As the social distancing and self-quarantines stretch on, Freemasons are feeling the itch to get out and have some fellowship with their brothers. While not quite the same as sitting around a table and chatting over coffee or an aqua vitae, many Freemasons have already found a way to indulge in discussion with like-minded brethren […]
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, HarperOne; Anniversary edition (September 9, 2014) ISBN-13: 978-0062390622
The Alchemist is an interesting story of a young shepherd’s journey to find a treasure at the Pyramids in Egypt. His quest brings him many adventures and he encounters interesting people from whom he learns the lessons of life.
One of the most valuable lessons I took from the book is that, “people fail to recognize the food things that happen in their lives every day as the sun rises.” We often look at the negative, what we do not have, instead of appreciating what we do have. While we should appreciate what we have, we should not be satisfied, if it does not match our dreams. We know and are obligated to achieve them. According to Coelho, “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation”.
This book is best understood to be a parable of our journey through life and how we should engage the messages we learn along the way.
Millennial Apprentices: The Next Revolution in Freemasonry, By Samuel Friedman, Fairport, NY, SelfPublished, 2015,. ISBN-13: 978-0996652803.
Samuel Friedman has written a thought-provoking book, Millennial Apprentices: The Next Revolution in Freemasonry, to help the Craft understand the needs and wants of the next generation of Freemasons. As a new Mason and a Millennial, he is well-suited to address this topic. He does a pretty good job describing the Millennial Generation; I came away with a better understanding of this group. This understanding is important as we hope to attract this very large generation into our ancient Fraternity.
Mr. Friedman describes how Freemasons were involved in many of the democratic revolutions of the past, including the American war of independence from Great Britain. He feels that Freemasonry has abdicated our responsibility of being a beacon of moral and philosophical light to our communities and nation.
The Observance Lodge concept is discussed and Mr. Friedman believes this to be an important aspect of the lodge experience going forward, especially for the Millennial Generation. He feels that this generation will find the solemnity and structure of an Observant Lodge appealing and meet their needs.
While I enjoyed the book overall and found items that will be useful for me to take and try to enact in my lodges, I do not agree with some of his conclusions. This is most true when he discussed that we should not have National Flags in the Lodge and also touched on other social issues that Grand Lodges are struggling with in today’s changing times. I recommend this book for any Brother trying to better understand the next generation and how to shape our Craft to meet their needs.
We are in the midst of a crisis, we cannot hold Masonic meetings, we cannot meet together in person for any reason. Tonight, was the scheduled Regular Communication of the Valley of Augusta Scottish Rite; we all missed the fellowship and activities of our Fraternity. Our Degrees of the Scottish Rite have lessons that we can use during this time. As Masons, what are we called on to do during this period of isolation? How can we toil in the Quarries when we are apparently being forced to be idle?
For some, this may feel like a welcome respite, a time for rest and recovery from our labors, and it can be; but it can also be an opportunity to labor in different quarries, or to move from the Quarry to the Trestleboard and lay down designs, rather than following the designs of others.
In the Scottish Rite, we learn many lessons throughout the Degrees of our Craft. The 13th Degree, Royal Arch of Solomon, discusses the idea that work is not just toil; it provides us with the things that make life worth living. We learn the lesson that we should not be idle, we should work for the betterment of ourselves and others. Since many of us are away from our usual vocations, we have time to do some work on our avocations. The 26th Degree, Prince of Mercy or Scottish Trinitarian, we are taught to study so that we may learn and so that we may pass knowledge and wisdom to others. It is not a suggestion, it is a Charge, an Obligation, to continue to improve in knowledge and to share that knowledge with our Brethren.
The 22nd Degree, Knight of the Royal Axe or prince of Libanus, teaches us that Masonry is work. Our primary example in Freemasonry is the Craftsman, the Builder, not either of the two kings that are depicted in our Ritual. We take this lesson: Work is sacred, we are called on to do our work as if we are doing it for our Creator, for we are. One of the lessons of the 32nd Degree, Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret, is that to work is to worship. The 32nd Degree also teaches to put all things in balance.
So, back to the original point, what work can we do while we are isolated from each other? Brethren, the possibilities are endless, but here are a few:
- Spend time with your family, do those things that make them feel happy and loved. Remember, they are also going through trying times.
