The desert has to lead us, at last, from aloneness with God (in a moment of great and silent emptiness) to community with others, from the loss of the fragile self to the discovery of a new identity binding us to the world. The apophatic moment, if genuine, must ever result in a recommitment to speech and engagement, a renewal of kataphatic energy. Desert attentiveness and desert indifference lead necessarily to desert love.

In the fall of 1849 twenty-seven wagons started into that long desert valley east of the Sierra Nevada. Only one of them came out. A survivor of that misguided party spoke of the dreadful sameness of the terrain, the awfulness of the Panamint Mountains, remembering only “hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” Two months later, as the only surviving wagon topped the westernmost crest of the distant mountains, one of the settlers looked back on the place that had nearly claimed them all and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley.” That’s how the site received its name.

But there’s another name the Spanish used to describe this Godforsaken land. They referred to it as la Palma de la Mano de Dios, the very palm of God’s hand. I think now, at the end of this long season of my life, that I finally understand why.

Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes