In the midst of a pandemic, racial injustice, and political strife, Loves . . . Regardless, by Rev. Donna Owusu-Ansah, comes as a breath of fresh air with restoring power. This is a womanist devotional book written specifically for Black women, but, as a white woman, I also found sustenance in Rev. Donna’s inspiring devotions. Although I can never understand her experiences of racism, I can identify with her experiences of sexism and can grow in my anti-racist work from reading her reflections and those of other Black women. True to womanism, this book centers Black women but works for the wholeness of all people and all creation.
Also, I resonated with Rev. Donna when I read in her Introduction that these words of Toni Morrison encouraged her to write this book: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” After searching for a devotional book that speaks to her soul and “lifts the prophetic and healing voices of Black women” and finding mostly devotional books written for white women, Rev. Donna decided to write this womanist devotional book. The Toni Morrison quote also inspired me to write a book that I really wanted to read. I wanted to read stories of ministers who have transformed the church through including biblical female divine names and images, so I wrote Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers.
The title of Rev. Donna’s book comes from Alice Walker’s definition of a “womanist” as one who “Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.” Drawing from this definition, Rev. Donna divides the book into four sections: “Loves . . . Dance, Loves . . . Spirit, Loves . . . Folk, Loves . . . Herself.”
In her Introduction Rev. Donna writes that her framing question for the book came from the work of ecowomanist theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher, who asks in Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: “Who has God been in the lives of Black women historically and today?” As Rev. Donna “mined the motherlode of womanist wisdom, searched the sacred Scripture, and drew on personal experiences,” she “had the God-talk of Black women past, present, and future” in her mind, heart, and spirit. “I wrote for them. I wrote for me. I wrote for us.”
Loves . . . Regardless spoke to my spirit from the first devotional entry on music to the final entry. The opening Scripture verse highlights the prophet Miriam and the women who played tambourines, danced, and sang in celebration of their liberation (Exodus 15:20). In her reflection on this verse Rev. Donna writes these stirring, lyrical words: “Miriam isn’t the only sister who recognized the power of music. She is part of a great cloud of witnesses that includes Hannah, the mother of Samuel, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Beyoncé, and so many more. Black women lilt when our loads are lightened. We wail when our souls are wounded. We moan when melancholy won’t allow for more. Music, particularly the brilliance of Black women musicians, has gotten Black women through individual instability and collective crisis.”
In another entry in the first section Rev. Donna celebrates the laughter of Black women as “a gift from God and an act of resistance.” Though oppressors attempt to silence and label Black women, joy is their “birthright,” and “the world is turned right side up when Black women laugh.” In all forty devotional entries she gives helpful questions to guide personal reflection on the theme and concludes with a memorable sentence prayer, such as in this entry: “Grant me laughter as a balm when brokenness threatens to harm me. Amen.”
In her entry on beauty Rev. Donna enlightened me about a verse in Song of Solomon I’d previously read in Bible versions with the correct translation of “I am black and beautiful” (1:5). She points out that some translations read, “I am black but beautiful” and that “this poorly translated verse when read and preached, has inflicted further violence on the individual and collective psyche of Black women.” She asks, “What would happen if Black women lived into the proper translation of the verse?” She answers, “We would understand that our melanin is magic and that God was simply showing out when God made Black women!” I’m wondering if the white women and men who have read and heard the poor translation of this verse would change their racist/white supremacist attitudes if they lived into the correct translation, “I am Black and beautiful.”
The section on Spirit provided much inspiration and nourishment for my spirit. She refers to lines from a poem by Ntozake Shange that I have on my wall: “ I found God in myself & I loved Her/ I loved Her fiercely.” I identified with Rev. Donna’s comments that these words led her to a new relationship with herself and with God. “Knowing that God’s Spirit abides in me ushered me into a loving relationship with myself, brimming with affection, intimacy, and love,” she writes. “What I longed and searched for from others . . . was within me: Loving Spirit, Guiding Spirit, Comforting Spirit, Holy Spirit. I found God in myself and I loved God’s Spirit fiercely.” Rev. Donna invites us to experience grace with these beautiful words: “Open your eyes to see grace. Open your ears to hear grace. Breathe in deeply to smell the sweet fragrance of grace. Sink your teeth into a delectable bite of grace. Feel grace gently kiss your forehead. Grace abounds at just the right time, if you are open to it.” On hope she writes these powerful words: “It is clear to me that as Black women, hope is in our DNA. . . . How else can you explain our survival and thriving when racism and patriarchy tried to kill us? Hope kept us as our babies were ripped from our breasts and placed on auction blocks during chattel slavery. Hope kept us when they labeled us ‘Mammy,’ ‘Jezebel,’ ‘Sapphire,’ and ‘Welfare Queen.’ Hope is keeping us now, even as Black women continue to be marginalized and doubly oppressed.”
It was refreshing to see cosmos, earth, and water, along with people, included in the “Loves . . . Folk” section. Rev. Donna has an expansive view of “folk,” understanding how closely we’re connected to all creation. One of her questions for personal reflection is, “What fear is hindering you from connecting with God’s good creation?” She asserts that “our wholeness is tied to the wholeness of the earth” and that “the same white hegemonic system that benefits from the triune evils of racism, sexism, and classism, ravages the earth.” She calls out the environmental racism and capitalistic greed that “have tainted the water supply in Black communities.” She laments other injustices suffered by Black women, such as the senseless murder of Breonna Taylor by police officers. She urges us to demand justice for Black women killed by police and for “sisters who are victims of sex-trafficking, sexual violence, intimate partner abuse, economic disparities, healthcare discrimination and other structural injustices.”
In the “Loves . . . Herself” section Rev. Donna sounds a powerful call to claim freedom, wisdom, knowledge, boldness, healing, strength, audacity. She challenges Black women to reclaim freedom from “empty theology, empty rhetoric, and empty legislation.” She celebrates womanist wisdom passed down from the ancestors as “the primary means for the thriving of Black women.” This book, she says, “is a testimony that I have been guided by the inspired wisdom of Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Emilie Townes, J. California Cooper, Mary Prince, Aunt Elsie,” and other Black women. In reflecting on boldness Rev. Donna praises Ida B. Wells for boldly demanding the right to vote, Prathia Hall for preaching bold sermons, Shirley Chisholm for running a bold campaign, Katie Cannon, Delores Williams, and Jacquelyn Grant for birthing a bold theology.
As a busy preacher, hospice chaplain, writer, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, Rev. Donna understands a full schedule, so she writes Loves . . . Regardless in a concise, accessible style. She engages readers also by including compelling accounts of her personal experiences. These devotions are ideal for individuals to read one at a time as part of a forty-day spiritual practice or whenever they need them, and/or for women to read together in groups.
Loves . . . Regardless is unique, the only devotional book identified as “womanist.” The book centers the experiences of Black women, but I recommend it to everyone—people of all races and cultures. We all need to read and listen to the words of Black women because their experiences of the triple oppression of racism, sexism, and classism give them special insights into recognizing injustice and creating solutions that benefit everyone. This prophetic, poetic womanist devotional book contributes to the wholeness of all people and all creation.
Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, writer, thinker, artist, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Deeply influenced by womanist theology, she has always been interested in the creative power of words and the ways in which words and story can be used to bring forth new life, heal individuals, and grow communities. An ordained Baptist pastor, she currently serves as Associate Minister at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen, New Jersey, and as a chaplain at Haven Hospice located at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey. Rev. Donna is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend who loves the Spirit, loves struggle, loves the folk, and loves herself. Regardless.