Cole Arthur Riley grew up in a house full of loud, funny, and loving personalities, but as a kid, she kept her voice from others, barely speaking at all until she was 7 years old. Still, her dad kept finding ways to, as she described, bribe her to share her voice and nurture her creative impulse, often in writing, from poems to stories and beyond. She began to develop a dual passion for contemplative spirituality, and also the work of writers, like Audre Lorde, Octavia Butler, James Baldwin, Thomas Merton, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou.
Over time, as her expressive and creative voice took shape, her lens on spirituality also yearned for a more expansive expression, one that moved beyond the words, thoughts, and traditions of the past, and embodied more of her lived experience as a Black, queer woman, who also found herself living with an autoimmune disease that manifested in illness, pain, and uncertainty. Throughout this time, Cole also found inspiration and solace in liturgy. But, for her, it wasn’t enough to read and contemplate the words and thoughts of others. She began to bring all parts of her life together – the creative impulse, life experience, sense of identity and fairness and spiritual inclination – to write her own blended prayer-meets-poetry, modern liturgies. Then, she started sharing them on Instagram under the moniker, Black Liturgies. Cole describes it as a space for Black spiritual words of liberation, lament, rage, and rest.
Almost immediately, the project took off, growing into a global phenomenon, with deep resonance far beyond her original intended audience. I’ve found myself lost in her words, so many times, invited to think and feel both more deeply, and expansively. Her work then led to Cole’s debut book and New York Times bestseller, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us, which explores some of the most urgent questions of life, identity, and faith: How can spirituality not silence the body, but instead allow it to come alive? How do we honor, lament, and heal from the stories we inherit? How can we find peace in a world overtaken with dislocation, noise, and unrest? In this stunning work, Cole invites us to descend into our own stories, examine our capacity to rest, wonder, joy, rage, and repair, and find that our humanity is not an enemy to faith but evidence of it. And we talk about all of it in today’s conversation. Her journey, her wisdom, the incredible response of the community, and more.
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