He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
–Psalm 105:41, NRSV
When you enter Death Valley, this place of no water, and gaze out across the valley floor, one of the first things you notice are entrances to canyon after hidden canyon marked by huge rock fans, the deposits of countless, raging flash floods that arose abruptly and swept masses of rock and debris along with them. Alluvial deposits, one after another, march into the distance down the length of the valley, lapping one another like scales on a dragon’s back. They bear mute witness to the powerful shaping presence of water, a lot of it, suddenly present with unstoppable force.
The bare rocks, in places with names like Golden Canyon and Artist’s Palette, are remnants of an upturned ancient seabed. These outcroppings are exposed with exquisite clarity throughout the desert, continually created, shaped, and revealed by the unique interaction of water influencing the landscape, not just for short periods of time, but over thousands of millennia.
There is a high point in the park, a place called Dante’s View (aptly named, presumably, after the writer of the classic Inferno which chronicles a journey through the nine circles of Hell). From this mountaintop visitors look down onto the lowest point in the United States. What one sees are salt pans left over from dried up lake beds, remnants of the water that collects when the rain does happen to fall. The contoured shades of blue, tan, and white create the illusion that you are looking down on an ocean’s coastline, abundant with water, from thousands of feet in the air – instead of at the floor of a dried up desert. Here the apparent presence of water is a mirage, at best a reminder of what appears to be there, but is actually not. –Laurie Gordon, The God of Barren Landscapes
- Pay attention to your inner landscape. How have you been shaped by the force of what has come before?
- How does the Lenten desert clarify your illusions and mirages?
- Prayerfully dwell with Psalm 105:41. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?