The Joy and the Hope, First and Last, or: Delight as Perspective Change (with Help from a Priest and Some Homies)

In this journey to rediscover delight, I have been blessed with a great gift, Gregory Boyle’s beautiful book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. This book has come to me at the right time. My wife read it with a friend of ours who died last year and it shaped them both greatly. She’s been recommending it to me ever since. I am so glad to have picked it up.

Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has served in East Los Angeles for decades and founded Homeboy Industries, a ministry that “assists at-risk and formerly gang involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.” He tells powerful stories of pain, redemption, but mostly of finding God’s presence in the midst of the barrio. The chapter, “Gladness,” is actually all about delight and how it appears in the most unexpected places. In one story, Boyle watches one of the homies who works at Homeboy Industries lean into another homie’s chest and take a deep breath. The first homie, embarrassed, asks,

“Uh, G … uh, did you see me … right now … you know … smelling Mario?”

I admit that I had.

“Damn,” Frankie huffs and puffs, “I mean, it’s just that … well … he be smellin’ GOOOOD. I mean … all the homies … we be likin’ his cologne.” Breathe it in, breathe it out. The Lord is everything I want. A yes that means yes. You want to be there when the poetry happens. Isaiah has God say: “Be glad forever and rejoice in what I create … for I create my people to be a delight.” God thinking we’d enjoy ourselves. Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this joy may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to. (157-158)

Later in the chapter Boyle shows how delight is often a choice, an intentional perspective. He says it much better than I could.

The Vatican II Council Fathers simply decided to change the opening words of their groundbreaking encyclical, “Gaudium et Spes.” Originally, it read, speaking of the world: “The grief and the anguish …” Then they just decided to cross out those words and famously inserted instead, “The joy and the hope …” No new data had rushed in on them, and the world hadn’t changed suddenly. They just chose, in a heartbeat, to see the world differently. They hadn’t embraced, all of a sudden, Pollyannaism. They had just put on a whole new set of eyewear. (162-163)

This year, I want to breathe in the goodness, the life around me. I want new eyewear to see the world differently and not allow the grief and the anguish to dominate my view. The joy and the hope, first and last. Joy and hope informed by pain, but still, joy and hope, first and last.