Sunday, August 24, 2014

Maybe You're Doing It Wrong

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.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Good in the Bad

I’d like to tell you a story. It’s the story of a man, but begins with a boy. One day, several years ago, a young boy - he was about ten years old at the time - was kidnapped from his middle-class parents’ home. There were no news crews with bright lights; no outcry of social media. The perpetrators took the boy very quickly and very violently from his home in Britain and sold him into slavery in another country. The child was put to work tending livestock for unforgiving masters in a foreign land. He was made a shepherd, this young boy, and forced to live and work with limited human contact in a bitterly isolated area.

Think of yourself at that age, being faced with such a situation. The thought that “life’s not fair” seems to be a bit of an understatement. But that’s pretty much the point, isn’t it? Life is rarely what we expect it to be and even less often is it what we think we deserve. However, instead of lamenting “if only this had been better,” or “that had been different,” the question we ought to be asking is, “What can I do with what I have?”

Back to the story: if you were expecting this incredible difficulty somehow to turn into an incredible blessing, then good for you. The boy looked inward for his strength, meditating and controlling his thoughts, fears, and emotions. He had not been raised in a religious family, but he quickly found focus and peace of mind through prayer. So he prayed, and prayed, and prayed; and six years into his forced captivity, he heard an answer.

The boy, now a young man, heard a voice, and that voice told him that a ship would take him home. Sometimes that’s all we need - a little direction. The young slave escaped his captors, made his way cross-country to a seaport, and convinced a group of sailors to let him board their ship bound for Britain and home.

But things were not the same. He was not the same. The boy who was taken from his family had returned home a changed man - a spiritual man. He devoted his energies to his new calling and entered the priesthood, all the time determined to return to the land of his captivity as a missionary. Several years later, he got his wish when Pope Celestine I consecrated the priest, Patrick, Bishop of Ireland. The year was approximately 431 A.D..

During that period of history, Ireland was considered “a land outside of time.” It was a culture of semi-nomadic, illiterate, Iron Age warriors, whose wealth was based on herding and slavery. For centuries, the Roman Empire had expanded its control and ideas of civilization from Africa to Britain, but they had never conquered Ireland. So how did the slave-boy turned bishop plan to turn an island of warring Celts into a literate and peaceful people? He began by teaching people to read. And amazingly, when students became teachers and spread throughout the land, they also brought the knowledge of how to turn sheepskin into paper, and paper into books. Copying religious manuscripts became a major activity among the growing number of Christian monks on the island. Monks spent their entire lives copying books, and not only the Holy Bible. They reprinted the great works of Roman culture, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts; grammar; the works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer; Greek philosophy; math; geometry; and astronomy. When the Roman Empire finally fell, the accumulated knowledge contained in these copied manuscripts was not lost to the Dark Ages that followed. Bishop Patrick had turned his suffering into purpose, helped to introduce culture and civilization to a pagan people, nearly eliminated the practice of slavery on the island, and for his efforts, he was made a saint - Saint Patrick.

“Quite a story,” you might think, “but what’s that got to do with me?”

Just this: there will come a time when you will find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable and subject to circumstances not necessarily of your own making. When you face these issues, what are you going to do? You may not have all the answers or a solution that you even partially like, but keep in mind that these issues that are causing you so much grief may turn out to be the very motivation you need to turn a bad situation into something good.

Hundreds of years after the time of Saint Patrick, a Persian poet named Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi came to a similar conclusion when he wrote:

“The Guest House”

This being human is a guesthouse.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 


“St. Patrick.” 2014. website. Apr 13 2014

Khan, Adam. “A Slave to His Destiny.” 2014. After Hours Inspirational Stories website. Apr 13 2014

Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Print.

Rumi, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad. “The Guest House.” The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition. Tr. Coleman Barks. New York: HarperCollins. 2004. Print.