Every Sunday, all over the world, Latter-day Saints gather to participate in a brief ritual during which scripted prayers are rehearsed and bread and water is distributed in a symbolic representation of the Last Supper. We refer to that act as “the sacrament,” a term I’ve replaced in my own heart with the word “communion.”
You see, a sacrament is “a religious ceremony or act that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace” or in the case of Mormons, an outward sign or reminder of the covenant made at baptism. At least that’s how most members see it.
But God “looketh upon the heart” so why do we need an outward sign?
Outward signs are useful, physical reminders for us, but they are also outward signs for others. They signify that we are part of the group. That’s why exclusion from participation is an act of social control and spiritual violence. Those most in need of communing with the group are publicly – though I’m sure most congregants aren’t looking to see who doesn’t participate – barred from it. For some members, it can be a brutal form of shaming.
But that’s beside the point of this post. And I’m not characterizing exclusion from the sacrament in these terms to be inflammatory or as a personal judgment of the church’s right to govern who participates. I’m speaking from the experience of talking to people who were, at one point or another, excluded from the ritual.
Sacrament as outward sign no longer works for me.
The last year has been one of growth and emotional separation from the paternalistic culture of the church. I still attend almost every week and take the bread and water. I still live the same standards I always have. I still hold to my core beliefs about God and I am more spiritual than I have ever been even if others can’t tell because I no longer embrace the cultural trappings and imposed traditions that are such a huge part of Mormonism.
But instead of sacrament, I participate in communion.
Communion is the sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings, a mental and spiritual exchange. I taste living bread. I sup living water. Unscripted prayers spill from my heart every day as I feel the sun on my skin or hear my children laughing. I remember God. And His spirit is always with me. I’ve abandoned living with regret over what I may have gotten wrong – constantly pleading for a forgiveness that abounds all around me all the time – in favor of living in awe that it is there for the receiving and that it comes with wisdom, insight, and greater vision.
I don’t pray to be forgiven so that I am worthy to take the bread and water.
I give thanks that God has already forgiven me and I express gratitude for the divine breath that swirls around me incessantly facilitating the enlarging of my soul.
I don’t renew covenants to take Christ’s name upon me.
I breathe in the joy of knowing that I always bore the name and that it can’t wash off, no matter how many times I stumble in the process of becoming.
I reach my hand toward the tray.
I taste the fruits of the earth – flour, salt, yeast, oil.
I lift the cup to my lips.
And I dance with God.