Of Purple Loosestrife, Chihuly, and Desert Journeys

Purple loosestrife is beautiful at this time of year. Masses of intense purple fill wetlands. But the stunning flowers are an aggressively invasive weed, taking over sensitive wetlands and pushing out native plants. They are weeds.

Just what is a weed? A plant in the wrong place. Milkweed is a wonderful native plant that provides food for butterflies and their caterpillars. But this precious plant can become a difficult intruder in a farmer’s field or a homeowner’s garden.

 My friend Rabbi Danny Price once spoke of having an “encounter with the Infinite” – he was weeding his yard.

 Weeds. Things that are in the wrong place. Which can sometimes include our anger, our pain, our fear. These feelings are not “wrong.” But they can be in the wrong place. We can overdo it and be angry or afraid when the facts are telling us that our anger or our fear is irrational. In these situations, our feelings are “weeds” that we had best uproot. Like my friend’s work in his yard, this is an infinite and never-ending process of being human. As long as we are alive, we need to continue to engage in weeding

 How do we pull up our unwanted “weeds.” One way is by allowing that which is meaningful, sacred, or holy to touch us, and then by transforming it into something personal, something our own, something that will give us new strength and courage and security.

 I saw one version of this recently when I went to an exhibit of the work of the glassblower, Dale Chihuly. One room of the exhibit was filled with Native American baskets side-by-side with his interpretations in glass. The baskets, from another time and another culture, had touched Chihuly. He had taken his emotional and spiritual response to those baskets and made something new – beautiful glass containers.

 This week’s Torah portion, Masai, records the journeys and encampments of the Israelites during their entire time in the desert. It can sound like a boring list, but it is in essence a summary, as they near the end of their time in the wilderness, of their journey, of their transformation from a group of slaves to a group of people ready to take on responsibility for themselves as a people and a nation.


We, too, can make transformations. We can pull out our weeds and let our native, true, self shine forward. We can make something beautiful and our own from the things that touch us in our environment. We can journey from slavery to freedom and responsibility. It is a journey we can make each and every day of our lives.