- Spend time with your God in Prayer, reflection and study.
- Call your Brethren, let them know you are thinking of them. Emails and Social Media are nice, but nothing beats a familiar voice.
- Pull out a Ritual Lecture that you want to learn and work on it to help your Lodge and your Brethren. They can be obtained from your Director of Work or from the Masonic Manual.
- Read a Masonic Book, if you do not have any, there are many that can be downloaded from the Internet.
- Read Masonic Blogs or listen to Masonic Podcasts.
- Pick something in Freemasonry that you love and write about it. Do not worry about being a great writer, just get your thoughts out on paper. This will help you flesh out your thoughts and gain a better understanding of the topic.
- Set up virtual meetings using Free Teleconference, Zoom or some other application. Some phones will let you conference call on the phone, avoiding any outside applications. Discuss your thoughts on a specific Masonic topic, or just “talk amongst yourselves” for some fellowship.
Brethren, our labors must never cease. We can accomplish much, even in these circumstances.
One of the first lessons we learn in Freemasonry is that we are here to “Learn to improve myself in Freemasonry.” We also say that we “take good men and make them better.” If this is true, when does it stop? At what point have we improved enough to consider that we have accomplished this task? Has Masonry made you better, so you do not have any more to do?
Were you finished when you were Initiated, Passed and Raised? What is the one thing that you learned that made you say,” Great! I am better! I am done!?” When you were Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, the heavens parted and the Great Architect of the Universe inspected you with the symbolic Square, level and Plumb and declared you perfect? NO? Then it is possible that you had/have more improvement to make? That you have more lessons to learn?
Our goal in Freemasonry is not to be better than others, but to be better than ourselves. While I might be better than the self I was 5 years ago, there is still room for me to be better than the self I was yesterday. Anything that stops growing dies. I have presented Masonic Education to Brethren who were in their 80s and were wise, but they wanted to learn more. Improvement never ends, we should strive to continue to travel from the west toward the east, in search of even more Masonic Light.
The first thing required for Freemasonry to help you improve yourself is your presence. How can you improve yourself in Freemasonry if you are not present? Not just physical presence, but active presence in the lessons of the Ritual and the Fellowship with your Brethren. I know that you can learn much about Freemasonry by reading the thoughts of others, but you can learn even more by discussing those thoughts, and your own thoughts, with your Brethren in a Corporate setting. Freemasonry was never meant to be a solitary event, men organized themselves into groups to help each other and to learn from each other. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17. Another translation says, “Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” It is important to gather with your Brethren. The Fellowship is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that you learn to trust each other, so you are willing to listen when a Brother points out an area where you many need to work on your continuous improvement. If I do not know you well, I may be upset or hurt if you point out a fault, but I should be able to accept this whisper of counsel and comfort from my Brother.
If you will be open to the lessons of the Craft and the thoughts of your Brethren, you can improve yourself even during a boring business meeting. How? By actively listening to the Ritual, by taking a part of the normal opening and closing and pondering, “What does this mean to me?” It is much more satisfying than pondering whether we should buy a new refrigerator for the Lodge. I improve myself in Freemasonry every time I attend Lodge or Masonic events. The idea for this article came to me while I was at the District Custodian’s School of Instruction. It wasn’t that I was not paying attention to what was being taught, but that I WAS paying attention and I heard things I needed to hear. Even in the repetitious ritual we were practicing.
How can you improve yourself in Freemasonry? Read your books; listen to the Ritual; learn from your Brethren.
Early in an Entered Apprentice’s Masonic journey he is told that we should invoke the aid of Almighty God before entering upon any great or important undertaking. He is told to kneel where he now stands to receive benefit of Lodge Prayer
Lodge prayer is corporate prayer where we actively pray for each other. As with everything in freemasonry, there is a lesson here. How often have you told someone or had someone tell you, “I will pray for you.” Do you remember to pray, do you think that they always remember to pray for you?
The lesson is to pray “where you now stand.” Stop and pray where you are when you or someone needs prayer.
Do not defer prayer.
