Lift Every Voice: Contemplative Writers of Color

Monthly Conversations on the Christian Mystical Tradition

Join Abbey of the Arts for a monthly conversation on how increasing our diversity of perspectives on contemplative practice can enrich our understanding and experience of the Christian mystical tradition. 

Christine Valters Paintner is joined by author Claudia Love Mair for a series of video conversations. Each month they take up a new book by or about a voice of color. The community is invited to purchase and read the books in advance and participate actively in this journey of deepening, discovery, and transformation.

The first day of each month we will post our newest video recording and invite you to watch, ponder, and share your insights with us during the month that follows. Lift Every Voice is now available as a podcast in your favorite apps like Apple, Google, Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora. We then invite conversation and reflection in our dedicated Facebook group (click the link to request to join us).

This is a free series, the only cost for you is buying the books and we encourage you to support your local bookseller. We have provided links to Bookshop.org who sources from independent stores.

When you use our Bookshop.org or Amazon.com links we do earn a small commission on each sale that comes at no extra charge to you but helps to support this work. Click here for our Bookshop page with all the titles. You can also request that your local library make these books available for borrowing.

2022 Conversations

Featured Book for June 2022

Staying Awake: The Gospel for Changemakers

by Tyler Sit

Jesus asks his followers to stay awake, which begs the question: stay awake to what?

Staying Awake is a practical exploration of Christianity for people who want to show up for justice and stay in the movement. Discover nine essential practices to transform you for transforming the world. Complete with stories, worksheets, poetry, original cartoons, and a commitment to centering queer people of color, this book is here to support you in staying awake: to God, to the evils of oppression, and to the world’s coming liberation.

What does it mean to become rooted in the land? How can we become better relatives to our greatest teacher, the Earth? Becoming Rooted invites us to live out a deeply spiritual relationship with the whole community of creation and with Creator.

Through meditations and ideas for reflection and action, Randy Woodley, an activist, author, scholar, and Cherokee descendant, recognized by the Keetoowah Band, guides us on a one-hundred-day journey to reconnect with the Earth. Woodley invites us to come away from the American dream–otherwise known as an Indigenous nightmare–and get in touch with the water, land, plants, and creatures around us, with the people who lived on that land for thousands of years prior to Europeans’ arrival, and with ourselves. In walking toward the harmony way, we honor balance, wholeness, and connection.

Creation is always teaching us. Our task is to look, and to listen, and to live well. She is teaching us now.

Featured Book for April 2022

The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

by Sophfronia Scott

WINNER of the 2021 Thomas Merton Award awarded by The International Thomas Merton Society

What if we truly belong to each other? What if we are all walking around shining like the sun?

Mystic, monk, and activist Thomas Merton asked those questions in the twentieth century. Writer Sophfronia Scott is asking them today.

In The Seeker and the Monk, Scott mines the extensive private journals of one of the most influential contemplative thinkers of the past for guidance on how to live in these fraught times.

As a Black woman who is not Catholic, Scott both learns from and pushes back against Merton, holding spirited, and intimate conversations on race, ambition, faith, activism, nature, prayer, friendship, and love. She asks: What is the connection between contemplation and action? Is there ever such a thing as a wrong answer to a spiritual question? How do we care about the brutality in the world while not becoming overwhelmed by it?

By engaging in this lively discourse, readers will gain a steady sense of how to dwell more deeply within–and even to love–this despairing and radiant world.

Womanist Midrash is an in-depth and creative exploration of the well- and lesser-known women of the Hebrew Scriptures. Using her own translations, Gafney offers a midrashic interpretation of the biblical text that is rooted in the African American preaching tradition to tell the stories of a variety of female characters, many of whom are often overlooked and nameless. Gafney employs a solid understanding of womanist and feminist approaches to biblical interpretation and the sociohistorical culture of the ancient Near East. This unique and imaginative work is grounded in serious scholarship and will expand conversations about feminist and womanist biblical interpretation.


Featured Book for February 2022

The Wild Land Within: Cultivating Wholeness through Spiritual Practice

by Lisa Colón DeLay

Upcoming Conversations

Featured Book for August 2022

The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola

by Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J.

