Taking Communion in Tonga

The King of Tonga turned 88 today. Four years ago the New Zealand papers had him dying, still he keeps going.

I bring him up because I wrote a book about the murder of a Peace Corps volunteer by another Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga in 1976, a murder the King helped the U.S. cover up, and because of a Tonga-inspired conversation at dinner last night.

We were talking about religion. I lived in Tonga off and on for six months, and every Sunday I went to the Anglican church, St. Paul’s in Nuku’alofa, with my Tongan family, to be a part of the community and to sing hymns and I suppose pray too, and Sela Tu’inukuafe would always motion for me to take communion. Now and then I did. I probably took communion five times. I liked it. I liked the procession, the kneeling, the velvet, the waiting, the hand of the priest, the sunlight in the northeastern window there, and the humility and solemnity and specialness of the moment. The light always felt exalted then. And no I’m not talking about the blood and the body of Christ, or my sins.

My wife, who has fallen away from Episcopalian upbringing in much the way I’ve fallen away from my Jewishness, says this would shock the religious. A Jewish friend also found it upsetting. But a fallen-away Lutheran said that her religious mother would be accepting of it. She would say that God’s grace and love are available to everyone, you only have to open yourself to them. I liked that explanation.