From The Philalethes, December 1997 (Vol. L No. 6), the
Journal of Masonic Research and Letters the Philalethes, magazine of
Letter to the Editor
What a wonderfully instructive issue of the philalethes I
received today (Vol L, No. 4, Aug 97)!
I refer to "When Will We Learn," from the Editor's desk,
page 76. That FPS Smith voiced his concerns at a time when Masonic
membership was near its peak in the US makes them all the
more prescient. Our fraternal forebears' failure to address these and
similar issues in their day led directly to the predicament in which
we find ourselves today.
Question: Are we today doing a better job
preparing the way for the future?
Kent Henderson's "Back to the Future," page 77 offers a profile of a
Lodge which celebrates the Masonic roots to which many believe Lodges
must eventually return -- in the spirit of, if not in every detail of,
the Epicurean Lodge -- before Masonry can reclaim its heritage and
strength of purpose, and not merely exist. Bro. Henderson nicely
summarizes many of the issues which have led Freemasonry in the US
and, apparetnly, in Australia as well, into its present condition.
However, he only alludes to (through his discussion of Masonic
instruction -- what a great syllabus to begin with!), and does not
address a concern which I consider to be the singular matter
before us. A root of our problems is that during our mid-century
period of overexpansion, and continuing even to this day, Freemasonry
was held out to the public and prospective members for its fraternal
camaraderie and benevolence -- which are real -- but not for the light
it shines for those who seek spiritual enlightenment.
The Masonic thinkers whom I admire most assert that Freemasonry was
intended to be a beacon for the inner man, but one suspect that many,
if not most, Freemasons -- honest, sincere, decent, committed, and
hard-working for the benefit of the Craft though they may be --
neither expect nor want enlightenment in the Lodges, but they
(actually, only those active few) are primarily concerned with mundane
Lodge affairs, such as operations, politics, and the current
fund-raisers. Although Freemasonry may not have been intended to be
foremost an eleemosynary organization, its practices in recruiting
Candidates -- and to be candid about it, members have long been more
or less discreetly recruited, such as by courting community leaders --
fairly well predicted that Freemasonry would become oriented to
service, rather than spiritual development.
Yet however satisfying community service may be, it should be (in
the context of Masonic thought) not an end in itself, but rather
derivative of or the reult of Freemasonry's success in providing to
its members guidance along the path to spiritual enlightenment and a
better understanding of oneself. This, many believe, is the real
purpose of the Craft -- to serve as an initiatory system drawn from
the cradle of civilazation for all of mankind. It is that ostensible
mission alone -- to light the way with the wisdom of the ages for the
interior man -- which is said to set Freemasonry apart from a host of
fine, laudable service organizations.
In that mission -- our primary purpose for being -- we have
dramatically failed. In reality, we pay no more than lip-service to
it, so we are left today, striving mightily but to little good efect,
to rejuvenate an aging, highly fragmented community service
organization, all the while proclaiming that we are more than that.
Yet at the same time, when countless potential Candidates yearn for
the light of greater understanding that Freemasonry holds dear and
could shine, if it but would, we are content to deliver fish eggs
where caviar is in order. And the candidates waft away like a willow
in the wind.
I refer to "Imagination (in Massachusetts) is Running
Rampant," in Kenneth Roberts's "Through Masonic Windows" on page
96. I sincerely hesitate to discourage any Brother who works
in any capacity on behalf of the Craft. There are, after all, so few.
Still, I must say -- in the context of the foregoing -- that if
renewed efforts on book drives, Boy Scouts, and pancake breakfasts are
really seen by others in any sense as "imaginative," then it's also
possible I'm from from another planet or severely in need of help.
This points up a real problem in the practical matter of rebuilding of
the Craft. It's this: How do we remake ourselves (in our own image)
in order to stem the precipitous decline not just in numbers, but in
the quality of the Masonic experience, as it were?
Is it possible to deliver on our loftier promises as described
above and at the same time satisfy those who literally sustain the
Craft through a variety of more pedestrian, even mundane, social
activities, which in the Lodge of today, can be life-sustaining? (It
did not escape my attention that Epicurean Lodge, so remarkably and
thoughtfully conceived of and put together, was constituted as a
new Lodge, and not as a restructured Lodge. Aye, mate,
there's the rub!)
I don't presume to have any answers to these questions that bright
Masons might consider, but it does seem to me that the steps being taken
(about which I've learned) are the easy ones leading us in the wrong
direction. Pulling in new member with really innovative bingo nights
and single-day degree festivals ins fine for a group where catfish fries
and a little help for the kid down the street are the order of the day.
In that group, our Masonic ceremonies are really charades, no more than
time-killers while we ready the refreshment table, pretentious (and most
likely badly hammered) historical curiosities.
One the other hand, if one is concerned to reflect awhile on the
nature of the Great Architect, the universe, and nature and one's
place in it, and then to do so approaching the study or reflection not
as a blank tablet, but with some understanding of the wisdom of makind
from ages past that can inform and enrich oneself, however he chooses
to live his life, then Masonic thought and ceremonials can be as
beautiful, insightful, instructive, and, indeed, as sublime as they
were intended to be. Ancient Greek temples of initiation were
inscribed with the admonition to "Know Thyself," counsel to which
Freemasons, of all people, would be wise to attend, especially in this
period of transition from Freemasonry as we have known it to something
else -- and one way or another, it will be significantly different, so
I hope we do it right.
If we know who we are, then the answer to some tough problems may
become more apparent and the road to enlightenment can shine forth.
Sincerely and fraternally,
Gene Still, MPS
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