No Explanation Necessary*Previously published in Volume 12, Issue 1, of "The Mariner Lighthouse," the official publication of Mariner Lodge No. 2, A.F.M. of S.C.
Last year my boss asked me a question as I was in mid-meltdown about the latest lodge crisis – “Isn’t Masonry supposed to be something you do to relax? Why is there so much controversy?” I didn’t have a good answer for him, any more than I have a good answer for my wife who listens to me vent from time to time and often asks the same question. One reason for my frustration was the simple fact that a lot of people who have never been master of a Lodge seem to think that simply by virtue of being the master of your Lodge you can fix whatever is wrong by sheer force of will combined with the respect you command as the master. I’ve said this to some Past Masters and invariably they smile and nod sagely as if I finally understand one of the great mysteries of life. What makes that attitude so irritating to a Lodge master is that at least on some level you yourself thought the same thing until you were actually inducted into the Oriental Chair of King Solomon and suddenly came face –to-face with the reality of the office. In theory, masters are wise, proficient in the work, and armed with the respect of all the brothers of the Lodge who all want to pull together for the good of the Lodge. In practice you may not be as wise as you think you are, and you’re dealing with a lot of different people with different levels of motivation, each with their own separate agenda which may or may not be compatible with yours, or even with Masonry itself.
One of the unfortunate realities of Masonry is that some Masons just don’t get it. They are like the seed that falls among the weeds and rocks - it just never takes root and grows. They may come to lodge and hear the ritual over and over, and comment among themselves about who said a wrong word, or left out a phrase, but somehow the very words they have committed to memory never sink in. They are either unable or unwilling to buy into the concept of what Masonry really is. It’s disappointing how many Masons just scratch the surface of what Masonry is, what it could be to their lives and those of the people they interact with. They think Masonry begins and ends with learning the ritual. They never stop to think of applying the ritual to their lives, even though that is exactly what the ritual tells us to do. Fortunately for us all, some of the seed falls on fertile ground and bears fruit, or Masonry never would have gotten to us.
America was founded in large part by Masons. America has not survived and prospered for nearly two and a half centuries simply because the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights are beautifully worded documents. America has survived because of what those documents instruct us and our leaders to do. And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize how much better our country would be if more people put their time and energy into following the spirit of those instructions, instead of dissecting them looking for a way around them. Likewise, Masonry has not survived for hundreds of years because it has a beautiful ritual. For one thing that beautiful ritual we are all familiar with is only the latest iteration of a ritual that has been constantly evolving since the early 1600s when it wasn’t nearly as beautiful. Masonry has survived because of what that beautiful ritual encourages us to do. Masonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The problems start when Masons don’t take the time and effort to learn to understand the symbolism in the ritual so they can see through the veil of allegory to get to the morality. We get so caught up in learning the letter of the ritual that we lose the spirit of it. A lot of Masons memorize the ritual to be able to recite it, rather than to be able to live by it. But just mouthing words we don’t understand is not Masonry. We have to learn to listen to what the words say. If you were dying would you rather have a minister at your bedside who can recite the entire Holy Bible from Genesis to Revelations, or one who knew a few less verses but had a close personal relationship with God?
Don’t misunderstand me, learning the ritual is vital to being able to put on degrees that enlighten and move our candidates so that of their own free will and accord they make the decision in their own hearts to become better human beings. But when we recite the ritual as fast as we can like a child reciting bible verses in Sunday School, the poor blind candidate simply can’t absorb and experience what the men who wrote the ritual intended. And we’ve wasted our time, as well as his time and squandered a priceless opportunity. It’s not true that if you say it fast enough, you’ll get it all out without forgetting something. And unfortunately when the words come at you too fast to comprehend, even Masons who have heard it before don’t get the full impact. With enough patience, a parrot could probably be taught to repeat our ritual perfectly, but it wouldn’t make him a better parrot. A chimpanzee could probably be taught to walk clockwise around an altar carrying a staff, while three others sit in tall chairs and rap a gavel when someone approaches. But neither creature is capable of an understanding of what it’s all about and thereby becoming a better version of himself. If we as men don’t strive for an understanding of what the men who wrote the ritual were trying to teach us, then we reduce ourselves to something far less than the enlightened men the men who entrusted the ritual to us intended us to be.
“For those who get it, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible.”
Tom Lewis, Jr PM 32° KT KRC
PM Mariner Lodge #2 Charleston, SC
Life Member Jackson Lodge #45, Jackson TN"Fraternitas Humana Sub Paternus Deus”