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.
PARTICIPATING IS GIVING
Bro. E. J. Thompson
Intro: In preparing this paper I found myself with two problems: (1) I did not know just where the previous discussion would have arrived and (2) the subject “Participation is Giving” is by no means a simple one. I can only present some observations which come to my mind in the hope that (1) they will be provocative i.e., they will provoke you to think for yourself, and (2) they will give you some material for further thought and discussion.
We are all familiar with the word “participation” and we have often been urged to participate more fully in the activities and work of the Masonic Craft. We see that such participation involves giving, i.e., giving of time, giving of treasure, giving of effort, the giving of the very self. In many cases the giving actually means receiving, for when a man gives his time, energy or talents in masonic work he is actually receiving privileges and values that cannot easily be described or measured. For example, the man who undertakes to coach a candidate finds his own grasp and knowledge of the work greatly enriched; or the man who accepts an office and fulfils its duties finds himself enriched by the experience. Yes, participation is giving and giving is receiving. It is written, :It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In fact it blessed both to give and to receive. And it is blessed to participate.
In his paper Brother Postma pointed out that in the erection of a building we begin with an idea, a thought, a conception. We then develop the idea in a blueprint, the plan of the building. Third, we proceed to gather the materials and erect the actual building. Idea, plan and building. The same procedure may be applicable in the building of a life, of human character. The mason is admonished, “Never forget you are a builder.” A builder of what? A builder of human character. We say, “Masonry takes a good man and makes him better.” The procedure is symbolized by the rough ashlar, a crude, unfinished lump of stone which is slowly but steadily shaped and smoothed until it becomes the finished ashlar ready to take its proper place in the total structure. This smoothing and perfecting process is accomplished, I would say, by three factors or agencies: (1) by the man himself, his commitment and efforts, (2) he is assisted by his brethren and the masonic art, and (3) he is assisted by the creative power and presence of the Great Architect of the Universe, by Almighty God Himself. You will see, of course, that it is imperative that the man himself, the individual, commits himself and begins. Without this initial decision and effort on the part of the man himself the brethren, the masonic art and the Almighty can do little. The man must decide, commit himself and begin to participate, to give. Second, the man needs the support and assistance of his brother masons and of the masonic art. He can only receive this influence and help if he keeps in touch with his brethren, by attending Lodge, and by active participation in the life and work of the Lodge and fraternity. It also behove the Brethren and the Lodge to do its part in keeping in touch with and in encouraging the newly initiated brother. Third: The man needs the help and support of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Only be keeping his spiritual life alive and by being active in prayer, meditation and the cultivation of his inner life can a man effectively open his life to the creative presence and power of God. The desire of every mason is well expressed in the words,
“Breathe on me breath of God, Fill me with life anew That I may love what Thou dost love, And do what Thou would’st do.”
What, then, is the ideal of manhood as conceived in the mind of the mason? Let me give you a brief description with which you are already somewhat familiar: We think of a quiet, modest man who fulfils his duties as a man, a subject, a husband and a father; who is ious without hypocrisy, who is charitable and gives generously to those in need; who is loyal as a friend; who enjoys life, but keeps his appetites and passions under firm control; who does not despair when the going is tough, who does not brag when he meets with success. As Dag Hammarskjold wrote: “He bore failure without self-pity, and success without self-admiration.” This man has an open and an informed mind. He recognizes the presence of God in nature and in history; he has a deep faith in God. He has hope for a meaningful future and charity for all about him. He has an honest estimate of his own abilities and of his own weaknesses. He is tolerant of the weaknesses of others. He supports virtue and opposes all vice and wickedness. Such a man is respected by his superiors, revered by his subordinates and enjoyed by all who know him.
This brief description gives us some idea of the true character aspired to by a Mason. This might well be the “blueprint”. Here is a man who cultivates happiness within himself and seeks to transmit happiness to others.
“No vision and you perish; No ideal and you’re lost; Your heart must ever cherish Some faith at any cost. Some hope, some dream to cling to, Some rainbow in the sky, Some melody to sing to, Some service that is high.” (Autermont)
“Masonry is a progressive science.” It begins where we are, it moves steadily forward, onward and upward to its goals. We say, “Masonry takes a good man and makes him better.”
The Volume of the Sacred Law is the first and greatest of the three lights in Masonry. Let me turn, now, to the Bible for some further material. There are many references in scripture to the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Much of this material has been used symbolically by speculative Masonry. Let me read a brief passage which illustrates three points. It is found in 1 Kings, chapter 7:15-22: “He cast two pillars of bronze... Then he made two nets of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals upon the tops of the pillars; a net for the one capital, and a net for the other capital. Likewise he made pomegranates, in two rows round about upon the one network, to cover the capital that was upon the top of the pillar; and he did the same with the other capital. ...He set up the pillars in the vestibule of the temple; he set up the pillar of the south and called its name Jachin; and he set up the pillar on the north and called its name Boaz. And upon the tops of the pillars was lily-work.”
For the layman the “two nets of chains”, the “pomegranates” and the “lily-work” are just decorations. For the speculative mason they are symbols with a much deeper meaning.