Today, I buried a Brother. Not a blood relative, but a Brother, nonetheless. He was a Freemason. at 6 pm in the evening, I was called by the Grand Secretary, asking if I could gather some of the Brethren in the area to conduct a Masonic Funeral Service for a Brother from South Carolina. Due to travel restrictions imposed by the ongoing virus scare, his Lodge was unable to attend their Brother’s funeral.
We hastily gathered a group of four that were able to attend on short notice, with WB Jarrod Coffey prepared to conduct the Service with WB Jeremy Wilson, Brother Lee Benedict and myself. We assembled at the graveside, in the character of Masons with our Brother’s family and friends to pay our respects and give him honor. We wept with his family as the Bugler played Taps and the Soldiers folded his flag of honor and presented it to his family. We deposited the sprig of evergreen in his grave and ensured he was clothed in the Character of a Mason.
We did not know this man, but he was our Brother. We cherish his memory here, we commend his spirit to God who gave it, we consign his body to the ground.
Lately, I have thought and written about the duties of a Lodge to the Brethren, the duties of a Mason to his Lodge and getting things done. I want to discuss a few things that we can do to improve ourselves and our Lodge experience. Before we discuss this, we need to define the Lodge. A Lodge is not a building; it is a group of Freemasons meeting under the Authority of a Charter. So when we discuss our duties, we are talking about the duties we have for each other.
First: Attend Regular and Called meetings, it is hard to know and care for your Brethren if you are not here. If you have been absent and might be a little rusty, give me a call, as Director of Work, I can get you back up to speed on ritual, etc.
Second: Try to spend time in fellowship with a Brother that you do not normally spend much time with, you might find that you have something in common and can build stronger bonds.
Third: Attend planned fellowship nights, game nights, dinners, anything we can do to build stronger bonds with our Brethren.
Fourth: Think about what Freemasonry means to you. Consider presenting these thoughts to your Brethren, we can all learn from each other.
Fifth: Tim Bryce, a Masonic and Business Blogger, has some great advice: “Do just one thing.” If all members did “Just One Thing” for their Lodge, it would be a better place.
I am not suggesting we do anything extremely labor intensive; perhaps it is something as simple as making coffee; greeting every member when they arrive; calling Brethren to remind them of Lodge Meetings; preparing and presenting Masonic Education; covering an Officer’s Station when there is an absence; helping to clean up after breakfast. The options are endless. If we all did “Just One Thing,” the Lodge, overall, would be better, and we would be better, because we are the Lodge. ☀
I have often quoted a Chinese Curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I have since discovered that this is probably not a Chinese curse at all, but the sentiment is still the same. Interesting times are rarely calm and peaceful. Well Brethren, I believe that we are living in “interesting times.” In order to try to protect ourselves from the possibility of a Pandemic, we have virtually shut down our society, and our Society. Our sacred band or Society of friends and Brothers have been directed not to meet face-to-face for a period of time, awaiting further guidance from the Health Officials.
How do we maintain fellowship with our Brethren during this time of Social Distancing and Quarantine? Be deliberate; have a plan. Do not leave it to chance encounters or leave it to others to do. If you are coming up on a time that, under normal circumstances, you would be attending a Lodge Meeting, or other Masonic-related function, call the Brethren with whom you would normally interact. Set a Conference call or Video Conference to discuss items of interest or just to visit with your Brethren. There are many free options that will facilitate these types of meetings. If you do not use the various versions of Social Media, communicate by text, email or best of all, a phone call.
Challenge your Brethren to consider a part of the Ritual (that can be discussed outside a Tyled Lodge) and hold virtual discussion groups. Send out a link to an interesting Blog Post or Masonic Article (better yet, write your own) then gather your Brethren together, virtually, to discuss. At the scheduled time for our last meeting of Clarence H. Cohen Daylight Lodge 749, we held a meeting via Zoom to respond to questions posed in advance. Brothers Forrester and Moore initiated a Video Cast to share Masonic ideas with the Brethren that login. You are only limited by your imagination, and the Grand Master’s Ruling.
Remember to call and check on your widows and shut-ins (which is most of us now.) Worshipful Masters should develop a calling tree and task his Officers to call and check on all members of the Lodge.
On the other hand, use this time to spend time with your family, as important as Freemasonry can be, it is not more important than your family.