The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola uses Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises as a framework for discussing the spiritual challenges of antiracism. Each of the Exercise’s four weeks are applied in practical ways to the work of antiracism, combining history, present-day events and data, the life and teaching of Ignatius, prayer, and guidance for personal reflection and journaling. An excellent resource for both group study and personal meditation. Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J., PsyD, currently teaches in the psychology department at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he is also a psychotherapist. He enjoys jazz, traveling, and learning new languages; and he plays the guitar, harmonica, and drums. He also likes a cup of hot water in the morning.

Video coming in August 2022

Featured Book for September 2022

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

by Cole Arthur Riley

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER – In her stunning debut, the creator of Black Liturgies weaves stories from three generations of her family alongside contemplative reflections to discover the “necessary rituals” that connect us with our belonging, dignity, and liberation.

“From the womb, we must repeat with regularity that to love ourselves is to survive. I believe that is what my father wanted for me and knew I would so desperately need: a tool for survival, the truth of my dignity named like a mercy new each morning.”

So writes Cole Arthur Riley in her unforgettable book of stories and reflections on discovering the sacred in her skin. In these deeply transporting pages, Arthur Riley reflects on the stories of her grandmother and father, and how they revealed to her an embodied, dignity-affirming spirituality, not only in what they believed but in the act of living itself. Writing memorably of her own childhood and coming to self, Arthur Riley boldly explores some of the most urgent questions of life 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 indelible work of contemplative storytelling, Arthur Riley 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.

At once a compelling spiritual meditation, a powerful intergenerational account, and a tender coming-of-age narrative, This Here Flesh speaks potently to anyone who suspects that our stories might have something to say to us.

Video coming in September 2022

Featured Book for October 2022

Art and Faith: A Theology of Making

by Makoto Fujimura

Conceived over thirty years of painting and creating in his studio, this book is Makoto Fujimura’s broad and deep exploration of creativity and the spiritual aspects of “making.” What he does in the studio is theological work as much as it is aesthetic work. In between pouring precious, pulverized minerals onto handmade paper to create the prismatic, refractive surfaces of his art, he comes into the quiet space in the studio, in a discipline of awareness, waiting, prayer, and praise. Ranging from the Bible to T. S. Eliot, and from Mark Rothko to Japanese Kintsugi technique, he shows how unless we are making something, we cannot know the depth of God’s being and God’s grace permeating our lives. This poignant and beautiful book offers the perspective of, in Christian Wiman’s words, “an accidental theologian,” one who comes to spiritual questions always through the prism of art.

Video coming in October 2022

Featured Book for November 2022

Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength

by Kat Armas

What if some of our greatest theologians wouldn’t be considered theologians at all?

Kat Armas, a second-generation Cuban-American, grew up on the outskirts of Little Havana, Miami’s famed Cuban neighborhood. Her earliest theological formation came from her grandmother, her abuelita, who fled Cuba during the height of political unrest and raised three children alone after her husband passed away. Combining personal storytelling with biblical reflection, Armas shows us how voices on the margins–those often dismissed, isolated, and oppressed because of their gender, socioeconomic status, or lack of education–have more to tell us about Christian faith than we realize.

Abuelita Faith tells the story of unnamed and overlooked theologians in society and in the Bible–mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters–whose survival, strength, resistance, and persistence teach us the true power of faith and love. The author’s exploration of abuelita theology will help people of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds reflect on the abuelitas in their own lives and ministries and on ways they can live out abuelita faith in their day-to-day lives.

Video coming in November 2022

Featured Book for December 2022

Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith

by Mihee Kim-Kort
Mihee Kim-Kort is a wife, a mom, and a Presbyterian minister. And she’s queer. As she became aware of her queer sexuality, Mihee wondered what that meant for her spirituality. But instead of pushing her away from God, it brought her closer to Jesus and taught her how to love better. In Outside the Lines, Mihee shows us how God, in Jesus, is oriented toward us in a radical way. Through the life, work, and witness of Jesus, we see a God who loves us with a queer love, and our faith in that God becomes a queer spirituality–a spirituality that crashes through definitions and moves us outside of the categories of our making. Whenever we love ourselves and our neighbors with the boundary-breaking love of God, we live out this spirituality in the world. With a captivating mix of personal story and biblical analysis, Outside the Lines shows us how each of our bodies fits into the body of Christ. Outside the lines and without exceptions.
 

