The bodies of Christ
Cole Arthur Riley is the creator of the social media account Black Liturgies, which explores spirituality and race. Her first book, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, liberation and the stories that make us, powerfully weaves those reflections with family memoir. It is published by Hodder & Stoughton.
Cole Arthur Riley is speaking at this year’s Greenbelt Festival, over the August bank holiday weekend. For more details visit greenbelt.org.uk.
You’re best known, before writing this book, for Black Liturgies, a social media account exploring spirituality and race. Where did that come from?
I worked for an Episcopal church here in the States and had attended Anglican services, and had been on this journey of being drawn toward the beauty of liturgy and written prayer, the ease of it. But there are seasons where it’s particularly difficult to pray words written by a white man, and the summer of 2020 for so many of us was one of those seasons, when the world was contending with black death, black wrongful death
Altogether it felt like a movement. I felt I needed a space for black grief and a black emotional expression, but also connection to the black body and a place where that could be centered unapologetically, but within this tradition of written liturgies.
Why in the tradition of liturgy?
I’ve always been a writer, before I was a part of the Christian tradition. I wrote before I talked. I’m most honest when I’m writing. So when I was looking for a way to make sense of who I am in the world that summer, I think, for me, it was always going to be through writing. I also write poetry, and when I think about liturgists, I think of them as poets of the spiritual. There’s this really natural bridge between my love for writing and the spiritual practice. Liturgy is such a profound expression of spiritual solidarity – to be in the words, even if they don’t immediately resonate with you or feel like they apply or make sense to you, still to remain in the words, it’s a ritual of centring and decentring. Liturgy means the work of the people, but one always has to ask: ‘Which people?’…
This is an extract from an article published in the June 2022 edition of Reform