By Eugene C. Scott
The silence settled on me like an old friendship. I let go of pieces of my worry, fear, self-doubt, and tiredness with every breath. Though I had never hunted this section of the mountain before, I was home. Not just a place I called home or felt at home, but the place God birthed me, the dirt God held in his fist and blew my life into.
Shredded mist, gray and translucent, drifted up from the dark timber, looking like the prayers and groans of creation Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the church in ancient Rome. I offered a prayer and groan of my own.
“Thanks, God, for this piece of almost-Eden. Oh, that I could reflect your beauty like this.”
The morning felt as if this was how God intended the world to be, how the world might have looked the day before the gate to the Garden was flung open from the inside and those two naive but no longer innocent humans stumbled out. This felt like the world in which I could be who I was originally invented to be.
As the morning slid by, however, I noticed dark stalks sticking up above the native grasses and fading wildflowers. I didn’t notice them at first because they had a dark, contrasting beauty of their own. My eyes had painted the scene with an unreal perfection. These stalks, however, represented noxious weeds. Its Latin name “carduus tenuifloris” sounds lovely but actually is an ugly, natty, thorny, invasive thistle. Weeds.
Except thistles and other noxious weeds are not just garden variety weeds. In America, sate and federal governments use the term “noxious weed” to describe a non-native plant that will–if left unchecked–destroy native plants and wildlife. Somehow these plants have been transported into an environment not prepared to resist them. Once there, noxious weeds take over and strangle the native plants and the animals that depend on those native plants.
Because of a few small weeds that could double their footprint each year, every flower and native grass, and thus the elk I love, the hawk wheeling in the morning mist, the mouse climbing flower stalks and knocking them over for seeds, was in danger. I was thankful for organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk foundations that spends thousands of dollars and volunteer hours fighting noxious weeds.
Still an old weight and realization settled on me. This one an old unwanted friend. You see, I too am infested with non-native noxious weeds. We–all of us humans–were once pristine, unmarred, golden, perfect. Now, however, we too are being strangled by noxious weeds with beautiful sounding Latin names, “invidia, luxuria, superbia, acedia, gula, avaritia, and ira.”
If invidia (envy) or luxuria (lust) grow unchecked in my life, my beautiful wife, my fantastic children and grandchildren, my ministry, even this moment hunting this pristine meadow will be lost. Meanwhile non-native superbia (pride) will destroy my friendships and acedia (sloth) would swallow my material possessions. Gula (gluttony) will outright but sweetly kill me. Avaritia (greed) will gladly deceive me. And ira (wrath) will rot my soul.
These seven non-native noxious weeds and their thousands of sub-species have taken root in every person God ever breathed his pure, cool breath into. They invade and destroy our God-given beauty and purpose. I’ve seen some of these weeds in your life and you have seen them in mine.
It is tragic. I look closely into the faces of my two tender, gorgeous, funny, intelligent, delightful grandchildren, their eyes sparkling, hair awry, and see the dark stalks pushing up from the seeds of my unchecked noxious weeds.
But there is hope.
A woman, like you and me, over-taken by noxious weeds: prostitution, lust, self-debasement, fear, and only God knows what else, knelt and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and long hair.
“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus told her. Your weeds are on the endangered species list.
When Jesus died on the cross, his pure, sacrificial blood drenched her noxious weeds and began to drown them out. Just then Jesus began to restore her to her natural, pristine state. This is true for you and me too.
But killing these weeds is not about being religious, powerful, smart, right, or watching how-to TV shows, mumbling miracle mantras or whatever else we use to try to control our imperfections and sins.
Jesus’ sacrificial gift to us is about restoring creation, this nearly perfect mountain meadow surrounded by aspens turning gold, and us not-so-perfect humans as well, to its original state. No matter the state of our weedy gardens, we can be forgiven and restored. It is a gift of love.
Saint Paul again,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Eugene C. Scott is proud to be a member of one of the finest conservation organizations around, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a writer who has written for Bugle Magazine. When he is not hunting, he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.