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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Sacred Belonging by Kat Armas 
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I'm sitting here less than three weeks before bladder cancer will claim my bladder. After a several months long journey that began shortly before last Christmas, I will be admitted to the hospital for a few days and, if all goes well, return home cancer free yet without a bladder and wearing an ostomy that will be my companion for the rest of my life.

It's the latest physical challenge in a long life filled with them. I'm a paraplegic and double amputee with spina bifida, a 50+year-old man who has lived far longer than anyone expected yet who continues to crave more life.

As I began what I expected to be yet another "typical" reading of a devotional designed to inspire my heart and mind, I was prepared for a quick read popping with a few insights.

I received so much more.

Cuban-American writer Kat Armas has written an atypical devotional, a devotional that truly liberates the heart of Scripture and encourages readers toward a liberated faith by offering devotions centered around five different themes - creation, wisdom, spirit, the body, and the feminine.

The overarching lesson, if you will, is that we do belong. We do, we really do. We belong to God, we belong to the earth, and we belong to one another.

Armas highlights biblical passages that point toward decolonizing themes and moving away from the oppression that so many of us have felt from patriarchal, and just plain incorrect, interpretations of scripture designed more for power and control than bringing forth the sacred.

At times, "Sacred Belonging: A 40-Day Devotional on the Liberating Heart of Scripture" feels like Thich Nhat Hanh's remarkable "Living Buddha, Living Christ" with Armas's gentle ability to weave together Scripture with Indigenous spirituality and other faith journeys. It's open-hearted and faithful throughout yet will most resonate with those who long for a more liberated faith.

I expected "Sacred Belonging" to be a quick read, though as I worked my way through it I found myself stopping and starting, reflecting and praying quite often. I found myself dealing with issues brought up in each chapter and genuinely immersing myself in those times when Armas would end a chapter with questions for personal exploration.

I found myself dealing with my long history of abuse, my points of grief, my body image and, yes, my cancer journey and the experiences I'm about to face in terms of body image, physical function, intimacy, and a fear of the social isolation that already splashes over me in waves.

"Sacred Belonging," however, felt like a safe place. It felt like a belonging space where I could acknowledges these truths, some temporary and others permanent, and have them held as sacred in this difficult yet holy journey.

It's likely unsurprising that I most deeply resonated on the section centered around "the body," however every section resonated deeply and even when Armas seemed to be writing directly for women I found myself listening, learning, appreciating, respecting, and even belonging.

If you are expecting a sound byte devotional, you might want to alter your expectations as Armas shares both personal narrative and theological insights and reflections with enthusiasm, intelligence, insight, wisdom, and tenderness. Some devotions end with guiding questions, others do not. Some devotions are nearly all intellectual discourse, others radiate the richness of human experience.

As I end my time with "Sacred Belonging," at least for now, I feel a little more prepared for the challenges I will be facing in the coming 2-3 weeks. I feel greater the presence of the creation around me and the communal spirit that often feels like it's off at a distance. I feel a little more liberated from a fear of the unknown and a lot more secure in the belonging that comes whatever journeys our bodies are on.

In a world where Scripture is often used as a weapon, Armas invites us into a 40-day journey that reminds us that we are so loved and so never alone.


Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic