W.B. Jon Patrick Sage
Masonry, it has been said, resides in the hearts of men. It is, I suppose, a secret of sorts, in the most intimate way. What is meant by that is that Masonry, or rather– the Masonic experience, is different for all who undergo its effects. Those effects are as different as those individual souls who experience it, and this is what makes the ordeal wholly unique. There are many hundreds and thousands of volumes written on the subject of Masonry, and its application in the daily lives of a Mason, and at times, I question the validity of nearly every volume; not for the knowledge contained within, but rather, that the work should be an autobiography, or perhaps journal of sorts, to be utilized by the Mason who wrote it. The question arises as to what, or perhaps, how much of one man’s experience may be successfully translated into another’s, without distorting or corrupting either man’s journey. I find that the answer to this question is elusive at best; at worst, it is a phantom, never to be known.
One more than one occasion, I have had Brethren from *Great Britain ask me, “What is this Light that you Americans constantly speak of”? At first glance, and from the American side of the Atlantic, it seems a rather peculiar question, and one which might very well warrant a full investigation as to whether he who asked the question was indeed– a Brother Mason at all! However, upon closer introspection, I find that in the United States, the term is used very loosely, and simply indicates the enlightenment that we all seek in our journey eastward. The English, however, consider the term much differently than we do, and to put it simply, would rather call “Light” something which is not to be experienced in this lifetime, but in the next. It is of a supernatural origin and meaning to our Brethren across the way, and this idea is also somewhat felt in what are known here in America as Traditional Observance Lodges (T.O. Lodges).
Now, this is not to say that one is right, and the other is wrong. Quite the opposite would be my argument. It is simply to say that there are two, inherently different definitions of the notion of Light. This is evinced as well in any dictionary worth its salt, and most words will have any number of definitions for a single word, complete with various usages for a noun, verb, adjective, etc. Thus, the traditional definition and usage of Light, whether in an American or British sense, should be expected to be somewhat different. But then again, it should be different, as each individual Brother, whether American, British, German, Spanish, or whatever, will find different meanings and applications of Light, and any other number of terminologies from the Masonic catalogue in his own daily walk.
One very good way to discern exactly what defines any particular Masonic practice is to, quite simply, take a few weeks off from attending a Lodge meeting. Instantly I understand that this suggestion will be taken the wrong way, and before arrows are fired in my direction, please allow me to explain. I am not, and would not, suggest to allow one’s membership to lapse, and if you are an Officer in the Lodge, then you should not simply “take some time off”… If this be the case, then your Lodge needs you, and depends on you– by all means, go to Lodge. However, if you can do so, take some time for yourself, and engage in some introspection. While Lodge is good for all the usual things, Brotherly Love, Fellowship, Instruction, and in many cases– exceptional food and good times; I have come to question the overall value of a Masonic life that is nearly always spent in the company of others. Allow me to explain.
Many authors, myself included, have touched on the notion of religious Masonry (note the “small r” in religious). I, for one, believe implicitly in the concept of a religious experience while in Lodge, and quite frankly, when one is not readily available, due to the atmosphere and/or structure of the Lodge in question, I have often left Lodge feeling slighted somehow. Oh, I still enjoy the comradery and fellowship. I absolutely enjoy the charitable works that a Lodge is able to accomplish as a group. It is a fact that the Ritual of the Lodge, and especially the all-important degree Work cannot be accomplished without at least a certain number of Masons, duly assembled. And yet, there is– or there should be, a spiritual and very personal element made available to each member during the meeting. If it is not, I have to wonder why not? And if such is the case, I can only arrive at two conclusions.
- That Lodge (or its Officers), are not interested in the spiritual well-being of the Craft.
- That Lodge (or its Officers), do not have sufficient Masonic knowledge that would enable them to lead the Craft in spiritual growth.
It is very often the case that if one of these scenarios is true, then both of these scenarios are true. Also, it is very important that everyone understands that no one (unless they are just woefully ignorant and unwilling to learn), should be blamed for that Lodge’s shortcoming. In fact, when Lodges have entered into this territory of “non-learning”, it is very often the result of decades and generations of simply being unaware that such a need exists! There is undoubtedly, no section or subsection in any Grand Master’s book of Masonic law, which would imply that a “religious Masonry” should be practiced in the several Lodges. In fact, the closest that any really come to this is the mandate that a certain amount of Masonic education be offered during one or more meetings per month and/or year. Of this “education”, very little is outlined as to what exactly would be involved in a quality bit of Masonic education. During most portions of Masonic education, the Lodge is presented a neat little story, or a parable of sorts in order that the beautiful virtues, and the “Light” of Masonry may be extolled and demonstrated to exist in at least one or more everyday events. And yet, very few instruct the Brethren how they might achieve this themselves.
What is a good foundational lesson, so that all Masons may exhibit these virtues, and come to know the Light which may be shown to them, on a daily basis?
The Lesson is simple, and consists of two parts, both of which are discussed in all 3 degrees.
Universality & Prayer.
Both concepts are equal to each other. We are taught as Masons to regard each Brother, indeed, each occupant of the planet, as Brothers and Sisters. Likewise, we are instructed to offer prayer, not to ask for petty things or personal advancement; but rather to seek a directional guidance– for the Grand Architect to make our square true, and to measure our path against the un-failing compass. Through these two things, we are all made equal; our humanity is displayed; our weaknesses brought forth; our strength restored. Indeed, the concepts of Universality and Prayer are at least two of the most important parts of the Freemasonic experience. Likewise, they are also the two which are most likely to be able to be practiced outside of a tyled Lodge. In order to treat each of the Almighty’s children as one requires no modes of recognition. By the same token, to pray to our God (whoever he or she may be), does not require that Lodge be open in due form, it only requires that our hearts be open in true form.
