Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Staying In Your Infinity

Before death takes away what you are given,
give away what is there to give. 

No dead person grieves for his death. He mourns only what
he didn't do. Why did I wait? Why did I not . . . ? Why did I
neglect to . . . ?

I cannot think of better advice to send. I hope you like it.

May you stay in your infinity. 

Peace. ~ Rumi 

That is an excerpt from one of a very small number of letters written by the Sufi poet Rumi.  As I reflected upon those words recently – what they should mean to me and how I need to order my life so that I might stay in my own infinity – my mind would wander through the things in my past that I did not handle as well as I should have, people I should have been more kind to, words that I should not have left unsaid, and some that perhaps I should have; things I have done and not done that have changed my life and the lives of others.
Often we act as though the things we do and say are self-contained – that they exist in a vacuum and are a part of only our own world, not the bigger world around us.  We forget that the things we do and do not do affect others just as much or more than ourselves.

“Is P.J. having a mid-life crisis,” you ask.  And what does this have to do with Freemasonry? 

No.  And quite a lot actually.  You see, as I meditated on those beautiful words of Rumi, I came to realize that the one thing that all of my questions had in common was that they were tied to charity.  Was I generous enough with my money, my forgiveness, my kindness or my love?
Faith, Hope and Charity are the three basic Moral lessons of the Craft, and Charity, my Brothers, is the most important tenet of this great Fraternity.  In some jurisdictions, it is said in the first degree that "Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity."   

So central should these ideals be to a Mason’s heart, that in 1820 the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania commissioned William Rush to make sculptures of those three virtues.  They are on display at the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia to this day and are absolutely exquisite pieces. 
As I have traveled last year and asked you to donate to my Marathon for Masonic Youth, many of you came forward with cheerful hearts and given generous pledges to support the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation and the Youth Groups within the District.  Every single time I receive a notification from the website, or one of you comes to me with your donation, I feel a profound sense of pride.  Pride, not in what I am able to do for the youth through this run, but pride in my association with men of such fine character that they will gladly give of what they have to help others.
At my Official Visit to Infinity Lodge, they gave away over $17,000 to charity and they were nowhere near done for the year.  If you were there with me that night, you might not even remember the amount, but I am certain that you would remember the spirit in which it was given.  A Brother would rise and mention a need that he believed the Lodge could fulfill, then a vote was taken and the Lodge would unanimously assent to filling that need.  That kind of unhesitating generosity stands in stark contrast to how some Lodges view charity.  I have heard charity requests called shakedowns; I have been in Lodges that have debated for fifteen minutes or more about whether or not a food pantry really needs a donation from a Masonic Lodge.  I have also witnessed people voting no – out loud – to donating $50.00 to the Katrina relief efforts a few years ago.
I am here to tell you tonight that we must change how we look at Charity.  Am I suggesting that each and every hand that knocks at our door should go away filled?  No.   Am I asking that any Lodge empty its bank account to fulfill our charitable mission?  No.  What I am saying is that if we do not do what we can for others, when we are able, we are not being true to our ideals, and at some future date, we may mourn what we did not do.
It has often been said that the true secret of Freemasonry is not in a word, or a grip or a sign, but in that ineffable bond that is formed when men of different faiths, creeds, occupations and stations in life kneel at her Altar and obligate themselves to be the best men they can be.
It has been my greatest privilege to meet some of the finest men I have ever known here within Masonry's sacred walls.  Most of you I never would have crossed paths with had it not been for Freemasonry.  Most of us don’t share the same occupation, or hobbies or even socialize with the same groups outside of here, but we share a deep belief that we can do better.  We can come here, find our better selves and help change the world we live in when we leave this place.

I look out on you tonight and see men for whom I am truly thankful.  Your charity to me may have been a charity of patience as I learned my Masonic work, or of forgiveness for words not-so-well-chosen; you may have been generous with your praise or your thanks. 

You may even just be a kindred spirit.   Someone with whom I connect on a level that is too deep to explain; someone I know would gladly give anything to help me and I would be eager to help in the same way.
We can all think of people we know this well.  We need to give thanks for their generosity to us and be ever willing to give in the same way back to them.
Remember that when our end approaches, as Rumi says, we will not grieve for our death, but the things we didn’t do.  Be generous with your treasure, liberal with your praise, abundant with your kindness and most of all, be unselfish with your love.  Do not approach your end wishing you could have done more, do it now.  “I cannot think of better advice to send.  I hope you like it.  May you stay in your infinity.  Peace…”