LAST SUNDAY, THE First Presidency asked that a letter be read in sacrament meeting. It cautioned members not to use visual aids in sacrament meeting talks and to refrain from asking the congregation to follow along in their scriptures. My guess is they didn't want the meetings to become too informal, just as they also try to keep the meetings from becoming too ceremonial.
Keeping sacrament meetings sober, but not somber, can be tricky. Not long ago an investigator approached my brother after a sacrament meeting and said, "That was nice. Do Mormons also have meetings that are spiritual?"
He wasn't being a wiseacre.
He just didn't know the LDS dance.
Where other faiths the Catholics, say combine high ritual and folksy sermons in the same service, Mormons divide them out. Solemn ceremonies are carried out in the temple, leaving sacrament meetings for sharing, caring and friendly worship.
Blending the divine with the human is always a balancing act. And not everyone is comfortable with it. The French writer, Francois Muriac, had no use for the human element of religion. He said he wanted the priest to give him God, not give him opinions about God. He wanted ritual, not conversation. Others enjoy the human aspect of Mormonism, but get the heebie-jeebies at what they see as the ritualistic "mumbo jumbo."
But combining the human with the divine is the essence and challenge of religion. At least I believe that was the lesson of the Bethlehem manger. If 238 people are in a sacrament meeting, there should be 239 spirits present the 238 human spirits of the members, plus the one disembodied spirit they all share.
And when speakers mumble, deacons stumble and toddlers build leaning towers of Froot Loops, sharing that spirit can take some real concentration and effort. Even when a sacrament meeting goes awry, there are still those in the congregation who are able to keep a spiritual attitude and find that sacred wavelength.
I once complained to my friend Dennis about a sacrament meeting where the speaker simply read an article from the Ensign magazine. He said a line the speaker read had touched him and got him thinking about ways to deflect praise onto others instead of absorbing it himself.
Dennis was on that spiritual wavelength.
I was not.
The truth is, the human is always going to raise its head and contaminate divine matters. Finding that human side in a service is easy. Finding the divine, however, can take patience and practice. It is a frame of mind, a quality of heart.So, in response to the investigator who wondered if Mormons also had spiritual meetings, the answer is, "Yes. For those with the right attitude, they're all spiritual." In fact, when Joseph Smith said "everything is spiritual," I'm sure he meant the comment to include sacrament meetings where the amount of Cheerios being passed around rivals the amount of sacrament bread.
Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.