Death Valley

Death Valley National Park, California

Psalms 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
2 he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anoint my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I was not sure I wanted to make the trip to the Death Valley National Park. I
grew up watching Ronald Reagan introduce the 20 Mule Team Borax’s
sponsored show actually called Death Valley Days. The show told stories of
people who lived around the desert basin where they harvested varieties of
salt. The stories did not make it look at all appealing. Just watching it made
me thirsty.
However, it seemed foolish to come within an hour and not made the
journey down to the valley that lay 282 feet below sea level. It was late
February and the sun was already oppressive as I stepped out onto the
seemingly smooth and shimmering white substance that rolled out toward
the mountains. However, when I got closer, I could see that there were
heaves of salt pushing up from the basin, rather than it being a smooth
It seems that salt is pretty special. It needs just the right environment to
form the crystals. Rocks, water and heat are all needed for salt to gather in
the valley. It is an ongoing cycle, Minerals are washed from the rocks by
water coming from the mountain, which is deposited in low place where
the water is evaporated. What is left are salt crystals. They form multiple
layers and the layers underneath push up through the top layers in a
chaotic fashion.
For some reason, that process reminded me of tears. I do not cry easily. In
fact, I exert a great deal of effort to delay that expression of grief. For some
understandable reasons, my mom was very uncomfortable with tears.
However, her issues, in turn, discouraged that expression of grief in her
children. If my sister and I got hurt in the morning, we would wait to cry for
daddy to come that evening, because we knew he would take us by the
shoulders and look at us and say,
“Ah, Shug, that is the hurting-est hurt.” In
his acknowledgement and acceptance of our pain, we were better able to
move on.
There are some people who can cry straight from heaven. Their heart gets
heavy and the tears flow down in real time and while we sometimes make
fun of them, others of us secretly envy them. For us, it is much more
laborious. Our tears are very much like how salt it deposited in the low
places of Death Valley. There is a melting of the pain, the running down
into the deep places of the soul and where it is evaporated by the warmth
of compassion of others and finally the salt is deposited on our cheeks, by
the upheaval of that pain.
When I read the 23rd Psalm, it prepares me for those moments of upheaval
and assures me that my pain and tears will be met with comfort, love and
grace. Though we walk in the shadow of our pain, we are promised a place
of rest, someone to go with us and nourishment for the journey; a message
of Hope that goes with us all of our days.
I think of Jesus, when I think of tears and this promise. I suspect that Jesus,
whose own tears were so noteworthy they were recorded just once in the
shortest verse of the Bible, carried within Him, a great deal of sorrow. On
our reflection of His walk to the cross, let us acknowledge the value of salty
tears. For the person who cries with heartfelt frequency, we give thanks.
For the person who carries their pain until it erupts and causes upheaval in
the life they have so carefully guarded, we wait patiently.

To you Oh, God who welcomes all Your children as they struggle through
the valleys, thank you for the gift of tears and for their cleansing and
healing power. May we not be afraid of our pain or the pain of others,
because You meet us there and will guide us through. Amen

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