If we think of the pillar as the mason or as the masonic lodge we see that three ideas are developed in association with the pillars. (1) The “network of chains”, (2) the “pomegranates”, and (3) the “lily-work”. The network of chains holds together the structure. It symbolizes the togetherness of masons in the Lodge; it illustrates the concept of brotherhood. Each one supports the other in his honest endeavors, each is tied in with the life and development of others. No man is alone. Our lives are inter-related and are interwoven one with another. So it becomes important that our influence and contact with others be constructive and creative. It is quite clear that there are men whose influence is harmful and destructive. The influence of the mason should be positive and constructive. So the network of chains symbolizes the inter-relatedness of our lives and points to the need for and the importance of constructive brotherhood. We are not alone. We are surrounded by brothers who help, inspire and support us in all our best endeavors. The very formation of a masonic lodge is a bringing together of individual men and binding them together. Do you remember the story of the farmer who had seven sons. Knowing that he was soon to die he called them together. He took one stick in his hands and broke it easily. He then took seven sticks tied together in a bundle and demonstrated that he could not break them now. So he encouraged his sons to keep together and support one another, united in brotherhood.
The second motif on the pillars of the temple was the pomegranates. The pomegranate symbolizes fruitfulness. The mason must bring forth fruit. He must produce. Thomas Carlyle one wrote, “Produce! produce! though it be but the most infinitesimal fragment of a product, in God’s name produce it.”
If the pomegranate symbolizes “fruitfulness”, we may well ask, What is it was are to produce? The OPERATIVE Mason might well be asked to produce sheds, houses, buildings, palaces, temples, etc. etc. These are material, physical structures which can be seen, handled and used. The SPECULATIVE mason is asked to produce something much less tangible but something even more real... He is called on to produce those characteristics of man which elevate him from a mere animal to a rational, moral and spiritual being revealing his kinship with the Divine Architect of the Universe. We see man as the animal, man as the rational being, man as the recognizer of moral and ethical principles, and lastly man as the spiritual being. Man the animal is the “rough ashlar”; man as the rational, moral and spiritual being relates to the “perfect ashlar”. It is through the development of the rational, the moral and the spiritual that we begin to fulfil our true destiny. It is written, “By their fruits ye shall know them”.
Let me turn again to the Volume of the Sacred Law for a description of the “fruits of the Spirit.” Galations 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These are the characteristics which we are admonished to cultivate in our lives and characters.
It may be of interest to read another list of things which the writer of this passage believes should have no place in our lives: These are, “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strive, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like....”
No one wants to indulge in moralizing, or to be saying what another person shall do or shall not do. But it is useful to see a list of the characteristics associated with the concept of a good man; and it is useful to have a list of actions and characteristics to be avoided if we are serious about the progress from the rough ashlar to the perfect ashlar.
It is easy to complain about “sex and violence”, drugs and alcohol, cheating and graft, cruelty and greed — what is needed is a better grasp of the noble characteristics of man and a more diligent effort to produce those characteristics in our lives. Let me ask: Besides grumbling about the decaying moral values of our civilization what have we done to produce strong, upright, eternal values in human life and in human society? It has been said, “Not even a donkey can pull and kick at the same time!” Have we been so busy kicking at the faults and failings of man and society that we have had no time or energy to build and strengthen the moral fibre of persons and of society as a whole?
We have looked at the symbolism of the “net-work of chains” and the symbolism of the “pomegranates”. Now let us look at the symbolism of the “lily-work” on the tops of the pillars. Some practical person may ask, if you have a strong, sturdy, well-proportioned pillar why take time and energy to carve “lily-work” on their tops? The answer seems to be that while strength is good, strength accompanied by beauty is better. Many of you will recall the references to the three pillars, Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. There is a deep hunger in the human spirit for whatsoever is beautiful. Each one of the senses is involved. The eye loves colour and shape; the ear appreciates melody, harmony and rhythm; the nose enjoys the smells and fragrances all about; the taste discriminates between and enjoys foods and flavours; the hand touches the various textures and shapes of things and beings. Man has never been satisfied with the functional alone. He want attractiveness and beauty added to usefulness. He has developed a vast array of art in architecture, in sculpture, in painting, in music and in many other areas. So it is with the character of man. Added to rugged strength, keen rationality and discriminating morality there needs to be graciousness, charm, humour and laughter, sensitivity and kindness. Such characteristics are the “lily-work” on the top of the pillars. They are the grace and charm so appreciated and loved when found in human character. In his play “Julius Caesar”, Act V, sc v. Shakespeare describes a great man is these words:
“His life was gentle: and the elements So mix’d in him, that Nature might stand up, And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Such is my brief and inadequate discussion of the symbolism of the “network of chains”, the “pomegranates”, and the “lilywork” found on the pillars Jachin and Boaz. It remains for me to emphasize again the importance of your personal decision and commitment in the whole matter of character building. There has been far too much time given to EXPLAINING AWAY the importance f individual decision, individual commitment and individual effort in developing human character. We have blamed and ‘genes’, the inherited structures, the environmental factors which surround us, and the pressures and fashions of the crowd which impinge upon us. We have tried to explain away the supreme importance of our personal decision and our personal commitment. In this paper I have tried to set before you something of the goal. Now it remains for each one of you to renew your decision to resolve upon a fresh and active commitment to give and to participate.
Let me quote the words of Robert Louis Stevenson in his poem, My Task:
“To be honest, to be kind; To earn a little and to spend a little less; To make upon the whole a family happier for his presence; To renounce when that shall be necessary and not to be embittered; To keep a few friends, but those without capitulation — Above all, on the same grim conditions, to keep friends with myself — Here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.”