Earlier in this writing, I suggested, if one is able to do so, to take some time for yourself, away from Lodge; possibly only for 2-3 meetings. However, during the time away from your Brethren, it is not meant that Masonry is not practiced. It is absolutely quite to the contrary. During this time, if you elect to do so, it is the perfect opportunity, on a daily basis, and without the interference of Ritual or the Gavel, to ingrain these 2 essential traits into your daily Masonic walk. From the moment you rise in the morning, until you fall asleep at night, it should be your prerogative, to the best of your ability, to display the tenets of your profession. By actions and deeds alone, others will notice a difference in your demeanor. During this time, engage in a thoughtful and nearly round the clock effort of prayer and communication with the Grand Architect, that your footsteps and actions be guided, for the betterment of not only the construction of your Temple, but for those around you as well; perhaps even for those who may not yet know that they are building a Temple! This is the directive– to help all, and to harm none.
It is the opinion of this author, that if a Mason is able and willing to exhibit these traits, continuously and as a way of life, that this is the attainment of the Light that we all so desperately seek. Put simply, in the American terminology: Light IS life; Light IS knowledge; Light IS the fruition of our Masonic Work.
So, you might ask, “Where does the notion of religious Masonry fit into any of this, and how is that defined”? That is a good question, and one which must be answered on a subjective basis. Once again, I cannot define for you what your experience will be. I can, and I just did, recommend 2 very important things to engage in which I feel are helpful towards building a strong and seamless Masonic edifice. However, your notion of a religious experience might be very different from mine– I would wager that it most likely is. And so, allow me to use a bit of universality in my explanation, quite possibly so that all might be, in some way, served by the notion of experiencing a beautiful and transformational Masonic experience.
Consider the blue skies above, and the green pasture below. If your location on the planet is such that you can see such scenery, it would be difficult to argue that it is anything but what is described. If you are in such a place where blue skies and green grass are not directly within your line of sight, then you most likely can envision such a scenario. In either case, most would agree that there exists a blue sky, and green grass. This is universality. We all accept certain things, although they might be described in a somewhat different manner, and possibly viewed in a very different way. Yet, the facts remain the same– there is a blue sky and green grass. How were they created? The Grand Architect created them, as is the case for every person, plant, and animal on the planet. Also created by the Almighty, are the individual thoughts, feelings, and emotions which we all feel as human beings. Once again, even though we might all interpret them differently, and view these things from different vantage points, all must agree that these were created, and are universal in that creation. Essentially, none is “more equal” than the rest; instead, all are simply “equal”.
This is the scheme of creation, and as such, it was handed down to from divine hands, for the betterment of humanity. And so, we must also, in addition to viewing the world through a lens of equality, pray that such knowledge will enable our steps to be directed to tread upon the proper course, the one which will lead to progress, and hence; enlightenment. This is the notion of religion in Masonry. It is a constant winding pathway that leads towards not only a reckoning with the Almighty, but also of an upward pathway of progress and knowledge– so that we might better understand the ways of the world, when the day arrives that we must depart this one, and enter into another. As in the several degrees present in the Masonic journey of this life, the Mason who seeks Light is actively preparing for the degrees which he will no doubt face in the world to come. However, he will face that new world as he entered the present one, naked and alone. There is not a hint of salvation, there is no pretext of judgment. Instead, there is only knowledge, progress, and enlightenment– always in preparation for what is to come.
Accordingly, the term religious is correct in its usage. And this is why a private and singular effort is so very important. If the term theology were used, or some doctrine or another were recommended as a pathway to a heaven; and then also, the avoidance of a hell, it would behoove the mortal man to seek guidance, and according to nearly all of the modern faiths, exhibit some kind of public display of redemption. And yet, in Masonry, this is not case; this cannot be the case. Our Craft, and as such, our destination, is Universal, without creed, race, or a divisive doctrine. And so, there can be no declaration of anything, other than a quest for impartiality, and fairness in action. To profess a belief, other than equality and Universality of the man and his soul, is inherently Anti-Masonic, and cannot be tolerated. The pathway towards enlightenment is a lonely stretch of road, and yet, it must be traveled as such. The passerby will remain the passerby until he decides to turn and march towards the East. It is not for the Mason to proselytize, or to attempt to direct another. Instead, we walk alone, in the Light that is shown to us through prayer. Others will not see your light, even if you were to try and point it out to them. It is for each to interpret, and to live, as he sees fit. It is the Light which all will see, but will see differently.
This is what sets the Mason apart from this world. A quest for knowledge, the poetic journey to the Eastern gate, the winding road beset with so many dangers, the religion of Masonry which cannot and will not ever be truly defined, until the world is no more.
Jon Patrick Sage is a Freelance Writer for several publications/ publishers, and publishing houses, Author at www.morelightinmasonry.com & www.jonpatricksage.com ; A 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Indianapolis, and Past Master of Jackson Lodge 146 f & A.M. in Seymour, IN. Jon is a Senior Ritualist under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of Indiana of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Indiana, and has earned the degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Minored in Business Management fromIndiana Wesleyan University. Jon is now in Graduate Studies of History, at The Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN. Jon is married, and lives with his wife (Kimberly), children (Ashley, Leah, and Caleb), and grand daughter (Maleigh Grace) in Southern, IN.