Living into the Tension of Advent: Cole Arthur Riley

Continuing a series of conversations about how we are to live into the tension of Advent in this season, Rachael talks with Cole Arthur Riley—writer, speaker, and founder of the project Black Liturgies, “a project seeking to integrate the truths of Black dignity, lament, rage, justice, and rest into written prayers.” Throughout their conversation, you’ll hear about the role and function of liturgy, the radical trust of God in a woman’s body, and practical ways we can lean into embodied practices this Advent season—including a guided breath prayer towards the end of the episode.


“A lot of people think of [liturgy] as merely words but it is a very embodied experience, everything from the colors, the smells, to this ongoing communal gesturing of things and the moving of the word of scripture—everything is very embodied and very sensoried.” Cole Arthur Riley

“Black Liturgies was birthed out of a lot of tragedy and longing and even a little bit of my soul on the brink of despair. I began it in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and the resurfacing of the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClaine. I found my soul and body, longing for something in the liturgies I was engaging with either in morning prayer or Eucharist services. I was longing to see my blackness and my story in a way that it felt the liturgies written by white men weren’t capable of speaking to.” Cole Arthur Riley

“It’s a being with God in community, informed by practices, being formed together . . .there’s something about good liturgy that is coming from an embodiment and with particularity, and […] there’s been a more dominant voice that gets to dictate what that embodied experience is and we need to dismantle that, not destroy it, but dismantle it, and sometimes it does need to be contended with in that embodied, prophetic way.” Rachael Clinton Chen

“The beauty of liturgy is it very intentionally makes room for different emotions and different seasons of life so for me, I’m a person who has always been given toward more solemness than excitement, and I think Advent has been really healing for me because it’s allowed my sadness, my fears to breathe, to be, in a season that is typically marked by a lot of cheer.” Cole Arthur Riley

“The origins of Advent are the body of a woman, it is the womb of a woman and her paying attention to her body and a promise being spoken over what she was capable of doing and what she would ultimately do by giving birth to something good and healing.” Cole Arthur Riley

“There is a radical upending for how we imagine power, how we imagine God’s rescue. We’re talking about a story where God embodies such vulnerability to entrust God-self to the womb of a human woman.” Rachael Clinton Chen

“How we can prepare for Christmas without paying attention to those words that are talking about the real, societal, social impact that the Messiah is going to have in the here and now […] our pictures of Christmas are actually pretty dim and one-sided.” Cole Arthur Riley

“What are the ways that I get to participate in the birthing of God, the expectant waiting of this season?” Rachael Clinton Chen

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