A Worshipful Master noticed there was a newly proficient Master Mason who came to diligently practice the ritual every time the lodge was open. So the WM went to question him: “Dear brother, what are your intentions in practicing the ritual? What do you want?”
The MM said: “More light!”
The WM then picked up a tile and began to rub it very vigorously. Of course, the MM noticed this and asked: “What are you doing?”
The WM said: “I’m polishing it to make it into a mirror.”
The MM asked: “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”
The WM said: “You’re absolutely right, polishing a tile will not make it a mirror. How can practicing the ritual give you more light?”
The MM scratched his head: “Then what am I supposed to do?”
The WM replied: “It’s like an ass pulling a cart. If the cart does not go, should you hit the cart or should you hit the ass?”
The MM had no reply.
The WM continued: “Do you think you are practicing ritual or do you think you are practicing Masonry? If you are practicing ritual, ritual is not degrees, or opening and closing the lodge. If you are practicing Masonry, it is not a fixed form. In the midst of everything that is changing you should neither hold on nor push away. If you keep ritual in the lodge, this is dowsing the light. If you cling to the forms of Masonry, this is not attaining its essence.”
From Zen Masonry
Most lodges probably have a “move up” night, during which the officers will move up and perform the duties of the next station, usually as a way to help the newer officers prepare for the duties that they will most likely have during the next year. Once in a while, Friendship Lodge has a twist on that idea. We sometimes have a “Sideliner Night”, during which we randomly have the regular members draw a position out of a hat and fill it for the evening. We also have a “Shake-up Night”, in which the officers are randomly reassigned to different stations. It’s not really a big deal for the Senior Warden to fill in at the Junior Deacon’s chair, but it’s much more interesting when the newer, junior officers are suddenly promoted into the senior chairs. The other night, the Senior Deacon ended up in the East, and our “Associate Steward” ended up in the West, and our Junior Deacon ended up in the South.
Anyone who has watched experienced officers barely get through an opening ceremony can imagine the smiles (and groans) of the Past Masters watching such a display, but the Friendship officers usually practice several times for any degree ceremony, and so each officer certainly has seen an opening quite a few times during his membership. I happened to be sitting next to our Past District Deputy, and we joked that we’d seen worse at lodges on their regular nights.
Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t joking.
But here’s the interesting part. I was sitting there, watching the displaced officers trying to brazen their way through an Entered Apprentice opening, when I found myself ignoring what they were actually saying, and listening to what they were trying to say. Yes, most of them missed some of the words, or substituted similar words, or switched phrases around — but that was just on the surface. When you listened closely, the words were wrong, but the ritual itself was right.
Masonic ritual is not simply a ceremony denoting the opening and closing of a lodge. Nor is it (as it seems to be practiced in some lodges) a memory competition designed to show who would make the better officer. Our rituals, and the lectures during our degree work, are not empty passages, but lessons. Indeed, when the Worshipful Master is charged with giving instruction to the Craft, most people aren’t even aware that the ritual itself, is part of that instruction.
I have seen lodges in which Past Masters critiqued new officers, admonishing them for missing a word in an otherwise well-delivered piece. If that makes that officer concentrate upon the words, will he then begin to miss the underlying meaning, or maybe to miss the overall lesson of that particular piece? Personally, I think so. I’ve seen some officers literally close their eyes and stand , trembling with effort, to deliver a rushed, albeit word-perfect memorized lecture. I’ve seen more than one charge delivered at high rates of speed by men intent upon getting all of the words out lest they forget something and freeze up.
What is the lesson here? What values and precepts are being taught — or learned?
On another note, I’m happy to say that this week marks our Grand Lodge Annual Communication. I’m particularly happy about this one because it has been an excellent year for the outgoing Grand Master, MWGM Jim McWain. Bro. McWain has been a particularly good example of a Grand Master who has been able to blend vision with practicality. We wish him well in the future.
And adding to that, Friendship Lodge will see one of it’s own entering the Grand Oriental Chair: RWB Gary Arseneau will be installed on Monday afternoon. Gary has shown himself to be a dedicated and resourceful Grand Lodge officer for the last ten years, and we’re all looking forward to another excellent year. We understand that we probably won’t get to see as much of him in lodge as we would like, but the members of Friendship wish him well, and hope he gets a chance to visit, with or without his purple apron.