Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Stone at a Time

Not too long ago I appealed to all the Masters and Past Masters out there for tips on how one might go about memorizing all that ritual.

The answer, as gently provided to me by Bro. Tom Accuosti was (and I paraphrase), "Just work on a little bit at a time, all the time."

I just memorized first large paragraph of the Middle Chamber lecture. I am Junior Deacon this year, but I figure there is no time like the present to start working on one of the longer bits of ritual that will fall to me as Senior Deacon next year. It took me a little more than half an hour and I know I will have to keep repeating it to myself for a while to make it stick, but as the saying goes: well begun is half done.

It is surprisingly exciting to have started down this path; what little ritual I have learned so far has sunk in mostly through osmosis, rather than by my actively having to work at it. I have to stop myself from moving to the next paragraph and give my brain a chance to catch up.

How did I do it? A little bit at a time. Duh. I feel a bit sheepish, like someone who asks a trim and fit friend how they stay healthy and keep their weight down and receive the obvious answer, "Eat less and exercise more."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Back to Basics

After months and months of waiting, rumination, and speculation on the philosophical nature of Freemasonry and the secrets that lay behind the antechamber door, the nature of this weblog shifted rather dramatically after I took the degrees and jumped headfirst into the inner workings of my lodge. Since being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, I have been focusing instead on the more mundane, nuts-and-bolts details of what Masons actually do to keep their lodge running. There is nary a mention of Masonic Light on this blog since June. This is not because I have given up on those loftier, esoteric notions about Freemasonry... rather, it is because I have developed a better sense of their context, and I am much less inclined to make proclamations or opine too strongly about any one aspect of the Craft... there are so many different aspects, and I'm still learning how they're interconnected.

It is easy to forget just how mysterious this whole Freemasonry business seems before you join; the symbols, worrying about the investigation, being a bit unsure about the super-secret rituals... in general, just wondering what it's all about... No matter how crazy you know the Masonophobes are, what if there's even a hint of truth about all that New World Order business, or that Baphomet guy? Can you really leave if you want to? (The answer there is yes, by the way - far too many new Brothers do.)

If you take the degrees and stick around, the work that Masons do behind the tyled door loses that initial veneer of mystery very quickly... so quickly that the part of us that had hoped to find a secret society of beard-stroking, enlightened gentlemen might feel a little bit disillusioned and discouraged. It can be hard to think reverently about "The Mysteries of Freemasonry" when you're sitting down to a potluck supper of Swedish meatballs, pizza, and potato chips.

At the same time, though, I have been struck by a deep and moving sense of the transcendent at various unexpected moments over the last six months, at degree rehearsal, at a dinner served on paper plates, during a business meeting, or (less surprisingly) during a particularly elegant passage in the ritual. I think I've written before that Freemasonry is greater than the sum of its parts, which is why it's so hard to describe to non-members... and why it's so hard for non-members to see what all the fuss is about, and unfortunately causes some of them to conjure up bizarre notions of what it is that we do.

A word occurred to me the other night that I think describes our order quite well, despite the fact that Masons are often not the bunch of mystical philosophers some of us imagine them to be before joining:


To me this word bridges the gap between that sense of mystery I remember before joining, and some of the more mundane realities of the lodge; to put it another way, monks and nuns of any faith have to do their laundry sometime... that doesn't diminish the sacredness of their vows in any way, shape, or form, it's just a part of the package.

I think it would be a stretch to say the we as Freemasons are truly monks of some kind, but being an active member of your lodge does require some discipline and dedication to the Craft... joining the Masons in jurisdictions that still require new candidates to memorize the lectures for each degree requires careful study and a certain level of seriousness that goes above and beyond the demands of many other social obligations. This is especially true if you take it upon yourself to learn the ritual and commit to sitting in a chair for at least 10 meetings a year. Whether you make that commitment because you're honoring a family tradition, because you just enjoy the company of other good men, or because you're looking to unlock the secrets of the universe by searching for hidden meanings in the ritual, it's all Freemasonry.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Question for those who have already traveled to the East

When did you learn the Master's parts of the ritual? That is to say, did you start memorizing the work years ahead of time, or did you wait to cram for each degree until you were installed in the Oriental chair? As I page through my cipher to work on my few parts as Junior Deacon, I get a bit woozy when I look at the Master's lectures which go on for pages at a time.

I suspect that the delegation of the Middle Chamber lecture to the Senior Deacon was a very strategic choice when the ritual was being developed; I imagine that if the SD is able to find a technique that enables him to memorize that work, then the rest will follow more easily... but at the same time, he still has a couple more years to understudy the Master before taking it all on. (Or, he can graciously step out of the line if he decided he's getting in over his head.)

As a confirmed high school nerd who once upon a time took it upon himself to memorize the name of a certain forgotten German composer, I am reasonably confident in my ability to memorize things... and if I get a head start maybe I can do so in a way that's not like trying to drink from a fire hose.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Harmony being the strength and support of all well regulated institutions, especially this of ours.

Remember the rules as we leave last night's election behind us: No politics in Lodge. Based on a few conversations overheard over dinner or after meetings in the run up to the election, there are going to be some uncomfortable moments at my lodge next week, but for my part I will smile neutrally and excuse myself if the result of the election comes up.

If things get particularly ugly I will hopefully have the fortitude to remind my Brothers that religion & politics are off-limits.