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.

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