Friday, May 11, 2012

Companions On My Journey

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn't make any sense.

Rumi, Tr. Coleman Barks

Tonight is the final Official Visit of the 2012 season. When I get to this point in the year, I often begin to reflect on what I have written and delivered to you thus far, usually in an effort not to repeat myself. What I have found interesting is that each year some sort of theme usually presents itself. That has never been my goal, mind you, just a manifestation of where my soul is, and what, if anything, it compels me to write about. It is evident to me that this year, my soul has been on a journey of reflection.

I have tried to use this platform to challenge all of you, as well as myself to come to a better understanding of who we are, of why we believe the things we believe and why we do the things we do.  My hope has always been that you leave either inspired, challenged, invigorated, called to action or some combination of those.

Each and every time I sit at my desk and begin what is occasionally the easy, but oftentimes proves to be the daunting task of writing a talk that seeks to do those things, I start by reflecting.  I try to sit quietly and listen to that place in my chest which is constantly seeking light.  I guess if I were completely honest, I write for me.  I write to organize my thoughts, discover who I am, work through my problems, fears and inadequacies and hope that by doing so, the conclusions I come to will empower me to change what needs to be changed and to reinforce whatever I find to be acceptable.

Tonight’s blessedly brief talk is my way of saying thank you.  Thank you all for being my sounding board and for helping me to smooth my extremely rough ashlar.  Thank you for a season of Official Visits that have been incredibly enjoyable, uplifting and memorable.  We have laughed, we have cried.  We have shared things that can only be shared within the walls of a Masonic Lodge.

I have finally come to realize that you, my beloved Brothers, are Light.  This peace, the blessed joy of Masonic fellowship, is what my soul craves.  I look around at your faces and realize I would know virtually none of you if not for this bond.  I would bet that does not just apply to me.  Masonry is the sine qua non of most of the friendships here.  Perhaps some of us would have met by chance through business or family or some other way, but without the gentle spirit of the Craft pulling at our common need for understanding, we certainly would not know each other as well or as deeply as we do right now.

If you feel the same way, I ask you simply to do one thing.  Use the Masonic silence of the summer to rededicate yourself to the Craft.  Return this fall with renewed energy and a commitment to action.  Bring a man to your open house.  Bring two.  Volunteer.  Be an ambassador.  Listen to that part of your soul that is yearning to be part of something great, and nourish it.

Thank you all for traveling with me this year.  I am incredibly blessed to be your District Deputy Grand Master.  I have learned and I have grown both as a man and a Mason and I hope the same can be said for each of you.  I appreciate you having shared your light with me and listening while I shared mine. 

As my own words for how deeply I feel seem inadequate, I will close tonight as I opened, with the beautiful words of Rumi. . .

Those with no energy have gone.
You that remain, do you know
who you are? How many? 

Can you look at a fountain and become water?
Can you recognize the great self
and so enjoy your individual selves? 

Do you run from joy?
Perhaps the lion
should not flee the fox.

Let your loving and your soul
burn up in this candle.
Let a new life come. 

The friend is at the door.
You are the lock his key fits. 
You are a piece of candy,

the choice words of a poem,
the friend and the swallow
of silence here at the end.

Thank you for coming on my journey.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Man for Others

On May 8th, I visited Tyrian Lodge No. 644.  The evening was absolutely wonderful.  Over 150  Masons packed into Plum Creek-Monroeville Lodge to see Brother Byrl J. Johnson, Regional Instructor, receive his Fifty Year Service Emblem.  Brother Byrl has labored tirelessly for Freemasonry and is a mentor to so many of us.  His love for the Fraternity was the inspiration for my address that evening.

A Man for Others

"What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone? How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal?” ~ Brother Winston Churchill

Freemasons are seekers – seekers of wisdom and of truth.  We seek justice, peace and equality.  We crave understanding.  The principles of Geometry, which form the architecture of our basic teachings were developed as a way to understand.  To understand nature, to find order in what seems at first glance to be chaos; and by finding that order, come to a better understanding of the nature of the Divine.

The Craft has always tried to put itself – as Brother Churchill so eloquently stated – “in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and eternal.”   From the days of Pythagoras, whose teachings and discoveries form the foundation of much of our work, man has sought to commune with the Great Architect by gaining understanding of all that He has created.

The Masonic path – the quest to find one’s best self – is by necessity one that must be traveled alone.  There are two ironies in that.  First, while it is a solo journey, it cannot be taken without guides.   There is the guide who brings you into and through your Masonic Lodge and then, if you are lucky, there are other souls – kindred spirits – who open you to a greater understanding of yourself and of Freemasonry.

The other irony is that, through this personal formation – this incredibly self-involved act – one finds himself changed into a Man for Others. 

I have said before that the world needs Freemasonry because Freemasons are good, kind people.  We look to ease the burdens of others, to teach, to support and to improve everything that is in our power.  We are not perfect.  We make mistakes – sometimes large ones – but we endeavor at every turn to learn from them and to help teach others not to make the same ones.

As I look around this room tonight, I can honestly say that it is full of my personal mentors, Men for Others.  Some are role models of leadership and dignity, of character and right action.  Others are teachers who expect and accept nothing but my best.  Others still are spiritual friends whose hearts and souls emit a light that helps keep me on my path.  Each of us has someone like that.  He may be sitting next to you or he may have laid aside his working tools.  You may be that man to someone else in this room whether you’re aware of it or not.

