Review of The Whole Language, by Gregory Boyle

The Whole Language

The Power of Extravagant Tenderness

by Gregory Boyle

Avid Reader Press (Simon and Schuster), 2021. 226 pages.
Review written April 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book, like Gregory Boyle’s earlier two books, Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir, just filled my heart with joy! It also gave me sheer amazement at these examples of faith lived out, modeling God’s overwhelming love, and yes, extravagant tenderness.

And who are the recipients of this love? Gang members. Father Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps get gang members out of gangs. He tells stories from the lives of the men he works with, and I can’t get over how he persists on looking on them with eyes of love no matter what they do — and he conveys the message that this is how God looks on them, too.

And in this message of God loving gang members, I also absorb the message that God loves me, that maybe it’s not all about keeping a lid on sin, that maybe it’s much more about love.

Father Boyle teaches by telling stories. The titles of his books mostly come from sweet things he hears the homies say. For this one, he tells about a gang member impressed with another’s command of Russian. In amazement, he proclaims that the guy spoke “the WHOLE language.”

Mario meant fluency when he said the “whole language.” I wish to suggest the same here. We are on the lookout for a fuller expression and a wider frame within which to view things. Allow the extravagant tenderness of God to wash over us. Permit the lavishing of such love to surround and fill us, then go into the world and speak the “whole language.” This is the fluency of the mystic, who chooses to live in the soul, inhabiting the tender fragrance of love. The longing of the mystic is to be at home with yourself and then put the welcome mat out so that others find a home in you. In this, we want to be “all there.” The Magi hear in a dream: “Depart by a different route.” In this book, I hope to whisper the same invitation. The whole language sees us departing by a different route.

If we’re honest, the world kind of yawns at “religion,” but snaps to attention when offered the authenticity and authority of the fluent, mystical, nondualist view. We want to both hear and speak this whole language, because, mostly, we only know the half of it. We get stuck in a partial view.

This mystical kinship, this speaking the whole language, is the exact opposite of the age in which we currently live: tribal, divisive, suspicious, anchored in the illusion of separation — unhealthy, sad, fearful, other-izing, and demonizing. Mystics replace fear with love, vindictiveness with openhearted kindness, envy with supportive affection, withering judgment with extravagant tenderness. Now is the time, as author Brian Doyle suggests, to embrace “something other than combat.”

This book is packed full of stories of extravagant tenderness. I can’t encourage you enough to try Gregory Doyle’s books. You will be amazed and blessed, and you’ll also be encouraged to look at the world in new ways.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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