This month, Chalice Press releases a new daily devotional for prayer and spiritual growth, Liberating Love: 365 Love Notes from God, by activist and pastor Sandhya Rani Jha. In the midst of a global pandemic, civil unrest, and a national reckoning with racism, we caught up with the busy author to ask about the inspiration behind Liberating Love, why it’s needed right now, what it’s like to take on the voice of God, and the message she most hopes readers take away from the devotions.
There are hundreds of perfectly good Christian devotionals out there. Why did you think there needed to be one more?
I had a beautiful conversation the other day with someone who received her copy of the devotional the other day. She said, "It's like Jesus Calling, a devotional I really treasure, but with OUR THEOLOGY!" And that made my heart sing. God built us for community. God built us for compassion and justice. God built us for a fully inclusive world. God's love is for Every. Single. One. Of. Us. And I'm not sure there are too many yearlong devotionals that speak to that theological reality, and so we've had to make do with tools that didn't quite fit until now. And now we don't have to live with that uncomfortable fit; we can access something challenging but inclusive. I love that people are already responding to that fact of this devotional.
Who did you write Liberating Love for?
Really, it's intended for my ex-vangelical friends who need daily prayer but can't get down with the individualistic theology any more, my liberal church friends who never got into daily devotions because there wasn't something they could stomach theologically, my church friends of color like me who will read mediocre theology rather than go without a daily tool but wish we had something deeper, and especially for my activist friends who are so hungry for a word of encouragement and comfort from the divine.
The devotionals are written from God’s point of view. Were you nervous about putting yourself in the place of God to deliver these daily notes?
I'm still nervous about it! I have moments regularly when I think "who do I think I am? I really hope God looks kindly upon this!" But the number of times people have told me that the devotions (which people have been able to access in bits and pieces online) have helped them retain their faith in hard times or have reminded them how present and accessible God really is, I trust that God's guidance didn't steer me too wrong.
You talk in the introduction about writing Liberating Love while sitting in the hospital with your father. How did that affect your process of writing and the final outcome?
Whew. It was really the thing that kept me from floating off into the ether that week. I mean, I think a lot of us have had some experience where you don't want to hope and you don't want to give up, and you love that person in the bed more than life itself but that person in the bed, unconscious, maybe even distorted or at least heavily wired, doesn't bear any real resemblance to the person you love. And you feel alone and yet you resent the intrusions by others. It's just this space of all the emotions. And the way I took care of myself and grounded myself so I could be supportive of my mother was every day I wrote around ten devotions. Which means the scripture washed over me and reminded me I was loved. I encountered people who had gone through grief and hardship and knew God's love and knew community. And that helped make me a little braver in sharing what I was going through, so I got to experience a huge community showing up to support my mother and me and pray for my father. And when he died, even more community. It was this experience that the best parts of the Bible being SO TRUE. Which meant that when I returned to writing (a few months later), I had this fresh experience of how God's vision of who we can be as community is salvific.
Why is a daily devotion like this so important for this particular time?
Wow--what a moment we are in. A moment of real, tangible grief for those who have lost people, and an ineffable but inescapable constant low grade fear for all of us. Simultaneously, a moment when the worst of who we are as a country has been laid bare in relation to who has access to the healthcare that allows them to live and who we are willing to sacrifice. A moment when we could not avoid the wealth inequity and racial injustice if we tried. A moment when the environmental crisis and leadership crisis are on a collision course. It is so easy to feel isolated. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed. And community feels like an impossibility. In moments like that, it can be so helpful to create rhythms, routines, disciplines. It can be helpful to dig deep and encounter our spiritual ancestors to be reminded others have faced horrors and have found ways to come through them. It can be helpful to find a touchstone amidst the overwhelm. My hope is that this can be that touchstone.
What is the message you hope the reader takes to heart from Liberating Love?
I hope folks walk away with some new friendships...there are people in the Bible who are a lot like them, have gone through what they're going through. Those folks in the bible overcame or lived through hard circumstances because they had God, AND because they had each other. The only way through this is together. Alone will kill us. And it turns out that was always true: God has something so much better in mind for us, and what God has in mind for us is US...all of us showing up for each other's thriving and finding our own thriving in the process.
Sandhya Rani Jha is the executive director of the Oakland Peace Center in Oakland, California, an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the author of several books from Chalice Press including Pre-Post-Racial: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines, Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing their Neighborhoods, and Liberating Love: 365 Love Notes from God.