The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
BEYOND THE RITUAL
Bro. J. A. Lore
In 1979 R.W. Bro. Herb Laycraft discussed with us our Masonic purpose. It is pertinent to follow this discussion with a topic such as this. Having decided what our Masonic purpose is how do we apply this Masonry to our every day life. In the first charge we are admonished to practice every moral and social virtue. There are numerous sources to guide us in this application of Masonry to our every day life. In the course of the next few minutes, I want to refer to some of these sources.
I recall soon after I joined Masonry I was present when a 50 year jewel was presented to a very fine gentleman. I did not know he was a Mason until that evening, although I knew him as an honourable man, he was rarely at lodge. When the jewel was presented, it was observed that one did not have to go to lodge to be a good Mason. We often find that honourable men, noted men, are Masons. The recipient, on acceptance, said he regretted not having attended lodge more, but that he had “lived” Masonry since he was initiated. Well, what does “living” Masonry mean, if it doesn’t mean going to lodge, or doing lodge work? Initially, the requirement for membership is set out clearly on the application form, that is a belief in a Supreme Being. He further must be well and worthily recommended, and be of good report.
The men who come into Masonry are usually men of some stature. They are leaders more often than followers. This is no coincidence, partly because they are well and worthily recommended, partly because a men must show the interest and initiative to apply, and partly because of a desire to improve himself.
The lambskin apron which we wear has numerous lessons. It reminds us to pursue a purity of life and conduct. But perhaps, sometimes, we become so familiar with our apron that we forget its lessons, and need to be reminded again. We also need enlargement and elaboration on what purity of life and conduct is in our every day life.
When we first are clothed we learn that we should never take a difference to lodge with us. That love and harmony must prevail. At this early stage of Masonry, we learn that life within the Lodge, and life “Beyond the Ritual” are interdependent. The lessons of brotherly love, relief and truth are to be used as a philosophy of life. They are not something we praise inside the lodge, and forget them as we walk out the door.
In our every day life, our values, our landmarks, if you will, are assaulted constantly. Advertising assaults our priorities. Our competitors, indeed, even our colleagues display ethics that shock us. Society accepts conduct that was not acceptable only a few years ago.
I am sure that this truth is obvious to us all. But let me give you a few examples. A California millionaire recently contacted a number of Nobel prize winners asking them to donate sperm to a “Repository of Germinal Choice”. The idea is to supply this sperm to young, bright, healthy women and produce presumably, superior offspring to those that most of us could sire. This proposal is a serious one, and as far as I know, is now in business. I don’t know how many takers there have been to date. One is reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s observation when a notable beauty suggested she and Shaw could have a child superior in intellect because of Shaw’s genes and superior in beauty because of her genes. Shaw declined because the child could inherit his looks and her brains.
Barbara Ameil in a recent MacLean’s column discusses some issues that certainly have some implications that I didn’t learn about in Sunday School. Apparently in response to a question asking “When is sex sinful?” a member of a church task force on human sexuality replied, “When love is not present, when it is exploitive, when it is not socially responsible. Sin is Alienation.”
It is easy to become confused about what purity of life and conducts means in our complicated society. What is there in Masonry to guide us “beyond the ritual”?
The General Charge describes Faith, Hope and Charity as the theological virtues. These virtues are taught early in the Entered Apprentice Degree. How do these virtues affect us beyond the ritual? Faith is declared at the door of the lodge. Faith helps us to establish priorities. It helps us set our in our own mind what is important, and what isn’t. It sets out for us the importance of virtue over material things. We are invited to reflect on our doom’s day and to keep in perspective what is important and what is not.
The Volume of the Sacred Law tells us “A faithful man shall abound with blessings, but he that makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent”.
Why should a faithful man “abound with blessing”? He abounds with blessings because he is at peace with himself. He has it all together. Blessings are not necessarily material. It is a state of mind, but to enjoy that state of mind, he must have faith. Faithful people are necessarily religious, but religious people are not necessarily faithful. Faith is necessary for the chief point in Masonry “to be happy and communicate that happiness to others”.
He that makes haste to be rich shall not be innocent because it suggests that materialism has become his priority. Oscar Wilde said that ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasure house of your soul there are infinitely precious things that may not be taken from you. It isn’t always easy to sort out priorities.
