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This Here Flesh: Spirituality, liberation and the stories that make us by Cole Arthur Riley

26 August 2022

A book worth returning to, Sharon Prentis finds

OCCASIONALLY, there are books that are so rich in insights that reading them only once does not do them justice. As in a work of art or landscape, the details can be appreciated only on subsequent visits. So, too, with the book This Here Flesh. The author, Cole Arthur Riley, is the creator behind Black Liturgies on Instagram, a source of poems and prayers on the Black experience.

Having come across her work before, I was not surprised to find the same extraordinary degree of compassion and comprehension about what it means to be loved by God. Part personal memoir, part meditation, the book, based on family narratives from the author’s African-American heritage, explores themes around life and faith.

This Here Flesh contains stories spanning three generations. Rich with the wisdom gleaned from those experiences, the content is interspersed with reflections that invite readers to go deeper. Insights turn the usual tropes upside down while not denying the realities, and, instead, offer the beauty, dignity, and sacredness of character which comes from the experience of living in a differently coloured skin made in the image of God. The 15 chapters are based on themes such as lament, joy, and belonging, each offering poignant insights from life and scripture.

The result is a rich text — not because neat answers are suggested, but because the stories and reflections resonate with the complexities of life and the possibility of hope. The author writes about the responsibility to lament personal stories to heal, but this unavoidably entails remembering. In doing so, Arthur Riley revisits traditional notions of liberation and recovers something of an older and deeper tradition of mystery and wonder which is not afraid to explore paradox and ambiguity in the human experience, while challenging assumptions.

Through the lens of the Black experience, readers are invited to spend time considering dignity, lament, rage, justice, and the discomfort that inevitably comes from a fragmented society, to identify the false narratives of othering and rejection. Arthur Riley’s invitation is to go beyond superficial constructed impressions, to recognise detail, and so to recognise God.

This beautifully crafted and honest account considers the joys and challenges of what it means to reflect on identity. It is not ashamed of asking deep questions that are not easily placated by easy answers. For a book debut, it is engaging and authentic — a gift from a particular perspective applicable to many.

Canon Sharon Prentis is the Dean of Ministry at St Mellitus College.

Listen to an interview with Cole Arthur Riley here


This Here Flesh: Spirituality, liberation and the stories that make us
Cole Arthur Riley
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
Church House Bookshop £15.29

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