Karl was a stutterer and he had to say the sacrament prayer.
No one had paid attention to this upcoming challenge. A discreet child, the boy had passed the sacrament for several years now. He had quietly moved from deacon to teacher. Not that he avoided communication, but he had developed compensating procedures, using short sentences, facial expression, a gentle nod and an approving smile. He had learned to hide his handicap.
Now he had turned sixteen. Our branch president, a convert of less than two years, interviewed Karl. Priest! Karl nodded and smiled.
- And of course you will bless the sacrament next week. Thank you, Karl.
No one will ever know the extent of the turmoil Karl went through. Seven days of bracing himself for the ninety one words to be said in public. He kept the unrest to himself.
O G… G… G… God, t… t… the E… Et… Et…
Behind the white linen Karl had knelt down. At once our small Mormon audience grasped the enormity of the challenge ahead. Of course, Karl was a stutterer. We knew that. Where was the inspiration of the branch president? A wave of embarrassment seized the congregation, heads down, eyes pressed, all hoping for some miracle of sudden fluency.
… we a… a… ask t… t… thee in t… t…
The obstacles ahead were ringing in our heads: thy, Jesus, Christ, bless, sanctify, bread, those, partake, that, they, body, thy… Karl would have to take them one by one. How long would his struggle last? Would he even reach the end as we felt the tension rise after each new hurdle taken?
in t… t… the name o… of t… t… thy Son…
Jesus Christ. You can say it, Karl. Jesus Christ. Relax. No one here is judging you. Say it softly. Jesus. Jesus Christ. Perhaps Savior would have been easier. But Jesus Christ is the same. Think of the Savior and say Jesus.
t… t… to t… t… the souls of all t… t… those… wh… who… p…
The souls who partake. What did I know about Karl? He gave me time to ponder. I realized how inconspicuous the boy had been in this small branch which I attended during my graduate studies. I knew his mother, a joyous sister who loved to feed the missionaries. She was single, but I did not know if she was a widow, or divorced, or unwed. Did it matter? She was well in her fifties, must have had Karl around age forty. Her only child. Karl was her all. He never strayed from her side. They had been members for a long time, she even belonged to the very first pioneers who had accepted the Restoration somewhere at the end of the 1940s, when a couple of missionaries had opened Flanders for the preaching of the Gospel. Karl and his mother. One of those odd couples, marginals in society, but so profoundly part of small Mormon branches in the mission field.
… t… t… that t… t… they m… m… may eat in…
Remembrance. Remembrance. That will be a hard one. Memory would have been easier. Or perhaps another word? To eat in remembrance, what does it mean so it can be said with the simplest of sounds?
For each word Karl tried to say, I felt that everyone in the audience said it inwardly a dozen times, for him, with him. Soundless, mouths were articulating, lips were moving. The bread was being sanctified with all the power of a group of saints powerless to help Karl. Embarrassment had left us, there was only this intense, mutual participation in every word, repeated over and over again as an offering to sustain the boy on his arduous journey.
… t… t… that t… they may a… a… always have his Sp… Sp… Spirit to b… be with t.. t… them. A… A… Amen.
He had made it. We all had. Never had a sacrament prayer been followed with as much awareness, as much mute support, as much love for this boy and for the Savior.