Video coming in December 2022

Featured Book for January 2023

Soul Talk: How to Have the Most Important Conversation of All

by Kirk Byron Jones

“Though your soul may be more mystery to you than familiar reality, you are not a stranger to soul moments. When you smile for no reason, know something for sure without having learned it, or feel peace amid broken pieces, your soul is manifesting itself. Your soul is your pool of deep wisdom, peace, and joy within. Your soul is the part of you God held last as God released your free flight into the world.” ~ from Soul Talk: How to Have the Most Important Conversation of All

Too often, the most difficult person to speak with honestly and deeply is yourself. And yet, if you are to live your finest, freshest, and fullest life, it is essential to maintain an empowering inner dialogue. Soul Talk presents 7 enlivening steps for creating and continuing soulfully satisfying self-communication:1. Be Still.2. Lay Burdens Down.3. Listen Deeply.4. Don’t Run Away.5. Be Honest.6. Be Gentle.7. Welcome New Truth.To Connect With Your Soul is to take Advantage of the Supreme Empowerment Opportunity of a Lifetime

Video coming in January 2023

2021 Conversations

Featured Book for November 2021

Soul Care in African American Practice

by Barbara Peacock

In the midst of our hectic, overscheduled lives, caring for the soul is imperative. Now, more than ever, we need to pause?intentionally?and encounter the Divine. Soul care director Barbara Peacock illustrates a journey of prayer, spiritual direction, and soul care from an African American perspective. She reflects on how these disciplines are woven into the African American culture and lived out in the rich heritage of its faith community. Using examples of ten significant men and women?Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Darrell Griffin, Renita Weems, Harold Carter, Jessica Ingram, Coretta Scott King, James Washington, and Howard Thurman?Barbara offers us the opportunity to engage in practices of soul care as we learn from these spiritual leaders. If you’ve yearned for a more culturally authentic experience of spiritual transformation in your life and community, this book will help you grow in new yet timeless ways. Come to the river to draw deeply for your soul’s refreshment.

Featured Book for October 2021

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

by Kaitlin Curtice

Native is about identity, soul-searching, and the never-ending journey of finding ourselves and finding God. As both a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, Kaitlin Curtice offers a unique perspective on these topics. In this book, she shows how reconnecting with her Potawatomi identity both informs and challenges her faith.

Curtice draws on her personal journey, poetry, imagery, and stories of the Potawatomi people to address themes at the forefront of today’s discussions of faith and culture in a positive and constructive way. She encourages us to embrace our own origins and to share and listen to each other’s stories so we can build a more inclusive and diverse future. Each of our stories matters for the church to be truly whole. As Curtice shares what it means to experience her faith through the lens of her Indigenous heritage, she reveals that a vibrant spirituality has its origins in identity, belonging, and a sense of place.

Featured Book for September 2021

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church

by Barbara A. Holmes

Joy Unspeakable focuses on the aspects of the Black church that point beyond particular congregational gatherings toward a mystical and communal spirituality not within the exclusive domain of any denomination. This mystical aspect of the black church is deeply implicated in the well-being of African American people but is not the focus of their intentional reflection. Moreover, its traditions are deeply ensconced within the historical memory of the wider society and can be found in Coltrane’s riffs, Malcolm’s exhortations, the social activism of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. The research in this book-through oral histories, church records, and written accounts–details not only ways in which contemplative experience is built into African American collective worship but also the legacy of African monasticism, a history of spiritual exemplars, and unique meditative worship practices. A groundbreaking work in its original edition, Joy Unspeakable now appears in a new, revised edition to address the effects of this contemplative tradition on activism and politics and to speak to a new generation of readers and scholars.

Featured Book for August 2021

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

by Austin Channing Brown

Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools and churches, Austin writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker, and expert helping organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

For readers who have engaged with America’s legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness—if we let it—can save us all.

Featured Book for June 2021

Meditations of the Heart

by Howard Thurman

Meditations of the Heart is a beautiful collection of meditations and prayers by one of our greatest spiritual leaders. Howard Thurman, the great spiritualist and mystic, was renowned for the quiet beauty of his reflections on humanity and our relationship with God. This collection of fifty-four of his most well-known meditations features his thoughts on prayer, community, and the joys and rituals of life. Within this collection are words that sustain, elevate, and inspire. Thurman addresses those moments of trial and uncertainty and offers a message of hope and endurance for people of all faiths.

Featured Book for May 2021

Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength

by April Yamasaki

Is self-care different from being selfish or self-indulgent? Is it the same as caring for your soul? And what does self-care look like in light of following Jesus, who called his followers to deny themselves?

