Cole Arthur Riley grew up in a family of charismatic and creative people. As an incredibly shy girl, she lived happily in the shadow of this extroversion and did not properly begin speaking until she was seven years old. (She had what’s known as “selective mutism.”) Her quiet, along with what she describes as a lot of fear, encouraged habits of observation and attention at a young age. Her acute observation — combined with her father’s habit of letting his kids choose between doing chores or writing — turned out to be excellent formation for Riley’s future: She is, at heart, a writer.

Riley settled into her voice and into reflections on spirituality in the wake of experiences with white Christianity that, at best, did not meet her needs and, at worst, traumatized her as a Black, queer woman living with a disability.

Some of the gaps that Riley seeks to address in her ongoing work are the importance of the body, dignity, and liberation as serious sites of contemplative spirituality. In particular, Riley’s work centers Black bodies, Black emotion, and Black voices. She started the Instagram page “Black Liturgies” in 2020, and it became a worldwide phenomenon and the basis for her 2024 book of the same name. Black Liturgies and her debut book, This Here Flesh, were both immediate New York Times bestsellers.

Riley currently serves as Curator of The Center for Dignity and Contemplation in Ithaca, New York.

Read and Listen for:

  • Spirituality and theology that center Black interior lives
  • The body as a site of meaning and insight
  • Liberating expressions of faith (Christian-adjacent)