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.
NIGHT, THE PROFANE DARKNESS
Bro. Norman Senn
“Well I have sealed my oath by kissing the V.S.L. as I was instructed but I’m still curious about that promise I just made even if they do say the words have another meaning. this darkness seems never ending, I wonder what happens next? What is already happening makes me wonder how I really got here......”
These may be some of the thoughts of the E.A. at this stage of his Initiation and I feel I should look back for him at the world outside the symbolic one established by our Lodge.
Chaos seems to be the best term to describe the world situation of the present day for as I compose this paper in January, I cannot be absolutely sure that the world will last until the day of presentation. The possibility of a holocaust resulting from the discovery of atomic power by an amoral group of scientists has made us play the new game of “Who’s got the bomb?” I cannot condemn the people involved for I am a scientist myself, but I am saddened to know that the happy useful existence which should be ours, is jeopardized by our sitting on the precipitous edge of sudden extinction.
There is no-one to blame for this situation but ourselves and it is created because of our short sighted views combined with destructive nationalistic fervour. We mouth platitudes and play mental games about resolving the problems of the world but we seldom do anything active about it. when we do act it is only for a minute portion of the global population.
Let us look at a few of our fellow citizens, and I do not exclude all of us from falling into some of these categories, but fortunately few of my Masonic brothers possess any of these attributes.
Vancouver attempted to ban a paper which was produced by a Hippie group. The copy I saw sickened me with its obscenities, its immoral attitudes, its “take all you can get” attitude and the thought that it was being sold in schools was horrifying until I realized that the authors are OUR children, born in OUR time and the result of OUR training. They are not always the “other persons” children, and we avoid facing the truth if we attempt to pass off the responsibility for what has, and is happening. This group is the product of a weak, insipid educational system that has had all its teeth drawn because strong original views are suppressed. Take the middle path is often taught, which means the same as “don’t rock the boat”. this lesson is always adopted by those who lack the knowledge to realize that their security is enhanced by change and not threatened,as is feared.
We supply our love for children in dollars and very seldom save a little time. Everything a child gets nowadays is tagged with a dollar label, and looking at the size of the gifts if seems that the golden platter is becoming bigger and bigger. Children no longer express true gratitude and they frequently reject those who do not supply cash type affection. From this mercenary approach stems an almost complete boredom, similar to that of the very rich who have ceased taking an active part in life. It seems that saturation of the environment with possessions destroys the spirit. It is no small wonder that our Hippie groups, having little to challenge them, spend much of their time, and our welfare funds, in protesting everything including those taxes which support them! Do not pity them, for they do not demand anything but understanding in a changing world which lacks definite moral codes, laws or even virtues.
Think for a moment on what the Hippie desires — LOVE — is that such a bad thing? In fact is it not the basis for Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and most other faiths? Where the Hippie makes his mistake is in expressing it in a way that shows he interprets this to be only the sexual kind of love.
Love means only affection and understanding for others and its reciprocation. Are the young in fact trying to make up for a “love-in” that their parents never had time to give them and which could have eliminated this problem group. The simple story hour, the play-times that parents once had with children, the few minutes of cuddle that was not a snatched minute before bridge or golf? These are the things our children lack. Hippies are searching in a confused world, for “something”, and as their IQ’s tend to be high, their search might be more fruitful than ours. Think, my brethren, do we object to their aims, their attitudes, or their archetypes?
The mobility of the family constantly enters discussions because this can be the start of family breakdown, which is becoming ever more evident. The ‘average’ Canadian moves once every 4½ years which means many people never really belong to a community, children never really belong to a school, friendships are always temporary and all this in the face of the fact that man is a social creative who has a strong need to belong to a group. With this sobering thought we have one sign of what man seeks — a place to belong.
Marriage is weakening with our younger generation, and the ease with which partners can be sloughed off, or abandoned, leads many to avoid the effort of legalizing their commitment to a partner or the product of their union. The pre-marital relationship which is becoming common now, is a further reflection of the seeking for LOVE by those who cannot differentiate between the love of mankind and sex.
I can remember the saying that the family that prays together, stays together but what happens in the many cases where the only church visits are for the three basic ceremonies: baptism, marriage and burial. The first and last being outside our control (we are carried in both). The middle one can be avoided by civic ceremonies. What of the family that does not get together long enough for a united prayer, those who do not know how to pray and even those who actively avoid prayer? We know of course that these people find prayers quickly enough when in extremis.
