This is one of my favorite James Baldwin exchanges. Written as a part of a letter to his nephew, “My Dungeon Shook” (1963), Baldwin reminds his namesake that love is the only power able to sustain survival in the bleakest of days, systems, human experiences, and oppressive run-ins with the powers that be. When everything swirls around in the attempts to crush your dignity and worth there is a love that centers the soul and eases trembling even if it does not eliminate it with immediacy and totality. This love is where we find a sensual gladness when common sense and convention nudge us to surrender, “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to breaking of bread” (Baldwin,”Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind”).
I think prophets like Zephaniah and Mary, John the Baptist and Elizabeth, and all those ancient voices we read this Advent would have loved James Baldwin. They would have found solidarity in his gladness rooted in a deeper force of life that shaped their valued existence and dreams of a better day to come. They trusted it the same even when all the odds and favors were stacked against them and fear caused great trembling.
“The Lord, your God, will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love.” (Zephaniah 3:17)