Freemason, Masonic, Masonry, Scottish Rite

Active Thinking in Freemasonry

When I was in the Army, I attended training to learn to be a Cryptanalyst; one who decrypts encrypted information. I saw a picture of William and Elizabeth Friedman and their team that broke the Japanese code “Purple” during World War II. On the wall behind them was a sign that simply said “Think.” This always struck me; whatever we are engaged in, we should think. I can’t say that I have always lived up to this, but I try and it has helped me in my vocations and avocations. Sometimes my thinking got me in trouble, I used to think of ways to blow my boss’s plan out of the water, I always told him that it was to help him build a better plan; but sometimes it was just to be a jerk.

I like to bring this level of thinking into my Freemasonry as well. I try to think about why we do certain things; this has led to moments I like to call, “Oh wow.” When something finally makes sense, you finally ‘get it.’ We are told that Freemasonry is “a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” We can never fully understand the lessons embodied in these symbols and allegories, if we do not think about their meaning. The most fascinating and well-balanced Masons I know all have one thing in common: they think about Freemasonry. They do not just hear the words of the Ritual and wonder how long the meeting will last. They ponder the meaning of the words that are spoken. They use Active Thinking to make their Masonic experience more meaningful.

Our thinking is either Active or Passive.  Passive thinking goes on without much effort; in Freemasonry, the ‘familiar’ does not require thought…we know the ritual. Our memories aid us in letting these lessons pass by us without giving them much thought. We go through our meetings in a fog, perking up only when someone gets the words wrong, and then we pay attention. We wait, almost eagerly for the business portion of the meeting, even though that is not why we are there and we complain about it taking too long. We can learn by Passively listening to a lecture, the repetition can help us to ‘remember’ maybe even ‘understand’ but it will not help us with higher level skills, applying what we have heard or learned. We can even look at learning our catechism for Proficiency as Passive Thinking; while we had to memorize the words spoken, we did not necessarily actively think about the meaning of these words. We accept whatever we hear, our goal is to memorize answers. What do we have to know to pass proficiency? Catechism = brain dump.

Active Thinking involves questions. What does the Ritual mean? What is the goal of the lessons inculcated in the three degrees? How does this information guide me in transforming myself into a better man? How might I use this information in the future? Active thinking is a form of critical thinking. It is analyzing information that is being projected to the individual by external stimuli. This is much deeper than passive thought. Rather than letting something pass by unexamined, sent to the subconscious, Active Thinking permits us to analyze the thought or situation. The result is that we truly understand ourselves and our ritual.

I challenge you to listen critically to the Ritual; think about the things said. Ask why, ask what, and think about what things mean. What lessons should we learn from the Three Great Lights?  What is the meaning of our Working Tools, why do we do the things we do? Once you have learned to do this and subsequently learned the lessons of our Craft, you can continue to build the structure you began when you stood in the Northeast Corner of the Lodge as the youngest Entered Apprentice Mason. When you have taken the time to ponder the Ritual and the meaning of all we do, you can sometimes rest from your labors. Sit back and let the words of the Ritual wash over you without thinking about their meaning, you don’t need to think, you will know.

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Freemason, Masonic, Masonry, Scottish Rite

The Line

In other Jurisdictions, there are various Working Tools of the Degrees that we do not use in our Ritual. The Chisel is added to the Common Gavel and the Twenty-four Inch Gauge in the First Degree, these are the tools of “Preparation”; the Second Degree is still the Square, Level and Plumb, these are the tools of “Proof”; the Third Degree working tools are the Skirret, Pencil and Compasses, the tools of “Plan”.

I will save the discussion of the symbolism of these working tools for another time, what I want to talk about today is the “Line.” The Line is not a tool, it is the product of some of these tools, specifically the Plumb, Skirret, Pencil and Compasses.

The Plumb Line is well-known, it instructs us to live our lives according to that upright line demonstrating rectitude of conduct. As the Fellowcraft Working Tools Lecture tells us, “The plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations before God and man.”

In the Masonic Graveside Service, the Worshipful Master says, “Let us so regulate our lives by the line of faithfulness, rectitude and truth, that in the evening of our days we may be found worthy to be called from labor to refreshment, and be well prepared for translation from the terrestrial to the celestial Lodge to join the fraternity of the Spirits of just men made perfect.”

The other key reference to the Line in our Ritual or Lectures is in the Installation Ceremony for the Worshipful Master. When installing a newly elected Worshipful Master, the installing officer references several items: The Holy Writings, the Great Light in Masonry; The Square; The Compasses; The Rule. These are all familiar, but then he says this to the new Worshipful Master, “The Line teaches us the criterion of moral rectitude, to avoid dissimulation in conversation and action, and to direct our steps to the path which leads to immortality.” Where does this line come from and what is our use of it in Speculative Freemasonry?

The Skirret is better known today as a Chalk Line. It is used to lay a center line from which all other measurements are taken. It must be accurate and unmoving; any deviation can cause irreparable harm to the rest of the structure. This line symbolizes the line we must draw to help us keep our promises and obligations: to stay with the Plan. To stay on the Straight and Narrow. In today’s world of moral ambiguity and laxness, this line will be not just a guide, but also a lifeline.

So, what do the Pencil and Compasses have to do with the Line we have been discussing? The Pencil is used by the Master to draw the designs upon the Trestle-board for the Craft to go about their labors. For the Lodge, the Worshipful Master is responsible to “set the Craft at labor” using the designs he has laid out on the Trestle-board. The pencil is symbolically used to communicate and describe the work to be done. The Master draws his lines upon the trestle-board; but with a difference from the Line laid down by the Skirret. The Master can use the Compasses, with the Pencil, based on his Wisdom to inscribe arcs, circles and other designs to make the structure Stronger and more Beautiful. In our lectures we learn how Geometry allows us to go from a Point to a Line, from a Line to a Surface, and from a Surface to a Solid. We describe Geometry as the first and most noble of sciences, “it is the basis on which the superstructure of Masonry is erected.”

As individual Masons, we also use these tools to lay out the plans for our own actions. We learn in the Northeast Corner Lecture, that the edifice we as Speculative Masons are building is our own Moral and Upright life. We are using the tools and symbols of the Craft to build ourselves as better men better fathers and fonder husbands.

The Pencil is used for more than drawing on the Trestle-board. We use it to learn, to teach and to communicate. What is the truth of what you learn, teach and communicate? “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on and neither all your piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash away a word of it.” The Pencil should be a reminder to us to communicate in love and forbearance in keeping with our vocation as Master Masons.

The Pencil allows the architect to draft a plan for a building or to give instruction to the craftsmen. The Great Architect of the Universe laid His plans upon the Eternal Trestle-board for us to follow. We must interpret and understand His plan for the details of the design for our lives and we will be judged by our adherence to His plan. We need good light in order to read His plan; we find that light in the Great Light of Freemasonry, the Holy Writings.

Let us consider how we use these tools to draw the Line of conduct that we should follow and the example we should give those less informed. Stay on the Line, stick with the Plan.

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