I’d like to read a poem entitled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole.

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.

After we close this meeting, we will be honoring some within our ranks by presenting Fifty Year Service Emblems.  Each of them has been a Bridge Builder for us.  Without them, and without the ones who came before them, this Fraternity would not be here for us.  They have labored, in their own manner, to shore up our foundation and ensure our future success.  They are Men for Others.

We need emulate these men.  We need to be willing to shoulder whatever burdens come our way, be it raising money for Masonic Charities, leading our Lodges, being ambassadors of the Craft and attracting new men or simply as a laborer who pays his dues and quietly wears the badge of Freemason.

As we leave this sanctuary tonight and go back into a world that is strikingly at odds with the peace we feel within these walls, we must each take what we have learned on our personal journeys and vow to use it in a very public way.  Be like your mentors and “make this muddled world a better place for those who live in it after we’re gone.”  In short, be a Man for Others.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Growing Down

This address was delivered at Infinity Lodge No. 546 on March 14, 2012.  Infinity Lodge is in the process of merging Penn Brotherhood Lodge No. 635 into theirs.  The new Lodge will be a combination of ten previous Lodges.  While this is in many ways a sad commentary on the realities of modern life and the competition for a man's time, Infinity Lodge is one of the most charitable and caring Lodges around.  My Vist there, as it always does, energized and uplifted my soul.

Growing Down 

I find you there in all these things
I care for like a brother.
A seed, you nestle in the smallest of them,
and in the huge ones spread yourself hugely.

Such is the amazing play of the powers:
they give themselves so willingly,
swelling in the roots, thinning as the trunks rise,
and in the high leaves, resurrection.
Rilke, The Book of Hours I, 2

I chose that poem as the epigraph for this talk with the intention of using the growth of a tree as a metaphor for a Masonic Lodge.  I read it, reread it, leaned back at my desk and searched the sky for inspiration, or at least a starting point. 
I started searching for new poems and new stories to inspire me.
Then finally it hit me.  The tree would really be quite a good symbol for a Masonic Lodge if. . .  
If it grew backward.
If each individual Mason was a leaf that stood on its own and the gentle wind of commonality blew us all together, would not that Mystic Tie of our Brotherhood begin to connect us twig by twig?  Small groups of men would join for the common purpose of self-improvement.  As those men met others nearby, they might realize that connecting their branches into a common trunk would give them strength and stability – support for the work that Masons do.  That trunk would put down roots, weaving itself into the ground of the community in which it wants to grow and to which it wants to give protection, shade and comfort.
That’s what I see happening here.  Over the last 100 years or so the branches called Braddock’s Field, Fort Pitt, Homewood, Delta, Justice, Penn, Fox Chapel, Duquesne, Beta and Swissvale Lodges are now poised to be one great tree right here in Penn Hills.  That tree – this Lodge – brings shelter to the school that it neighbors, shade and comfort to those in need and support to the Charities of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.
To continue the metaphor, once our tree has established roots, it must feed to grow.  That food can come in the form of new members.  Each Lodge this year will be required to hold an open house.  Opening our doors to those who know nothing about Freemasonry, what we stand for or the good works we do, is one simple way to attract men of good character who want to make themselves better.  At the Pennsylvania Masonic Congress held in March, a survey was taken and the number one reason those men listed for joining a Lodge was that men they admired were already Masons.  We need to open our doors so that we may inspire others to join our ranks.
Once they have entered, we must teach them.  We need to begin to see the Master/Apprentice relationship as more than allegorical.  We must use the Mentor Program developed by Grand Lodge to impress upon the newest Brother our history, our ideals and our mission.
The Online Education program of the Grand Lodge allows all Pennsylvania Masons to take classes on Masonic Law, History of the Craft and the Mentor program with new classes to be added soon.  Each of you should sign up that you might be better equipped to tell a non Mason friend why you’re proud to be a Freemason.
The Grand Master’s theme for his term is “Freemasons: Master Builders. Building for our Future.”   He has given us many ways to nourish our trees.  The Grand Master’s Award for the Lodges who earnestly attempt to make themselves better, the Master Builder’s Award for new Masons who complete a list of items designed to make them active, educated and useful members of the Lodge as well as the other tools I mention above are all food to help our hungry plant thrive.  In return we are asked to do some hard work.  We have been asked to donate funds to the Library and Museum this year and the Masonic Children’s Home next year.  We are expected to open our doors and become beacons in our community where good men gather to do great things.  In short we are tasked with being good Masons.
I would like to close with a poem by Rumi.  To me, it illustrates the connectedness that we all must have to those around us and how that connectedness – like our tree - can lift us all into greatness.
How does part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don't try to put out a fire by throwing on
more fire. Don't wash a wound with blood.

No matter how fast you run, your shadow
more than keeps up. Sometimes it's in front.
Only full, overhead sun diminishes your shadow.

But that shadow has been serving you.
What hurts you blesses you.

Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.

I can explain this, but it would break the glass cover
on your heart, and there is no fixing that.

You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.

When from that tree, feathers and wings
sprout on your soul, be quieter than a dove.
Don't open your mouth for even a cooooo.
~ Tr. Coleman Barks