Faith can be shaken. There was a hiker who slipped over a ledge and slid down a steep hill. He was almost to a vertical drop of some hundreds of feet when he caught a small bush and it stopped his slide to death. He called out several times “Is there anybody up there? Please help me!”, hoping someone else on the trail above might hear him. Finally a voice answered “I am up here, and I will help you but first you must let go of the bush.” The hiker looked down the hundreds of feet to the rocks below and said, “who are you?” The voice answered “I am God and I will help you but first you must let go of the bush”. Then the hiker called our “Is there anybody else up there?” The hiker had not enough faith.
Hope is expressed in the self improvement to be gained through Masonry. Hope is defined as “an expectation that what one desires will happen”. A synonym is optimism. There are many references to the hope or expectation that a Mason has or should have for an everlasting life. Optimism is necessary to be happy. It is the opposite of despair. We enter Masonry with a hope of self improvement. As we grow in Masonry our hope grows which brings peace and happiness. The hiker was short of hope as well.
The lesson in charity is received early in Masonry on the NE Angle. Remember the humiliation of being asked to give, when we had nothing to give. We were poor and penniless. Remember how it was to have nothing. The General Charge tells us to act towards our neighbour on the square, by relieving his distresses and soothing his afflictions with justice and mercy.
Masonic charity then is a very personal thing. It is giving of one’s self. It is a dignified relationship between the donor and the donee. It can be financial, but often it is a kind word or a reassurance when it is really needed. An apology when there has been a misunderstanding. It is not a put down, it is a “lift up”. To give Masonic charity our own ego and self assurance must be such that we don’t need to put someone down. We can “lift up” them, in true charity.
A man approached the pearly gates on his departure from earth. St. Peter asked him if he had ever done anything charitable. After some thought he said he recalled having a deduction from his wage for the United Fund, but he petitioned to have the deduction refunded since it was done without his permission. After further thought he said he remembered throwing 25 cents in a Salvation Army pot one Christmas.
St. Peter asked his assistant “What should we do with this man?”
The assistant replied “Let’s give him his 25 cents back and tell him to go to hell.”
It is important to realize that our obligation is not completed by throwing 25 cents in the Salvation Army Christmas Fund. Charity is an obligation through life to act in a charitable manner with all, on a PERSON TO PERSON basis.
Many of us perform our charity through some type of organization. There are many of them in the form of Service Clubs, religious organizations United Appeal, various organizations for specific diseases. This does not exhaust the list and does not suggest that these are not worthy of support. But Masonry teaches charity on a personal basis. Giving to the needy is not money; throwing a few dollars in a charity does not fulfil one’s charitable responsibilities. It is time, it is love, it is understanding, support, defence. Any one of us will need these charities from time to time. Charity is defined not only as “giving help to the poor” but also “kindness in judging the faults of other people”.
Our society tends to look on charity as limited to material things. Those who have faith and hope realize that one can be rich in material things yet be very poor indeed. The converse is also true.
Charity is for the benefit of the receiver. When the Volume of the Sacred Law says, “it is more blessed to give than receive,” it is not referring to the income tax deduction available to the donor if the donation is to a registered charity. It is not referring to the ego building or public relations value of a well publicized charitable act. It is referring to the self satisfaction of helping someone in need, whether it was material goods, given with dignity, or trust, love and understanding given at a time it was needed, to a stranger, a friend, or a member of the family.
I walked into a friend’s place of business in his busy season. In the discussion he revealed plans to travel to B.C. for 3 days. He was an ambitious and conscientious man. Taking a holiday in a busy time was not like him. I asked him if his business extended into B.C. He said “no”. I pried further. He finally told me of a new immigrant to Canada who had been killed in a logging accident. His wife spoke little English and did not understand the laws or the customs in Canada. She had no one to turn to so he was helping her settle the estate and adjust through those difficult times. He is a Mason, and this act was one of his charities.
Another friend invited my wife and I to a Christmas Eve sing-song. A third friend was also invited, but did not arrive till close to midnight. He was single and took much ribbing about where he had been, answering us only with a smile. Several years later I learned by accident that it was this man’s practice on Christmas Eve to visit about a dozen families who were hard pressed financially, with a Christmas turkey apiece and all the trimmings. A gift given with spirit and dignity. It was not even tax deductible. That man is a Mason, and this Christmas Eve travel was one of his charities.
These two examples demonstrate masonic charity. It relates back to faith, and our priority. If our priority is material wealth, charity gives way to selfishness. If our priority is in character, charity becomes a way of life.