Purple Loosestrife August 22, 2010Posted by orualundone in Environmentalism, Faith Journey, Sin.
Tags: invasive species, Lythrum salicaria, purple loosestrife
On my favorite shortcut to Target, I drive past a small open wetland full of cattails and dead trees. It spans both sides of the road and on spring evenings so many peepers call to each other that they can drown out the sound of my radio even with the car windows rolled up. In late summer more than half the plants in the habitat erupt in bloom: spikes of bright purple flowers. “So pretty!” a friend exclaims as we drive past. “I love purple flowers.”
But the beauty is lost on me. My botanical training lets me identify them without even slowing down, as they blur into a lavender haze on the roadside. It is purple loosestrife, a plant native to Asia but utterly and completely foreign to U.S. soil. In its home range it is indeed lovely. It evolved with the ecosystems there and plays its own role in the landscape – neither harmful or destructive. But here it is both.
Without its natural controls and predators, it runs wild in our waterways and wetlands. No animals can eat it. It out-competes the existing plants and eventually completely takes over until it is the only thing that grows. The wildlife leave for lack of food. It chokes the natural waterways and they dry up. Wetlands perish. Soon only a solid stand of the plant on dry(ish) land remains, where once a vibrant wetland ecosystem flourished. It’s flowers may look pretty but it is beyond deadly to the things that rightly grow in the system.
Purple loosestrife, and other invasive plants, invariably make me think of sin. An invasive plant, like a sin, starts with just a few seeds. In plants they may get their chance when a gardener brings a new specimen into the country without thinking about how it might escape, or by hitching a ride in packing material, produce crates, or on the cuff of a hiker’s pants.
With sin, it may be something we allow in intentionally without considering the long-term consequences – just one lie, a little gossip, a quick look. Or it can hitch a ride in on other thoughts or actions, seemingly harmless but opening the door for later sins. Hanging around with people who do wrong, without checking yourself to make sure you are not picking up their attitudes about morality, for example.
Either way, sins and invasive plants take root with the same speed and efficiency. Once established, they reproduce and spread and become nearly impossible to get rid of. As the plants choke the waterway and kill the native plants, the sin begins to take over every area of our lives and it starts to destroy the good things we have.
It begins to fill every aspect, every moment. It takes away from relationships, time with God, happiness, even hobbies and work. Soon all that’s left is the sin; it fills us and our lives become about the sin. Fighting it, hiding it, managing it, indulging it, regretting it. That’s all that remains of a once-vibrant and health life. All from a few seeds, spread carelessly.
Like purple loosestrife, most sin is damaging mainly because it is misplaced. I strongly believe that there is almost nothing that is inherently sinful at it root. Sexual desire is not sinful by nature, and in it’s correct habitat is a beautiful, healthy part of a functioning life. But when it turns to addiction or violence (rape) it can completely destroy oneself and others. Anger is not always bad; but let anger turn to bitterness and it will consume you. Sin is something God created for good that has been twisted into something destructive, harmful, and obsessive.
Finally, the last thing about purple loosestrife and many other invasive plants, is that even if you manage to remove them, the ecosystem will never be quite the same. Some plants literally poison the soil in such a way that it will be years before other things can grow. Purple loosestrife builds up the soil and dries out the land, restricting water flow. Even if it is killed and native plants return, it will not be the same kind of habit it was before. Not quite.
Just like these plants, sin changes us forever. We may be able, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to eventually rid it from our lives but the scars that it leaves will always remain. God may restore us fully, may make us better than before in many ways, but we will never be the same after we have let sin take over our lives so completely. We may be able to rejoice in a new life with God, free from that sin, but we will never be able to go back to that old life before the sin, no matter how much we might want to.
Often, to get rid of an invasive plant, the entire area must be laid to waste completely – uprooted and burned, and then replanted with the right kinds of native plants so that there will be no chance for the invader to gain a foothold again. And sometimes, once sin has gotten too deeply into our lives, God must devastate our lives entirely and start again, planting his seeds in to us to grow a new life so filled with him that there is no room for anything else to take root.