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This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us

By Cole Arthur Riley

In This Here Flesh, the author tells a three-generational story about how true spirituality honors the body.

As an immune-compromised individual, Riley went through a 15-month isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is during this time that she wrote this book of contemplative storytelling. As this Black woman author writes in the beginning of the book, “I am interested in reclaiming a contemplation that is not exclusive to whiteness, intellectualism, ableism, or mere hobby.” Instead, she writes about a spirituality that is “intergenerational, dignity-affirming and embodied.”

Contemplative spirituality is “a sacred attention” to the divine in all things. For example, in the first chapter titled “Dignity,” the author reflects how prejudices of colorism have “obscured the face and the character of God.” She writes further, “How can anyone who is made to bear likeness to the maker of cosmos be anything less than glory? This is inherent dignity.” In Chapter Two, Riley unveils the story of her own Black family whose ancestors were abducted and sold into slavery. The loss of place and the yearning for her family’s own land were deeply imprinted on her mind since she was young. Our natural devotion to a place, she says, is a form of belonging because the place is part of making who we are.

The book has 15 chapters titled with key themes for spiritual reflections: calling, body, belonging, justice, rest, memory, liberation, etc. The author spent hours and even days interviewing each family member. These stories are collective memories and oral traditions that she does not want to lose. The mingling of pain and grace in each one will set people free: “We must recover a habit of very specific story exchange and shared memory if we are to have robust liberation.” (Convergent Books)

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