VWB Gene Ulrich, District 7 representative of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, asked me to share some of the thoughts and feelings from this blog at a District meeting.
I presented this talk on January 13, 2017. This link is to an audio recording of the talk. Following is a transcript.
A little before Lodge is about to open an old man totters up to the Tyler and says, “I'm here to receive my 2nd degree.” Well, they all look at this guy, who really is older than dirt, and they ask him to explain. “I was entered on July 5, 1972. Now I'm ready for my 2nd degree.” So the secretary checked the records, and sure enough, there was his name, entered forty-plus years ago. “Where have you been all these years? What took you so long to be ready for your 2nd?” they ask. He replied: “I was learning to subdue my passions!”
My introduction to Masonry was in high school. I wanted to date a cute flute player in the marching band. Sue was in Rainbow Girls. Her mother was in Eastern Star. Her father was high up in Scottish Rite. Soon I learned some of the facts of life: I was Lutheran. Sue was Masonic. And according to her parents the relationship wasn’t going anywhere. End of story.
I got reacquainted with Masonry several years ago when I learned that the carpenter who did a lot of excellent work on my house was also a Mason. I was interested and we began talking. I petitioned, was initiated, and raised to the Third Degree last December, a little more than a month ago.
It’s taken me a good while to become ready to become a Mason, and part of the delay was as this old man’s. Another was changing my attitude about Masonic families. For some of us it takes time to get ready.
Who am i? A retired keyboard jockey. Former instructional designer, administrative assistant, business consultant, professional photographer, programmer/systems analyst, college instructor. With a Master’s degree in mathematics.
If you’re wondering what I’m doing up here in the forefront of this worshipful assembly, you’re not alone. I’ve been asking the same since I agreed to share some of my thoughts and feelings about my time as candidate and initiate to Freemasonry.
I got myself into this situation by writing an obscure blog on a website few people visit. I wrote the Initiate’s Blog to sort out my thoughts and feelings as I petitioned, was initiated and finally raised to the degree of Master Mason.
Over the fourteen months of that blog I found frustrations and fears, questions and uncertainties, satisfactions and accomplishments, and most notably, unconditional acceptance of all the Brothers I got to know.
At the start, I thought that preserving my thoughts and experience might be helpful to a future candidate and initiate. I imagined I might define the path more clearly and make the way forward and a little easier for someone.
Someone actually read the blog and asked me to relate some of it to this assemblage. Since then I have puzzled whether this would be an opportunity or a predicament.
I ask you to create a picture in your mind’s eye.
You’re alone. You’re in a unfamiliar place. Ahead of you is a wide chasm. You’re facing a rope bridge stretched across it. The ropes that suspend the bridge are nothing more than twisted vines. The floor of the bridge is made up of crude, weathered planks spaced well apart providing a window to nothingness below. As you take the first step the bridge sways, creaks and swings, up and down, side to side. The chasm below and the opposite end of the bridge as well as what lies beyond are shrouded in thick fog. What lies on the far side is unclear.
I petitioned in August. I waited. A couple of months later, I learned that my petition had been accepted, that soon there would be an interview and later a decision on allowing me to begin the process of becoming an Entered Apprentice.
I waited and wondered. Wondered what was next? What do I need to do?” How could I make something happen?
A couple of months later I was accepted as an Entered Apprentice in a very meaningful ceremony. The fog cleared rapidly as a blindfold was removed and I saw the supportive faces of Brother Masons. And later, I was made a Fellow Craft mason.
There was work to do to prove up. I got busy and the fog began to clear. I took more steps and saw more of the pathway.
Then more waiting. I felt the fog returning.
Unity Lodge was dark during the summer. One month later there weren’t enough Masons to open in the Second Degree.
At the November communication I found I didn’t remember the Due Guard, the penal sign or the handshake for either Degree. I was forgetting the words of my obligation. I stumbled trying to translate the ciphered text that I had previously memorized.
The fog seemed real again.
Plans for raising to the Third Degree came and went. But at the last minute, they fell into place and I had the full experience of the drama, ritual and meaning of being raised.
The fog cleared and I took careful steps across the bridge with more clarity, confidence and enthusiasm.
Given what I’ve told you so far you probably see me as a “cup-is-half-empty” person. But there’s another side of this: I’m always looking for ways to fill the cup.
So now I think about the kind of lodge and the experiences that I appreciate and that keep me coming back. I imagine an ideal Lodge.
In these Masonic dreams I see Brothers coming to stated communications and meetings prepared with ideas and proposals for constructive action. I’m happy to hear and participate in following through on these.
In this Lodge Brothers make attendance and participation a priority, maybe not the top, but up there with religious faith, personal needs, important relationships and fiscal needs.
This lodge teaches, practices and promotes spiritual growth through the regular discussion of Masonic principles.
My ideal lodge attracts petitioners and encourages candidates who truly seek Light because activities are compelling and because they express the highest ideals of Freemasonry in meaningful ways.
Brothers study individually and together - books and videos - that show the history and values of Freemasonry.
My lodge allows me to grow by building both excitement and teaching into its activities. There is something interesting in every meeting. Brothers try something new from time to time to extend the understanding and knowledge of Freemasonry.
In my imaginary Lodge ritual comes from the heart, with meaning, reflecting interesting and peculiarly Masonic thinking.
The Faith, Hope and Charity proclaimed in the Lodge spill out the doorway onto the sidewalks, streets and local institutions that benefit Masons and non-Masons.
And there is still time for relaxed fellowship.
Does this seem to you like a list of impossible ideals? Are such aspirations reasonable?
I was raised to the Third Degree just over a month ago. I’m barely “wet behind the ears.” But as we all listen tonight, perhaps we will identify at least one way to bring more Light to our lodge — a step to a thriving Lodge — and we can begin by choosing one goal and taking action toward a change that fills the cup a little fuller.
I don’t expect the “cup overflowing.” Maybe the cup will sometimes be partly empty. But in my ideal lodge the cup will not be drained by poor attendance, half-hearted planning, the too-familiar events, or the way of least resistance. We Brothers may need to stretch our cable tows to the maximum, myself included.
Joseph Fort Newton wrote a book about Freemasonry, called The Builders: a story and study of Masonry. It is the most inspirational book about Masonry that I have read.
These words of his from other writing are part of my Masonic creed:
“We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us — how we can take it, what we do with it — and that is what really counts in the end. How to take the raw stuff of life and make it a thing of worth and beauty — that is the test of living.”
And again from another writing:
“Not what we have but what we use, not what we see, but what we choose, these are the things that mar or bless the sum of human happiness.”
Though I don’t see the way clearly and I still have questions, I make choices, seeking more Light, walking carefully through the clearing fog.
Let’s walk together.