In Four Gifts, pastor and author April Yamasaki addresses these and other questions about self-care. Drawing on the ancient scriptural command to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, Yamasaki helps readers think about the spiritual dimensions of attending to your own needs, setting priorities, and finding true rest in a fast-paced world. She weaves together personal stories, biblical and theological insights, questions for reflection, and practical ideas for self-care. Four Gifts helps readers sustain their spirits and balance competing demands. Feeling overwhelmed by the pace and stress of daily life? Find respite from superficial definitions of self-care and move toward deeper engagement with God.

Featured Book for April 2021

Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Catechist, Saint

by Jon M. Sweeney

 

Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) is popularly celebrated for his fascinating spiritual life. How could one man, one deeply spiritual man, serve as both a traditional Oglala Lakota medicine man and a Roman Catholic catechist and mystic? How did these two spiritual and cultural identities enrich his prayer life? How did his commitment to God, understood through his Lakota and Catholic communities, shape his understanding of how to be in the world?

To fully understand the depth of Black Elk’s life-long spiritual quest requires a deep appreciation of his life story. He witnessed devastation on the battlefields of Little Bighorn and the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but also extravagance while performing for Queen Victoria as a member of “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show. Widowed by his first wife, he remarried and raised eight children. Black Elk’s spiritual visions granted him wisdom and healing insight beginning in his childhood, but he grew progressively physically blind in his adult years. These stories, and countless more, offer insight into this extraordinary man whose cause for canonization is now underway at the Vatican.

 

Featured Book for March 2021

Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color

by Sherry Bryant-Johnson (Editor), Therese Taylor-Stinson (Editor), Rosalie Norman McNaney (Editor)

These essays speak of how we have incorporated our contemplative practices into our family life; our urban, non-religious background; how we have been nurtured in struggles for health and life through our contemplative prayer practices and our courage to survive and even thrive in the midst of dire circumstances. We speak of the unfolding bridge between faith and culture; our conflicts with an Interspiritual journey with a Christian foundation; our sexuality; our journey to healing and authenticity; and how we are taking this practice that began in the
first centuries of the church with the desert mothers and fathers to the present and into the future with spiritual direction through the Internet across the world.

Featured Book for February 2021

God Alone is Enough: A Spirited Journey with Teresa of Avila

by Claudia Love Mair

No one can teach a Christian to pray, like Teresa can. This lively little book introduces postmodern readers to one of Christianity’s most endearing prayer warriors, and guides them through her most radical teachings. Here, Teresa of Avila is not a lofty, inaccessible saint; she’s a companion, taking readers on a rollicking journey through their own interior castles. The secrets of Teresa’s intimate devotional life are revealed, and readers learn practical ways to abandon complicated contemplative prayer techniques, and simply “enjoy” God. This journey through the life and writings of Teresa of Avila will engage Christians who would have never before considered encountering a post-Reformation Catholic nun. Mair Burney makes Teresa accessible-and essential-for understanding what it means to come to know God, and how it’s possible.

“This is the kind of book that a serious Christian has to thank God for. It only illuminates and opens St. Teresa of Avila in a profound and intimate way. I cannot recommend this book too highly or, I suspect, even adequately. Read it and you will see what I mean.” -Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours 

About the Presenters

Claudia Love Mair - edited

Claudia Love Mair

Claudia Love Mair, MFA is a writer, artist, and Ringmistress of the Beautiful Soul Circus, a private Facebook group for creatives, queers, and tender souls. She’s an Inspirationalista who, when she’s not creating something herself, helps other creatives tap into their deepest intuition and longings through writing and painting. Claudia is the author of the God Alone is Enough, the critically acclaimed novel, Zora and Nicky, and her memoir, Don’t You Fall Now. She is a Certified Intuitive Painting and Expressive Arts Facilitator and the Coordinator for the Kentucky Black Writers Collaborative. Claudia lives in Lexington, with two of her adult children, and three cats, including one who thinks he’s a dog.

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Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner is a Benedictine oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and global community integrating contemplative practice and creative expression. Christine earned her PhD in Christian spirituality and is a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator. She is a retreat facilitator and spiritual director, as well as the author of 15 books on contemplative practice and creative expression including two collections of poetry, Dreaming of Stones and The Wisdom of Wild Grace. Christine has lived in Galway, Ireland since 2012 with her husband John, where together they lead online and live retreats to the wild edges.