Vol. XLIX No. 12 — December 1971
This Short Talk is an address delivered at the Grand Lodge Banquet during the 82nd Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of North Dakota held in Bismarck on June 15, 1971, by M.W. Brother B. Stuart Parker, Past Grand Master of Masons in Manitoba. We are grateful for his permission to reprint it as a Short Talk Bulletin.
What I have in mind this evening is to develop a simple theme on the subject of Freemasonry that I trust will be of interest to the ladies present as well as to the Brethren. I should like to attempt to sketch out my concept of the true heart of the Fraternity, the source of the power that Freemasonry has to develop such an intense loyalty in the hearts of the husbands and fathers and sons who are its members. This is not easy to do because Freemasonry becomes a very personal thing to each member. I suppose there are as many different concepts of Freemasonry as there are Brethren who are present here tonight. What I should like to do is indicate my personal concepts by the use of allegories and metaphors.
Freemasonry is a stream of crystal clear water running through the fields of time. Members leave its ranks as they are drawn upward by the heavens; members enter as the falling rain. This gives a hint of the eternal life that our Fraternity can possess and the pride we have in belonging to an institution that by now is historically and factually the oldest Fraternity known to mankind. If a fraternity is a communion between the dead and living and the yet unborn, Freemasonry is indeed a great Fraternity.
Alexander the Great during one of his campaigns once had a young legionnaire brought before him charged with having deserted the front lines during a long siege. Alexander questioned the young lad and found that he was also named Alexander. He said, "You have no choice but to be in the front ranks. We bear a great name." We Masons bear a great name too.
Freemasonry is the sun. The lessons of the Fraternity are like the rays of the sun, each one pure and beautiful in itself; yet we know that in the stratosphere the rays of the sun are cold and lifeless. They only acquire the great powers of life and warmth and growth that they possess when they are reflected from the surface of the earth in the proper atmosphere. And so it is with the lessons of Freemasonry; they only acquire the great powers of which they are capable when they are reflected by our own personal conduct in our daily contacts with our fellowmen. Freemasonry only becomes alive when it is translated into action in our daily lives.
Freemasonry is a flower. The philosophy and the principles and the ideals of the Fraternity, its ritual and symbolism, are like the petals of the flower. Each one is pure and beautiful in itself; but the heart of the flower, that which unites these petals into one perfect and complete whole, is friendship and brotherly love.
Freemasonry is a temple, a temple of peace, harmony and brotherly love. The cornerstone of this temple is a belief in the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. The foundations are all of those qualities of right living that build character and citizenship-all of the qualities that we demand of those who petition for membership in our institution.
The superstructure is made up of that particular choice of spiritual values and moral standards that Freemasonry has chosen to emphasize. The four cardinal virtues are temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. The theological virtues are faith, hope and charity. The golden tenets are brotherly love, relief and truth; the three great pillars, wisdom, strength and beauty.
The roof of this temple is tolerance, that sympathetic understanding of differences and respect for the individual that is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our Fraternity and makes it possible for us to progress toward that ultimate goal of Universal Brotherhood. The atmosphere of this temple, that which makes it a warm and happy place to be, no matter what storms may rage in the outside world, is friendship and brotherly love. These things oversimplify Freemasonry, I know, but it does no harm to simplify things that we hold in high respect.
In the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis there is a very exceptional collection of Chinese jade, running from several centuries B.C. down to the Eighteenth Century A.D. The early pieces have all the beauty of simplicity and useful purpose. Over the years they became so elaborate and so intricate that all the beauty and utility of the originals was lost. These later pieces were the product of a civilization that had become so refined and so effete that it collapsed. We don't want this human tendency to elaborate upon things that we hold dear to obscure the true and simple beauty of Freemasonry.
Last night Ben Gustafson told us that there are 160 organizations each of which requires as a condition of membership that the applicant should also be a member of a Craft lodge. Here is an example of the tendency to elaborate upon the Fraternity we value so greatly. So what is the essence of Freemasonry, the heart of the Fraternity? The quality that makes it unique among man-made institutions? Would it be found in our philosophy-the most excellent choice and arrangement of spiritual values and moral standards that Freemasonry has chosen to emphasize? Freemasonry does indeed promote the highest ideals and the finest standards, and yet I don't think that the secret is found here. In the field of right living, all the spiritual values that are supported by Freemasonry, and more besides, can be found in other institutions, in the Church, for example, so that there is nothing that is unique to Freemasonry, nothing that cannot be found in other places. From this point of view, Freemasonry is rather a case of putting old wine into new bottles.
So then, would our symbolism and our ritual be the new bottles into which we put these old time-tested truths? Beautiful as our ceremonials may be, and important and impressive as they undoubtedly are for conveying the lessons of our Fraternity, I simply do not believe that the heart of Freemasonry is found here any more than I believe that the heart of the Church is found in its liturgy.
Over the years and through the many happy experiences that I have had in Freemasonry I find that a conviction has grown in my mind that the warm heart of Freemasonry, the source of its great power, is friendship and brotherly love. Here we have something that is unique, something that exists between men of good will. The friendship without any mercenary motive-we use the strange phrase, disinterested friendship-friendship that has no motive other than friendship for its own sake. The shared experiences that unite men from all walks of life and of every age. These things do indeed form a silver cord running from heart to heart that unites us into one sacred band or society of friends and brothers.
We are taught to extend this friendship beyond the Masonic circle-to communicate happiness to others. That great Masonic author, Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, put the impact of Freemasonry on his mind in these words: "To be friends with all men, however much they may differ from us in color, creed or condition. To fill every human relation with the spirit of friendship. Is there anything more or better than this, that the wisest and best of men can do?" Here we have something that is an answer to the generation gap. Our young people may be impatient with what they claim to be the time worn pieties of our generation, but they will always respond to simple friendship. Brotherhood unites men of every age.
It's the human touch of the world that counts,
The touch of your hand in mine.
That means far more to the fainting heart
Than shelter or bread or wine.
For the shelter is gone when the night is o'er
And the bread lasts only a day.
But the touch of the hand and the sound of the voice
Live on in the heart always.
Let me close with a simple story, and I am glad to say that it's apocryphal. The setting is in the Peace River country of northern Alberta near the land of the Midnight Sun. Great crops are grown in that country because of the long hours of sunshine during the summer, but there is the ever present risk of frost through the early fall. On one crisp autumn day a little three year old farm boy left his home and became lost in one of the great unfenced wheat fields that are typical of that country. His mother searched for him without success. When the father came home, they both searched and with mounting panic. As night was beginning to fall, they called in the neighbors and all through the night they tramped back and forth through the tall grain, without success. Near dawn one of the neighbors thought of the very simple idea of simply joining hands to form a long human chain. Walking slowly from end to end of the field they soon found the little boy; but it was too late to avoid the tragedy. The father lifted the lifeless body of his young son in his arms and he said, "My God, why didn't we join hands before?"