Chaos — Chaos! What in God’s name can we do?, and in that commonly heard blasphemous use of God’s name is really the answer to everything. Anything, if really in God’s name, will begin to solve the problems. Firstly — WE MUST REACH OUT FOR GOD. It is only in striving to emulate the pattern for man suggested by philosophers and prophets who teach a philosophy associated with those religions where brotherhood is a cornerstone, that we can hope to come out of life with a useful existence behind us. God gives us the support of the past, the stability for today, and the hope for tomorrow. (We will look at this stability later for the term can turn away those we hope to reach if wrapped in misconception.) Secondly, we must examine our educational system in which we teach abstract subjects or skill subjects but do not, or will not, teach any type of value system or morality? When I say teach, I do not mean just in formal lecture either. We approach closer and closer to the time when the final examination, which already guides the material taught, will be provided beforehand and specific answers taught.
It is our responsibility to see that educationalists, and we ourselves, create in the young a desire to learn; a desire to seek problems and answer them; to create questions, for questions are the stimulus to further understanding. We must make young people realize that formal education is only a beginning and that life itself is the school in which we must operate. We must keep up with the ever expending environment around us, so that we may expand with it. We must become enlightened — - this is a beautiful word, for it embodies the feeling of open mindedness, clarity of thought, sensitivity to problems, flexibility in response to new patterns, and generosity of spirit — - and we can, by using our God given minds and bodies in a valuable way. Masonry shows such a way through basic allegory of light.
Now I have said that Masonry shows the way, but it certainly does not carry us along that way, for there is a further fault with man which I have not mentioned before and that we must discuss, and that is he is lazy. think back to the cold winter night when you were not actually taking a part in the evening’s activities at Lodge, or elsewhere, when you have said “Oh, I don’t think I will go tonight”. The reason being that your mind had thought out the steps of coat, hat, scarf, overboots on, clear some of the path, clean off the car, drive cautiously, struggle out of the clothing — and repeat it all on the way home; and this has been rejected as too difficult. Absolute honesty is required if you wish to deny this one! You may be the exception for your presence here is a sign of your effort, but perhaps on that cold winter night..... this laziness extends in to all walks of life with what we can call the “avoidance syndrome” and yet we are North American males who have a life expectation in excess of 70 years, which would be increased with a little more exercise, and are considered among the healthiest people in the world. the cosy house, the sumptuous meals, the insipid T.V., the glut of fictional drivel, the predigested news, all lead the modern man to take the easy path of drifting along with the tide of humanity. We, Brethren, want to remove ourselves from the problems of existence. We are attempting to return to the womb as a race, where we parasitised another human and had neither problems nor effort for our continued existence.
We must carefully look at all this and think of the many other areas I have not had time to touch, before we carry on, for all this confusion creates in many, as they mature, desire to find stability. Not the deathly stability of inaction, but the aggressive stability of finding a defined path, a role that makes one worth-while, a sense of belonging, and the means by which one can use efforts to the benefit of others. where can man find this stability?.... why brethren he must look for it. It does not exist for one to catch in a net like a butterfly; it can only be found and expressed in action, for it is a dynamic thing and Masons are one of a few groups who show stability. Do not let us think we are the ONLY group, but there are certainly not many. Masons seem to live useful functional lives, taking active roles in their communities and finding lasting friendships in their widespread Lodges. They do not use Masonry as an excuse for excesses, but no one quite knows what they actually do....!
I would like to look at a picture here, it is the “Creation of Adam” and is part of the mural in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome. Michelangelo painted it and I think the way he shows the hands is significant. Look at the way in which god reaches out for man and the limp way in which man sags his hand.... Masonry offers the strong hand of God to the limp belief of man and by encouragement and brotherly love can inspire man to become strong. Let us keep the picture in mind as an inspiration for our future masonic talks, remembering that we must keep our proffered help strong and firm.
The man who has now seen the Masons in his community and feels they offer the stability he requires, has to make the first approach and we must make every effort to create the best possible impression by talking frankly and honestly about our fraternity. We must give the interested person the feeling that we want HIM as much as he needs US. We must never close doors by making ourselves appear exclusive but we must ask him questions about what HE is looking for, so that we do not suggest, by omission, that we are other than what we are. If we do not meet his needs we should not waste his time.
