Freemasonry: It’s a tricky concept full of both mystery and meaning with interpretations as varied as the men throughout the world who make up this ancient order. In fact, Freemasonry is practiced in many different forms across the globe. But as members of the Craft, if we’re not all practicing the same ritual and forms, then how can we know if we’re doing it right? What makes up the “free” in Freemasonry?
Is it a physical freedom? Doubtful. As Bro. Julian Rees points out in his book, The Stairway of Freemasonry, we give up many of our basic freedoms the moment we set foot in an open Lodge. We enter blind and under the strict guidance of a strong hand, giving up our ability to see and choose our own path. We are bound by a cable tow to remind us that refractory behavior (that which is stubborn or unmanageable) may result in our removal from the Lodge. Officers tell us when to sit, how to stand, and where to go throughout the initiatic experience and even what to say when addressing the Worshipful Master or after the close of a prayer.
But if Freemasons have such limited freedoms, then what’s the point we’re missing? Are we doing it wrong?
Perhaps the answer isn’t in our physical freedoms so much as in our mental acumen. The physical restrictions only help to define both the pathway toward inner enlightenment and the mental freedom to pursue a more moral existence. They free us from the interference of pettiness and selfishness, thereby allowing us to grow and improve inwardly. The symbolism in the Great Lights - the Holy Bible, square, and compasses - is a perfect example. As we travel down the pathway toward enlightenment, we should govern our actions and interactions with others with the guidance of the sacred writings of our faith; the reminder of the square, that we should treat others as we would like to be treated; and the lesson of the compasses, that we are always responsible for maintaining control of our passions when dealing with all people, particularly our Brethren in Freemasonry.
If you find your Masonic experience is lessened because of a specific dress code or the fact that you owe dues by a certain date, then maybe you’re doing it wrong. If you find your Masonic experience unsatisfying because you cannot reject a man’s petition simply because you don’t like him, then maybe you’re doing it wrong. If you’re not concentrating on improving your ability to listen and understand alternate points of view, then maybe you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself unable to focus on perfecting your own actions and attitudes toward all men, then maybe you’re doing it wrong.
However, in the midst of any of these mistakes, there is hope. The Ancient Charges at Initiation, Passing, and Raising, as well as those used at the opening and closing of a Lodge, give very specific instructions on our moral duties as Freemasons. Look to your Brother for comfort, relief, and truth; look to those in authority for guidance and wisdom; and look to the Great Architect for compassion and strength. Free yourself by digging deep and chipping away at those rough corners that prevent you from fulfilling your potential. Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable; but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” We should all continue to refine the rough stones of our own inner temples, so that one day, when our labors are complete, the Master will find our work plumb, level, and square. Then we’ll be able to say, “Maybe we did do it right.”