Finally, make plans for a major time of fellowship when we are allowed to gather once again. Make it a purely social event so we can reestablish those bonds of friendship and brotherhood in person.
We use the “Raising” of Hiram from the grave as an allegory of Immortality. Yet, we must remember that, in our own legend (myth) Hiram was NOT raised from death, just brought out of an unhallowed grave to be buried again in hallowed ground.
Grand Master Hiram Abif was buried three times. We should look at these three burials allegorically in Freemasonry and in our own lives. How do we evolve from who we were to who we want to be?
The first burial followed the slaying of Grand Master Hiram Abif by the Lead Ruffian and his two accomplices. The murderers of Hiram represent ignorance, error and intolerance. This burial was done in horror as the Ruffians understood what they had done. This was an unexpected result; they were sure that the Grand Master would give them the Word when threatened with death. They felt that his morals and ethics matched their own; he would act out of the selfishness of saving his own life. Instead he showed true integrity, suffering the killing blow rather than betray his oath.
In a panic, the Ruffians buried him under the Rubbish of the Temple; he was placed in the discard, the stones that the builders rejected. Based on where we historically play out this portion of the Ritual, he was buried in the Northeast Corner of the Lodge, a place of partial darkness.
If we view this part of the allegory to our own lives, it is our attempt to hide our own faults and mistakes. Our first thought is of self; we are disconnected from the world and the consequences of our actions. We have Ruffians in ourselves that will do wrong, then panic to try to avoid disclosure of our own actions acting instinctively, almost animalistic. Ignorance. Error.
The second burial of Hiram Abif was an attempt at a cover-up as the Ruffians attempted to run away from their actions. They felt guilty over what they did, but not repentant. This burial was on a hill, west of Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) while it was a more proper burial, it was in unhallowed ground. His body was buried in the West, away from the light of the East. This burial was planned and done in in order to deceive and hide guilt and shame; but is still self-centered, humanistic.
Viewing this in our own lives, we recognize that we did wrong but still try to hide our mistakes. We deceive ourselves and others, trying to hide our sins. It could be symbolic of us being aware of our shortcomings and the deepness of our flaws, but refusing to acknowledge and own them. Envy. Vanity. Pride. Intolerance.
The Ruffians were discovered and called the penalties upon themselves, but only after they discovered that they could not escape judgment. In some versions, they kill themselves, in others they are killed by the Fellowcraft using the penalties of the three degrees at the order of Most Excellent King Solomon.
We cannot move past this second burial of guilt until we slay the Ruffians that exist within us. In an MSA Short Talk Bulletin from 1927, an unknown author described the Ruffians in our hearts as: Ignorance; Passion and Moral Perversity (deliberately deviating from what is good.) We must take these Ruffians outside the city and execute them. Only after we do so, can we be worthy of the third Burial.
The third burial of Grand Master Hiram Abif was completely different from those preceding it. This was a Burial with honor, celebrating a great and pious man according to his station. He was buried in a hero’s tomb with great processional led by Most Excellent King Solomon himself. A Monument was erected to tell all that this was a great man. He was placed as close to the Sanctum Sanctorum as law would permit. He was finally laid to rest in Hallowed ground. This was a burial with honor. We have left the animal and the human to strive for the Divine within Man.
This is where Masonry happens. Most Excellent King Solomon descended into the grave of a Craftsman, a common man, and he is raised from a “dead level.” Brotherly Love. Relief. Truth.
We hope for a burial that shows that we are loved and respected, as Grand Master Hiram Abif finally received. But he was gone, he knows nothing of what transpired during any of his three burials. Funerals are for the living; they allow us to show respect for the departed.
Our funeral and our burial is not our concern; we should focus on the lesson of our Grand Master Hiram Abif. He was engaged in the work of building a temple, as are we. Our temple is internal, it is built by our character using the building blocks of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. Hiram Abif was steadfast in maintaining the obligation he made to King Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre; we should be just as steadfast in maintaining our obligations to our Craft, our Brethren and our Creator.
Let us live a life respected and die regretted.
1. What is your first reaction when you do wrong?
2. What are the Ruffians in your life that you need to slay?
3. What virtues and characteristics do you think will help us evolve from the animalistic and humanistic?
4. Where is your focus?