Literary Worship: Sacrament Prayers

April 18, 2014 | 6 comments
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broken breadSometimes I have a hard time concentrating during the Sacrament. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be difficult. My squirmy, distracting babies and toddlers have grown up; in fact, I play the organ, so my husband sits with the children on Sundays. I sit on the stand by myself, and try to keep my thoughts where they belong–focused on the sacred ordinance in which I am participating.

Sometimes it’s difficult. Especially lately. I’ve been going though something of a spiritual desert. The feeling of comfort and safety and familiarity that I’ve long associated with church has been partially converted into doubts and questions and discomfort. I keep coming, because the Church is my spiritual home, and I still believe, and I have hope that somewhere in the desert there is an elusive oasis of peace. But the static of problematic gender roles, historical discrepancies, and damaging cultural practices sometimes hums so loudly in my ears that I have to strain to hear the gentle, soothing message of grace, redemption and spiritual community. I don’t always want to listen to my own thoughts as the bread and water come my way, and I’m tired of hearing myself pray in my head. I long for something to quiet the chatter of my mind–something that transcends the desperately attempted reverence of my thoughts.

As I was listening to the Sacrament prayers one week–prayers that are blissfully, restfully identical every time–I remembered that I’d written my own sacrament prayers a few years ago. They’re not a substitute for the usual prayers, just a meditation on them. And they’ve been quietly collecting dust on my hard drive since I wrote them. So instead of trying to think reverent thoughts that Sunday, I stopped thinking, and just said the poem in my head. If I said it slowly, and pictured the images in my mind as I was saying it, it was exactly the right length to keep me occupied during the Sacrament, and give me a feeling of worship and completeness.

I say my own Sacrament prayers in my mind as the bread and water are being passed every week now. And somehow, that act of celebration and individual creation focuses me, makes the ordinance deeply personal, and reaffirms my sometimes struggling faith.

Although bread appears many times in the Scriptures and is a well-established metaphor for Christ, before I wrote this poem it had never occurred to me to picture Him actually baking bread. Somehow, though, it just felt right, perhaps because I have kneaded, shaped, and baked bread myself, and know the tenderness that can go into the intimate act of preparing food for someone you love. The poem interweaves the image of Christ as the master bread-baker with images of the unleavened bread of the Israelites during their flight from Egypt, the feeding of the five thousand, and the Sacrament table we set and eat from every week.

In the spirit of an Easter gift for you, here is the first of my Sacrament prayers.

 

Bread of Life

Not like the bread of our journey by night,
Fashioned in haste, and then baked for our flight,
Eaten in Egypt in sight of the sea,
Salted with sorrow, before we were free.

Wheat won from tares, by an enemy sown,
Ground fine by trial, the chaff sifted and blown,
Shaped by a master and salted with love,
Filled with a leaven from heaven above.

There where a multitude faints on the hill,
Fed by his presence, yet hungering still,
Bread from his hands heals their doubting and fear,
Fills them with hope, and prepares them to hear.

Wheat won from tares, by an enemy sown,
Ground fine by trial, the chaff sifted and blown,
Shaped by a master and salted with love,
Filled with a leaven from heaven above.

Here as we eat at thy table today
Bread of his body, left pierced on the tree,
Strengthen our hearts, drive our sorrow away,
Fill us forever, and lift us to thee.

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6 Responses to Literary Worship: Sacrament Prayers

  1. Jared Bernotski on April 18, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I absolutely love your text. Times and Seasons, with its Literary sections, has recently become my go-to source, providing several stirring texts that I didn’t previously know existed and have now set to music.

    As a composer, I often make adaptations, generally to make the text fit more easily to my music in a particular meter. For most of these texts, the author is dead or I wouldn’t know how to contact them.

    In your case, I wondered how you’d feel about any changes. Note that your poem works fabulously as-is. However, while I’ve just started to think about your text, I noticed that with a few revisions, it fits better in a 10.10.10.10 pattern. An example of a hymn that follows that pattern is, “Abide with Me.”

    Would you object if I consider textual changes? In doing so, understand that I’m not finding fault with your poetry, which I find moving and powerful.

    Below is my potential revision to your hymn text, which came as I went through the tune of “Abide with Me” using your words:

    Bread of Life

    Not like the bread of our journey by night,
    Fashioned in haste, then baked for our flight,
    Eaten in Egypt in sight of the sea,
    Salted with sorrow, till we were set free.

    Wheat won from tares, by an enemy sown,
    Ground fine by trial, chaff sifted and blown,
    Shaped by a master and salted with love,
    Filled with a leaven from heav’n above.

    Join with the throng who fainted on the hill,
    Fed by his presence, yet hungering still,
    Bread from Christ’s hands heals ev’ry doubt and fear,
    Fills us with hope and prepares to hear.

    Here at thy table humbly eat today
    Bread of Christ’s body, pierced on the tree,
    Strengthen our hearts, our sorrow drive away,
    Fill us forever, lift us up to thee.

    Must the “Wheat won from tares” verse be repeated after v. 3? If so, I wondered about having it become a repeating chorus after each verse. Well, except I think that the last verse provides a better conclusion.

    You don’t need to change anything in your original poem, and I’m not sure how you feel about having it become a hymn or sacred song. I just wondered if I might have permission to potentially change some words in a musical setting, either new or in an arrangement.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jared Bernotski

  2. theoldadam on April 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    ‘Sacrament’ is from the Latin word, “sacramentum” which was an oath of faithfulness that a Roman soldier would make to his commander.

    In the Christian faith, the sacrament, the oath of faithfulness is from our Commander, our Lord…to us. (not the other way around)

    That’s why we view it as ‘free gift’ …to us…not dependent upon anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

    Yes…that is a radical view. But one that leads to Christian freedom. Freedom from the religious. ladder-climbing, self-ascendancy project.

    Thanks.

  3. James Olsen on April 19, 2014 at 7:15 am

    I love the creativity here – not simply the creativity of the poem, but the creativity of the act you hit upon, the weaving together of personal and public ritual.

    For years now I’ve had small children, barely able to begin understanding the sacrament through old enough to really have a conversation on it. My favorite ritual has been to whisper a sermon to them each week about different meanings and connections I see and experience – like those that your poem makes, like those that interweave through our contemporary life. My mini-whisper-sermons help keep me grounded – not sure I’d try it from the organ bench, though.

    But speaking of the organ bench and sacrament meeting ritual: we have two women who play the organ for sacrament, and honestly my favorite part of the meeting each week is the five minutes after the meeting concludes when they break out into glorious music – often Bach. They use the organ as an instrument rather than merely a hymnal-parts-sounder. It’s transcendent and genuinely nourishes my soul.

    p.s. Like Jared, I’d delete ‘the’ out of “the chaff” – throws the rhythm off.

  4. Annie on April 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    You have expressed my recent feelings exactly; a spiritual desert, though I believe, and continue to receive witnesses of the truth. I also often have trouble focusing during the Sacrament on what I feel I should be focusing. Thank you for this beautiful poem. It will help, in much the same way that music often helps me.

  5. Sarah Familia on April 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Jared, I think it would make a nice hymn. Feel free to alter the text as you said for your arrangement. I did imagine the second stanza as a sort of refrain, but as you say, felt that the closing lines were a better conclusion.

    Please send me your musical setting if you end up using the poem. I’d love to hear it.

  6. Jared Bernotski on April 21, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Sarah, as a way to stay in touch, I would welcome you to friend me on Facebook. I’ve started thinking about a musical setting. It may take me a while, but I hope to have something to share with you and others who would find this wonderful message uplifting.

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