Monday, May 31, 2010

"Because time won't give me time..."

During my work with our newer Brothers this past winter I found myself in constant discussions about the importance of the Working Tools. "These are not just symbols," I would tell them, "these are actual tools for practical application in your daily life."

Lately I have been reminded of the old saying: "Those that can -do. Those that can't - teach."

I started class this past week - a fifteen week Statistics course that is crammed into a six week summer session. For me this is a double whammy. Firstly, math has never been my strong point. There is a reason I went into human services - you sure as hell don't want me doing your taxes or anything else that requires more than basic math. Secondly, I haven't really been in a classroom for 20 years. Sitting in the class and looking around - I am definitely the old man in the room. The carrot is that I pass this class it unlocks the key for me to start my Masters - a program to which I have already been accepted and which hinges on passing this class.

To make a long story longer, this week not only saw the beginning of this class but also my full time job, my part time job, Lodge responsibilities, Scottish Rite work, family commitments and occasionally - sleep. So I thought about those lessons taught to my new Brothers and specifically the 24" Gauge and I thought...I think I need a bigger Gauge.

But alas, there is no 36" or bigger Gauge. We have been given a 24" Gauge and are taught how to use it - to keep all in proper proportion. The trick is finding out how to make it all fit into 24 hours. I think that the trouble is that we continue to try to force a bigger object into a smaller one. We cannot force 36" of length into a 24" space. Oh, we can try but eventually something gives out and sometimes it is not something that can be fixed or replaced.

For instance, when I was younger, I worked myself to the bone. At one point I had three jobs and slept when occasion merited. Sure, we could pay the bills, but I missed time with my kids. See, they are all grown now - one with a family all her own - and I find myself wishing that I kept things in proper proportion. My temple has some holes in it - I tried to fit too much into too little a space and I lost some valuable stone from time to time.

I reached into my toolbox and pulled out my Gauge this week. Slowly I began to cut away some of the "vices and superfluities" of life. After next week, I will be fitting things to the 24" Gauge and I am already feeling a little relieved and more relaxed. I will spend less time doing so much for everyone else and spend a little time of those things that need my attention. I think I will start with my new grandson - after my stats homework is done, of course.

How are you applying your 24" Gauge?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"I hold in my hands an instrument of death..."

One of the things that has always intrigued me has been that a central symbol - featured prominently in ritual work of the Craft - seems to be missing. Each of the working tools seem to hold a place, yet one is mysteriously absent.

What happened to the setting maul?

It's like CSI:Jerusalem. The crucial piece of evidence is missing and almost nowhere to be found. What I find interesting is that the gauge and the square are involved in the degrees, yet the setting maul does not.

Several Masonic writers including Steinmetz, Pike and Hutchens have discussed the symbolism of the trials at the Gates and the reasons for the use the specific tools and the locations where they were used. Roughly, they speculate the following:
  • The First Gate: a symbol of the physical. The tool is the gauge. The blow strikes the throat, stifling speech.
  • The Second Gate: a symbol of the psychical. The tool is the square. The blow strikes the heart, stifling the emotions.
  • The Third Gate: a symbol of the spiritual. The tool is the setting maul - not the trowel. It is, in Hutchen's words "an instrument of brute force." It is with this instrument that ends his life with a blow to the head - the intellectual center.

More questions surface. Why does this implement not feature more prominently in the work? Why was it this instrument and this blow that kills him?

Steinmetz further comments on the setting maul in his book "Freemasonry - its Hidden Meaning":

"A setting maul is an instrument made use of by operative masons to coerce the unwieldy stone into its proper position in the building; but we, as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of impelling ourselves into our proper positions in that building of which we are to form a part. A more recondite exposition is seen in the Constructive and Destructive aspects of Universal Law. In the hands of the ignorant and unskilled workman it becomes an instrument of death and destruction, but in the hands of the enlightened and skilled craftsman it becomes a constructive instrument with which the recalcitrant stone is forced into its proper position."

A key word jumped out at me when reading this - "recalcitrant". The stone described is not one which is difficult, but one which is stubbornly disobedient - one which is obstinately defiant of restraint. This is not a job for a simple trowel, but of a tool which is able to apply a greater level of directed force coupled with appropriate strength. In the hands of a Master Mason it can be a tool to guide stones into place. To the unskilled it is tool of destruction which will shatter the stone rather than settle it.

To me, this seems the more appropriate tool of a Master Mason. It is our duty to correct the errors of our less informed Brethren - a skilled application of the maul brings the Brother back into place. An unskilled application may shatter the Brother's confidence or damage his dignity - therefore damaging the ashlar - perhaps beyond repair.

Yet for some reason it remains missing. Perhaps some time in the future the answer will come to light, but for now we have only to speculate.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thou hast promised that when two or three are gathered together...

Earlier this week was the 229th Communication of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, held in New York City. I made the journey with our Senior Deacon. It was his first time at Grand Lodge and it was interesting to get his thoughts on the process.

The first day was the usual. For me the best part is opening ceremonies when 200 or so men sing the national anthem - accompanied by the grand pipe organ. It makes the makes the hairs on the back of my head stand on end. For some reason this year the first day was a bit grueling. The speeches seemed a bit long and the fact that the City was hot an humid that day didn't help. We remained for most of the day and picked up the Potts Award - the Grand Lodge award for Perfect Attendance at the Grand Lecturer's Convention - on behalf of the Lodge.

The second day saw more committee reports and the election of our officers for 2010-2012. Elected were:
  • RW Vincent Labone, Grand Master
  • RW Jim Sullivan, Deputy Grand Master
  • RW Tim McMullen, Senior Grand Warden
  • RW Charles Uhle, Junior Grand Warden
  • RW William Thomas, Grand Tresurer
  • RW Gil Savitsky, Grand Secretary

Good luck to our new Grand Officers and see you all in Manhattan next year.