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Featured Book for October 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.

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Community Questions

This Here Flesh community questions from Claudia Love Mair.

Week 1

  1. The title of This Here Flesh is taken from Baby Suggs sermon in Toni Morrison's book Beloved. Read the sermon here, and share your responses to it here. View this scene here.
  2. In the preface (ix) Cole expresses her disinterest in any call to spirituality that divorces her mind, body, and voice. Share a spirituality that has called you, which you realized divorces you from these things, and whether or not you answered that call.
  3. On page x of the preface Cole shares her simple view of contemplative spirituality: a fidelity to beholding the divine in all things. In what ways do you behold the Divine?

Week 2

  1. What does dignity in general look like to you and Black dignity in particular?
  2. Page 11 illuminates how in the Western world we entwine our concept of dignity with how much a person can do. Cole goes on to recount how those assigned to a lesser social value should be looked at as sacred guides out of the bondage of productivity. Describe how a person Cole lists as regarded this way has been a sacred guide to you.
  3. Cole writes of how those we withhold from social status and capital (p.11) possess a liberation we can learn from. What does this liberation look like to you?

Week 3

  1. On page 18 Cole describes how God made a home before a thing. She states that place has always been the thing that defines us. How does what you consider to be your place define you?
  2. Cole describes how being dislocated from the place of her ancestors is a source of grief she bears. How does place, a lack of place, or dislocation from ancestral place impact your life?
  3. Chapter 5 reflects on embodied spirituality. On page 64 Cole writes "In a world desperate to make an enemy of my body, how do I befriend it?" How do you befriend your body, especially if you have physical challenges?

Week 4

  1. Chapter 8, p. 98-99 challenges us with the idea when we construct a Christ [on the cross] whose very face remains unmoved, how are we to entrust that he feels anything at all? She writes, "A passionless savior cannot be trusted to save." What comes up for you when you read these words?
  2. In chapter 10 Cole describes a conversation in which she quoted Alice Walker regarding justice. Her friend said she'd choose love over justice, but Cole couldn't imagine justice without love. How do justice and love intersect for you?
  3. On page 183 Cole describes how liberation is not a finality or end point, but rather it is an unending awakening that we can both meet and walk away from. How do you return to the path of liberation after you've walked away from it?