Valleys can be places of dryness and barrenness.
For example, Death Valley, which straddles portions of Nevada and California, is famed for being one of the driest, harshest and most unforgiving places in the United States. It has earned its reputation of being a place where not much life exists.
But something strange periodically happens within Death Valley. Sometimes, it goes from dry, barren wasteland to vibrant fields of growing color: A place of beauty.
Periodically, it experiences a “super bloom,” a natural phenomenon where its barren dry soil produces swaths of colorful flowers and vegetation that transform its landscape. The valley transitions from death to life.
Metaphorically, valleys represent the times when life has not turned out as we anticipated or hoped.
After experiencing a stark military defeat where they lost everything, the audience of Isaiah 35 experienced a valley moment due to the harsh physical and spiritual conditions they lived under.
The writer shared hope that God would cause God’s people to experience a physical and spiritual super bloom that would eventually change their life circumstances for good.
Isaiah 35 outlines a series of things God would do for them that would not only bring them hope, but also reaffirm God’s love for them.
First, God would restore their land that had been destroyed. Second, God would physically restore damaged people by healing them of ailments and restoring them to the conditions of their youthful bodies.
The people would experience an individual and communal super bloom. Their dry valley experience would be replaced with something greater.
The scriptures of Israel are replete with these types of stories.
One of the common intentions behind recording these types of stories was not only to track historical events and celebrate cultural heroes, but also to affirm for future generations God’s ability to free God’s people from whatever dire circumstances they experienced.
Black gospel music holds this practice in common with the scriptures of Israel. One of its intentions is to ensure that future generations of Black and brown boys and girls would not only be aware of their histories, but also find encouragement for their futures.
In the Negro spiritual, Peace in the Valley, Thomas A. Dorsey used imagery similar to that of Isaiah 35 to not only describe a spiritual breakthrough, but political and social breakthroughs that Black people were waiting for.
“I am tired and weary, but I must toil on till the Lord come to call me away,
Where the morning is bright and the Lamb is the light and the night is fair as the day.
There’ll be peace in the valley for me some day. There’ll be peace in the valley for me.
I pray no more sorrow and sadness or trouble will be. There’ll be peace in the valley for me.
There the flow’rs will be blooming, the grass will be green and the skies will be clear and serene.”
A super bloom.
Through the history of Black life in America, Juneteenth, which represents the day when the last enslaved Black people in America were finally set free, has metaphorically stood as a long-awaited super bloom – the journey out of the valley of physical and mental slavery toward the promised land of freedom and equality.
Like the writers of the Hebrew Bible, Black people celebrate this day not only to track historical events and affirm cultural heroes, but also to affirm for future generations that God hears the cries of those who have been mistreated and stands with the oppressed, and, when we cooperate with God’s will, we join God’s ongoing work to set the oppressed free.
A pastor, author and educator living in St. Louis, Missouri, he is the author of several books, including The Gospel According to Broadway and Taking Apart Bootstrap Theology: Gospel of Generosity and Justice.