Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Path Less Traveled Makes All the Difference

I have invested a good portion of my life as an active Freemason. It is the oldest fraternal society in the world. In fact, it predates all fraternal orders created in the past 300 years. That’s a long tenure of service to humankind and the ideals of manhood. Freemasonry has impacted more than 30 continuous generations of men.

It is not easy for people outside the Craft to understand anything about our fraternal teachings. We have always been a very private society. Indeed, we are a part of the ancient mysteries tradition. We are a secret organization for men, and we have always been so. Our information is closely held; for it can only be transmitted to those who have conscientiously prepared themselves to receive it.

For this reason, we never concern ourselves with exposures of our rituals and ceremonies. Without the proper tools one can no more interpret that which is allegorical than a craftsman can build a house of strength and beauty. Freemasonry, like personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, is a uniquely personal path.

Freemasonry is known as a quiet organization because it was never intended that it have a public face. This simply means that, as fraternal men, while we are to be out in the world actively working to solve the problems of our communities, state, and nation, we are to be doing these things as individuals, and not in the name of Masonry. Yet, Freemasonry itself is not apathetic, but inclined toward individual action. It provides the catalyst for individual inspiration. Freemasonry teaches men to lead a positive and productive life. It admonishes us to live an active social life. Thus, it is a guide for self and societal improvement. It needs no other reward.

We improve ourselves in the name of Masonry so we can improve society in the name of our thoughts and actions. It is this balance, or harmony, that comes from self and social improvement that makes us good examples for others to follow.

Yet, as Freemasons, we also realize one of the challenges the fraternal movement encounters in today’s fast-paced world is how to overcome the perception that our teachings are no longer relevant. The current model for success in life has little to do with what one knows or can do for himself; but it has everything to do with what others see him doing for the larger good. People pay attention to the organizations men belong to when, in their mind, those organizations make a difference in the world. This has always been the central dilemma of our private group.

It is hard for today’s men to invest in the meanings of things, or in the interpretative process required to assign meaning to their life. This is precisely what the degrees or lessons of Masonry are intended to do. And these offer no easily interpretable contemporary context or associations which will enable a man to immediately apply Masonry’s lessons to life. Instead, it adheres to a more reliable and enduring paradigm—one that has met the test of time. In so doing, it addresses a remarkably significant current societal dilemma.

In the contemporary experience of manhood, one is seldom made aware that the achievements of today are the sum of the thoughts of yesterday; that tomorrow’s accomplishments will be based on today’s ideas; that knowledge has an enduring validity. We live in an information-based society which offers little hope for making decisions based on the accumulation of knowledge. Yet, wisdom can only be derived as the product of information and knowledge working together.

Today, it seems almost natural for a man to think forward to the future. It is much harder for him to understand how the past influences it. In the larger picture, it is seldom where we are today that counts. It is where we have been and how where we have been influences where we are going that has the larger impact on our lives.

The teachings of Masonry lay very important groundwork for erecting a path of life that connects the past and present to the future. Here is how it works.

Each of us is taking as well as making a path. There is an important difference. It is easy to simply be on a path. If we do nothing more than live and breathe, we will take a path which will become our life. The problem is that this path alone may not lead us to happiness and fulfillment.

This path may be the path of job and work, going through steps and grades of a pay plan for 45 years, only to retire and wonder if we have personally made any real difference with our life.

It may be the path of home and family, going through the rituals of husbanding and fathering, and wondering in our old age if we really did set a good example.

It may be the path of faith, attending religious services for a lifetime and wondering all along how we know that our chosen faith speaks the truth.

It may be the path of isolation, failing to be involved in service to others or failing to make real friends who can bring meaning and fulfillment to our life.

If we are fortunate, these paths may well bring us financial reward or the security of a home, family, and a spiritual life. But they can also lead to disillusionment. That is why it is so important we also make a path for ourselves while we are taking the usual path of others. For it is the path we make for ourselves that teaches, rather than carries, us.

The degrees (stages of growth and insight) in Masonry enable men to create such a path. Our degrees have been around a long time. They were written for the moral, ethical, social and spiritual interests of men.

The teachings of Masonry give us the tools to become better informed, to be more conscious of what is really important, to be aware of what the past gives to us, and to realize how we can use this information in positive and successful ways, thus facilitating our path to understanding, wisdom, and personal fulfillment.

In the overall scheme of things, Freemasonry teaches that the answers to the great issues in life are within us. We can accomplish remarkable things through deep understanding and the sharing of our wisdom with others. When we pass along these many valuable lessons in ways that resonate with the contemporary men in our society, then the past meets the present, and the new path——or, rather, the old path of truth and right and understanding——is laid for the future.

The new man of today’s fraternity can benefit immeasurably by taking and making such a path. Just as the senior Brother is reminded of and intuitively understands what has illuminated his own life, his own path.

Freemasonry is about path-making. It is indeed relevant work for our time—and all time.

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