Words That Sustain Me: Reflections on “Tattoos on the Heart” – part 3

Chapter 5. Slow Work.

This chapter is opened by the story of Omar and his asking how many homies has G buried? Father Greg replied, “Seventy-five, son.” (Today the number would be one hundred and sixty-eight.) To which Omar replied, “Damn G, when’s it gonna end?” And G replied, “Mijo, it will end the minute you decide.” And Omar said, “Well I decide.”

We decided to find goodness in out hearts and live for the Lord when we began the FBP and turned this place from death row to life row. And since then, there’s no turning back.

Favorite quote:

“There is nothing once and for all in any decision to change. Each day brings a new embarking. It’s always a recalibration and reassessing of attitude and the old, tired ways of proceeding, which are hard to shake for anyone.”

Chapter 6. Jurisdiction.

The story of Junior and his “jurisdiction ” was wonderful. We are all in each other’s “jurisdiction.” In each others spheres of acceptance. And to do this we must dismantle lines and barriers we’ve erected to keep others out. We must stop perching upon the high moral distance of judgement, which moves our protected jurisdictions far from each other and move into each other’s jurisdiction. A turf that is more ample, inclusive and expansive as God’s own view of things. Because life has a way of throwing us into each other’s jurisdictions and that feels better than what Buddhists call the “illusion of separateness.”

As Father Greg says, in this jurisdictional locale where judgement used to claim us, a remarkable community rushes in, and the barriers that exclude are dismantled. The poet Rumi writes, “Close both eyes to see with the other eye.” We have a chance to create new jurisdictions, places of astonishing mutuality, whenever we close both eyes and open the other eye to pay attention.

Clever and Trevieso’s story perfectly exemplifies what sharing jurisdictions can do for us. They have profound hate for each other but manage to work together. And they learn something — it becomes impossible to demonize someone you know. After Trevieso is beaten by enemies, declared brain dead and on life support, Clever calls G and asks is there anything that he can do to help? “Can I give my blood?” And with great resolve and unprotected tears Clever states that Trevieso, “was not my enemy, he was my friend, we worked together.”


“Close both eyes and see with the other one. Then, when, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgements, our ceaseless withholding, our constant exclusion. Our sphere has widened, and we find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in a new location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love. We’ve wandered into God’s own ‘jurisdiction.’ “

Chapter 7.Gladness.

We all have a “duty to delight.” This is an admonition to be watchful for the hilarious and the heartwarming, the silly and the sublime. This way will not pass this way again, and so there is a duty to be mindful of that which delights and keeps joy at the center, distilled from all that happens to us in a day.

For me, Spider’s story was especially touching. He would come home from work and watch his two children eat. It would drive his lady crazy but he didn’t care. When they were done eating and he knew they were full, THEN he would eat. Spider said, “the truth… sometimes there’s food left and sometimes there isn’t. Tu sabes, it’s a father thing.” I remember when I was a child, my father would watch me and rub the back of my head, delighting in me. The duty to delight is to watch your family eat, anchored in the surest kind of gratitude — the sort that erases sacrifices and hardship and absorbs everything else.

I loved reading what Father Greg said about supposing Jesus walks into a room and loving what he finds there. Delights in it. Maybe (I’m sure!) he makes a beeline to the outcasts (you know, the homies on life row) and chooses, in them, to go where love had not yet arrived. His ways are not our ways but they sure could be. And how true is Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing, “Our true home is this present moment, the miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment.” Not to agonize over the past, which we can do nothing about, or the future which has not yet arrived, but delight in this present moment. For we delight having God, right here today, in the person in front of me, joy beyond holding, beholding this day the Lord has made. Paradise. Delighting in what is before you today in Christ. For the opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s delight!


“No despair can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there…We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in on the general dance.”

Chapter 8. Success.

We are not called to be successful, but faithful. If only we could continually keep our eyes on this. Knowing that there will be disappointments and setbacks and that’s okay, it’s expected when you are the one who carries more than he can bare, or you hang with them. It’s my business to be faithful and success is God’s business.

How do you work with the poor? The answer that Father Greg shared was so profound, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” Its as basic as crying together, it’s about casting your lot before it ever becomes about changing their lot. How do you befriend an outcast on death row? You share your life with them, you become family, casting your lot with them.

As G said, this was Jesus’ strategy and stance. Jesus defied all categories upon which the world insisted: good-evil, success-failure, pure-impure. Jesus hobnobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered himself ritually impure in the process. That was the Lord’s stance and strategy. Jesus we too busy being faithful to worry about success. I think about the failure I’ve had in my life and I’m thankful that I’ve come to realise that the goal is to be faithful and God will take care of the rest.

Favorite quote:

“In the end, effective outcomes and a piling of success stories aren’t the things for which we reach. Though, who am I kidding, I prefer them to abject failure and decades of death. But it’s not about preference. It’s about disruption of categories that leads us to abandon the difficult, the disagreeable, and the least likely to go very far. On most days, if I’m true to myself, I just want to share my life with the poor, regardless of the result. I want to lean into the challenge of intractable problems with as tender a heart as I can locate, knowing that there’s some divine ingenuity here, ‘the slow work of God,’ that gets done if we’re faithful. Maybe the world could use a dose of wrong size approach otherwise the hurt wins. Maybe there are things you can’t reach. But you can stretch your arm across a gurney and forgive and heal. Equal souls. All day long.

Chapter 9. Kinship.

I loved Chico’s story. Hearing G share that Chico was a great kid, then learn about his death. And hear the surprise the mortician had at hearing that Chico was a terrific kid. That cut deep. Because, how many say that about us? The mortician forgot we all share a kinship, you are mine and I am yours.

Final quote:

“But this place of which you say is a waste, there will be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness… the voices of those who sing. And so the voices at the margins get heard and the circle of compassion widens. Souls feeling their worth, refusing to forget we belong to each other.”

I hope you loved this book as much as I did. It’s simply amazing and one of my all time favorites.