If his interest has been raised to the stage where definite action is to be taken we now have a “candidate” who will be asked the three basic questions on God and his correct answer must be known by his sponsors before they sign their names to his application. The questions are so simple, so precise and so significant that in a way they alone would create a wonderful world but alas — - we know better than that. The questions, which require a belief in god’s existence; in the fact that retribution for good and evil is inevitable; and that God has expressed the grand pattern, are the single common ground on which all Masons stand. We ask the questions for the simple reason that the superstructure can only be built upon foundations that do not crumble and God is our foundation. The candidate is now going to reach out more than Adam did in the picture... this is positive action starting, but we must remind him of the womb that I mentioned before, so we give him physical darkness and an umbilical cord. We also approximate him to his worldly possessions at birth which were zero. the cable tow at this time is not quite the same as the distance reference used later which is suggested as being about three miles.
While we prepare him for initiation we must be cautious that no one in any way suggests that the proceedings are a huge joke or that dreadful surprises are in store. The moment this mistake is made the candidate is overcome the candidate is overcome with FEAR and this is one of the very causes of darkness that we are trying to remove. Comfort, reassure and inform him of the allegorical statements that he should listen to with care. Explain that he will not be rushed into any answers he may be required to make, and that all brethren have experienced the same ceremony in the past. Remember that we will be his masonic brethren later but even now we are brethren in God. This last is so important that perhaps a reminder of the old school joke is in order “What was the biggest Island before Australia was discovered?” — the answer “Australia” can be analogous to one finding a Craft brother in an existent brother.
When he is prepared and has knocked at the lodge door he is asked more questions and these assure us that HE has sought the Craft. This clearly removes Masonry from the task of actively converting rebels but it also requires us to work doubly hard to express the true masonic pattern of life so that it is always clearly shown when the seeker meets a practising Mason.
Free-born is of course an ancient term related to serfdom. We should perhaps relate this in present days to a freeness of spirit, the ability, and willingness to change our total life pattern in order to better carry out the purpose of life. We must be mature enough to benefit from exposure to the masonic teachings and we must be of such good report that no man can point to the Craft as harbouring undesirables.
From the moment of the knock at the door, which is so symbolic of those words we well know “...knock and it shall be opened unto you...” we in our Lodge have a view of the candidate but to the candidate we are invisible.
The sword, which while symbolizing war and bloodshed if used aggressively, can also act as a strong indicator of our determination to maintain inviolate the mysteries of the Craft and this is pointedly brought to the candidates’s attention by a most obvious method. The symbolic walk around the Lodge allows for viewing by the brethren and also follows the pattern of the G.A.O.T.U. who was originally thought to have made all things rotate in the clockwise direction. The sun of course was always observed to apparently move this way and sun worship was one of the earliest beliefs incorporated in later religions. It further symbolizes our search — we are on a long path and cannot just “drop” into the truth of Masonry.
The prayer is a beautiful supplication to God on behalf of the candidate and this is followed by the obligation which is simply a system of rules set out for the advantage of the brotherhood and to maintain its mysteries. These mysteries are to be kept secret in words but practised to the full, for some of the secrets are the very allegories which give us our moral precepts for life and, for true Masons, must become an integral part of their everyday actions.
The position of the altar, at which our candidate now kneels, must be a constant reminder to him that God is the centre of his existence, and his beliefs. We must keep it clearly in his mind that we have no specific religion as such within our Lodge, but that each member must participate actively in his own particular faith as WELL as subscribe to the high principles of the Craft. We may, therefore, have a V.S.L. of any faith or more than one faith upon our altar.
While he kneels there we must constantly consider him — now and throughout his Craft life, we must see that he understands what we give — or else we waste OUR time, we must see that we are fully prepared and accurate in our presentations otherwise we waste HIS time, and we must see that later explanations build upon earlier knowledge and that we do not give isolated bits of unrelated information. finally, we must carefully look on his initiation as an area of Masonic work in which it is our personal responsibility to find hidden meanings to meet present-day situations, remembering always that there is never a right or wrong allegorical interpretation.
There he kneels — he has taken his obligation, sealed his oath on the V.S.L. and wonders what next......
My brethren — the darkness is still without poor blind candidate, but how do you feel about what he has moved from, and what he has experienced?