Shame: The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances.
~Oxford English Dictionary
The sacrament table loomed in the front corner of the typically nondescript Mormon chapel. It was covered in a spotless white lace-edged cloth, a neat grid evidence of its earlier perfect folds. While the congregation had warbled its way through the sacrament hymn, the cloth had been removed to reveal two rows of small aluminium serving trays. The first contained cheap slices of stale white bread, the second, tiny plastic water-filled cups.
All eyes turned toward the sacrament table — except mine, they were focused firmly on a little pink flower on my dress, the image made hazy by a teary film I tried to blink away.
During the hymn, which on this dreaded Sunday morning seemed particularly soporific, two teenage boys had risen to break the stale bread into small bite-size pieces, and now as the hymn droned to its end, six younger boys — who upon each the powers and keys of the priesthood had been bestowed at the age of twelve — rose from the front pew all in young male Mormon uniform; dark business pants, white shirt (some pressed, some not) and conservative tie.
A silence fell over the congregation, interrupted only by the occasional cry of a small child who was then hurriedly removed from the chapel by a frustrated and embarrassed mother. All eyes turned toward the sacrament table — except mine, they were focused firmly on a little pink flower on my dress, the image made hazy by a teary film I tried to blink away.
One of the bread breakers knelt, and with a prompt-card in his hand began the sacrament prayer. In the silence, my heart thumped loudly in my chest.
“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who take of it; that that ah, that…”
Stumbling in the sacred prayer was unacceptable. There was a shuffle and a cough as the other bread breaker elbowed his fellow lay priest who cleared his throat and began again.
“O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who PAR-take of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.”
Deep breath Sarah.
The bread breakers handed the trays of carbohydrate-Christ to the child-priests. They in turn silently fanned out in various directions in their priestly rite of distributing the sacrament among the faithful and righteous congregation of Latter-day Saints.
I saw the tray of bread traversing toward me along the pew, each person taking a piece with their right hand, solemnly popping it in their mouth, then taking the tray with the same hand to pass it along to the person sitting next to them.
When it reached my father’s hand my heart stopped.
Taking his piece of Christ in his mouth, he then passed the tray to my mother, and the chapel, already silent, became deafeningly so.
Leaning across me she held the tray in front of my little sister who happily knelt on the floor using the pew as a table. She was busily colouring in a picture of the Wombles in which Wellington was attempting to get Orinoko out of bed with a newly invented contraption designed to pull off Orinoko’s blanket while simultaneously tipping him out of bed and onto his feet. I nudged her and she looked up, chewing on her pencil as she perused the tray of bread looking for the piece that looked like it might make a meal. Upon finding the biggest piece she popped it in her mouth and resumed her colouring.
While my sister enjoyed the unaccountability of childhood — a state of sinlessness that would remain until she was eight and old enough to independently “choose” baptism — my days of legitimately claiming innocence were behind me. I sat there silently as the heat of shame rose in my face. I daren’t look up but I felt sure the eyes of everyone in the chapel must be turning in my direction, wondering, speculating as to why I had not taken the sacrament too.
For a moment I contemplated reaching out and snatching a piece of bread so as not to draw any attention or suspicion, but I knew the bishop would be watching me from his vantage point up on the pulpit making sure I was following the steps to repentance as laid out in his office the night before.
There was nothing I could do but swallow my shame in lieu of the bread that in other religions may have been the healing balm that followed confession, but which in my new church was a blessing withheld, a punishment apparently borne of love.
Now that the bread had been passed the ritual was repeated with the water, the blessing the same but with a few words changed to reflect the blood of Christ.
You may wonder what I’d done to be so unworthy of chowing down on Christ? What terrible sin had I performed that left me too wicked to participate in a ritual that was meant to renew my assumed desire to love and obey a man whose chunks of flesh were macabre, if not insultingly, represented by stale pieces of white bread? Why could I not join the sombre reverie of my fellow Mormons in savouring the taste of his chlorinated fluoridated blood reminding me that he once suffered for my iniquity?
I had committed one of the gravest sins.
I had broken the law of chastity.
I had not struggled against what I later understood to be sexual abuse, but had allowed it. Had allowed the poking, prodding, penetrating, and exploring of my body after being lured into a makeshift clubhouse in the woods by a group of post-pubescent boys who would get me if I told.
It was the summer of 1979.
I was a fornicator.
I was nine years old.
© Sarah J. Baker 2020. All Rights Reserved.