Our eyes are drawn to light at night. For some, it is the blue light of the television. For others, it is the grey light of net-surfing and for others still, it may even be the red light of a brothel or a working home-fire-detector up on the ceiling.
They say that in the wild west, train operators would take their red lanterns to the brothel and hang it on the door so that in the event of an emergency, their colleagues could easily find them. And yet the term was popular in England in the times of Dickens who wandered the red-light districts (named from ember-fires in bucket-grates) in order to get material for his novels. Red lanterns were used for the “red-lines” of the districts in Asia delineating areas of prostitution and opium.
There is such a fine line between what and who attracts us and what or who seduces us. The line is discernment which requires that one’s frontal lobe is engaged – a design-flaw if you ask me; but God never has. Not once.
“Secret” and “seduce” have the same root word in “se” – a Latin root word for “aside, separated, on one’s own.” It is how beasts eat – they separate one weaker or distracted animal from its herd and chase it down in order to slowly eat it alive. I know. It’s how the planet eats but it’s still creepy. And a bit gross. I prefer the butcher wrap my meats in cellophane and Styrofoam so that I can at least pretend to be enlightened.
The second part of the word “seduce” comes from its Latin root “ducere” which means to lead away. Add these two root words together and you have “separate and lead away so that the victim is alone.”
As we enter Advent, I am wondering about seduction, my nerdy etymological fetish notwithstanding. I am wondering if the benefit of this season of darkening land is the celebration of a bright light – a light that draws us together, out of the darknesses and secrets of our lives where the seducers do their seducing without regard. Secret spending. Secret hoarding. Secret sex. Secret manipulation. Secret bullying. Secret testimony. Secret patriarchy. Secret addictions to alcohol or to a person or to an act or to a mistress or to a vision of “church” – anything which, for a moment, transfigures our dull twilight into a bright noon-day; only to crash into a deeper, darker hell when the destruction is over and the dust has settled on the lives ruined or scarred. There is day, twilight and night. What would it take to be patient through all three? What would it take to be peaceful with what we have rather than being constantly seduced by seducers – be they companies, governments or simply a bored adventurer?
One blessing of living on an island in the Salish Sea is the brightness of the stars. When I take Kai-the-dog out for his last walk, I marvel at the brightness of the stars from Whidbey Island’s small spot in these seas. Once back home, I find that living alone, I too often use TV and texting as a means of relaxation, entertainment, and counterfeit connection. But that bluish TV or cell-phone light is not where I want to stare my eyes and distract my mind this Advent. Indeed, the over-the-top advertising and marketing represent the “disaster” of Advent – a competing star-light.
The word “disaster” comes from the Middle Ages and was developed in the west by the Church. The word comes from the Latin meaning of “without a star”. Dis-aster is actually “dis-astron:” “Dis” means “without” and “astron” means “star.” So to be in a disaster is to be without a star – without the hope and joy and leading-light of a star that shows the way to a place of peace and safety.
I used to think that the Christmas Story was about a white star and a white baby. But as I live out this life, I am finding myself wandering the brown and green hillsides with my red lantern and I see those of others like me – the brown ones – messy hairless bipeds on other hillsides. What if the light of these dark days is not that of the star, but that of the lanterns walking towards the star – people bringing light simply by gathering? Regular, broken, addicted, horny, hungry, empty, messy, seducing people harboring their secrets and their scars. Looking not so much for an astron – a star – but rather looking perhaps for a way out of dis-astron – life without the calling-light which keeps us from being separated and eaten alive in the first place.