures as more harsh, cold, and stoic. In the film, it is the momma who is willing to call out to the wayward daughter (and the oldest sister too, let's don't forget) rather than the father. I think it is sometimes easier for us to believe that a Heavenly Mother would forgive us and love us than a Heavenly Father--again, not because that reflects reality, but because our culture conditions us that way in many respects. The idea of a Heavenly Mother helps us remember that God is great, He and She encompass all good traits, whether here in mortality we tend to associate one with 'masculinity' and another with 'femininity.'

That is the feeling that comes through to me when listening to this Dylan song.


  1. I really like this. I am always interested in references to Heavenly Mother. Thanks Biggins!

  2. Good, me too! You might like a lecture that Dr. Paulsen, a BYU philosophy professor, gave about the history of Heavenly Mother in official LDS discourse (conference talks, official magazines, etc.). You can find it on the WRI website. I highly recommend it.