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An Address to Non-Masons Personal by one Member of the Lodge of Living Stones

Many people have considerable misconceptions as to what Freemasonry is all about. The fact that you are reading this, though, means that you have some interest and want to find out at least a little more.

We hear a lot about the work/life balance these days. Certainly everyone needs a holiday, down-time in which to recharge their batteries. How do we recharge those batteries? Some play sport and I am sure find friends and fellowship with their team-mates. Some watch sport, as supporters, and find fellowship in their chosen tribe - all wearing the same scarf, the same team strip. A few go to church, where in addition to fellowship spiritual nourishment may also be found. Freemasonry too can fulfil both of these needs - that for fellowship, and that for spiritual nourishment.

You have probably heard something about Freemasonry - perhaps that it is a secret society; perhaps that Freemasons conspire together to promote each others' interests at the expense of those who are not Masons; perhaps even, that you cannot get on in the world unless you are a Mason. There is absolutely no truth in any of this. If you know any Freemasons on a personal basis and know the principles and values that they hold dear, you could never believe that they would belong to such an organisation.

You may have heard that the Freemasons are the guardians of secret knowledge, and perhaps even of evidence, that Christ somehow survived the Crucifixion and settled down to raise a family with Mary Magdalene - so that his descendents are still alive today. All very exciting stuff - nothing creates interest like a good conspiracy theory - so I am sorry to have to disappoint you and tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

If you asked a dozen Freemasons to tell you what Masonry is really about, you would almost certainly get several different answers. The commonest one would probably be: "a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." This is a quote from the Masonic ritual and doesn't really tell you all that much. Others might tell you that the purpose of Freemasonry is: "to make good men better." Both these two statements may be true but neither of them comes close to expressing the whole purpose of Masonry.
In a sense Freemasonry is all things to all men:
  1. The Lodge can be looked upon as just a club providing fellowship, a night out with the boys, a good meal and a few drinks in congenial company.
  2. Some may hope that the Lodge can be used for business networking; they are almost always bitterly disappointed. The Round Table and Rotary must be much more useful in this role - after all, these days, many Masons are retired.
  3. Freemasonry certainly emphasises morality; regular Lodge attendance reinforces a basic system of ethics by which a man should live his life, in the same way as regularly going to church on Sundays.
  4. Freemasonry is a charitable organisation and many Masons find that the organisation of charitable activities and collections forms the central part of what Masonry means to them.
  5. For a few Freemasonry provides spiritual nourishment and it is here perhaps that the established churches feel competition from Masonry and a few of them have reacted quite aggressively in response to this perceived threat.
Certainly Freemasonry does provide good fellowship; one can yarn with kindred spirits, in much the same way as one did at University. Everyone needs the fellowship of true friends, and I think most people find, as they go through life after University, that it becomes increasingly difficult to make close, lasting friends, who you know thoroughly and can trust completely. It is difficult, if not impossible, to forge such relationships in the competitive "cut-and-thrust" atmosphere of the business world. As a Freemason, however this is very easy.

But what does a man discover when he becomes a Mason and first enters the Lodge? I wouldn't want to spoil that experience for any of you who are thinking of joining but I think it is common knowledge that Freemasonry, in the main, is a male-only organisation ( there are also organisations for women-only and for both genders together). It uses the symbolism of builders' tools to teach its lessons in a series of ritual ceremonies or plays; it takes a man as a rough stone from the quarry and aims to make of him a perfect polished cube, fit for his place in the building of a spiritual temple. It is a traditional organisation with a hierarchical structure. Freemasonry requires of all its members, a belief in a Supreme Being. By this I mean a Creator God who created the universe including you and me. This does not, however, necessarily imply a personal God who is interested in me as an individual or "every hair on my head." Masonry is truly tolerant of all the established religions. After all, if the universe does have a Creator, there can only be one. It is therefore the same Being that we are all relating to, by whatever name we call Him and within whatever doctrinal system we worship Him.

The tolerance of other systems that Masonry promotes is one of its most important characteristics and gives it a unique perspective on the modern world, which, as we all know, is fragmented into separate religions, cultures and nations. All such separations result in conflict and human suffering. Freemasonry provides a forum whereby men can meet on a level above all these differences. In such a way men, who might otherwise never have met, can come together and discuss the greater questions of life in spite of any religious or cultural differences that might otherwise tend to separate them.

So Masonry teaches morality and tolerance but is that all? For me, certainly not; Masonry teaches me about the nature of myself. So what are these greater questions of life that Masonry might help us with? To begin with, after I had joined the Lodge, I sat on the sidelines and observed the ceremonies. As I listened and watched, I realised that the Masonic ritual was speaking to me at a very deep level that, to start with at least, I didn't really understand. It then became my task to listen more carefully and to try to understand what it was that Masonry was saying to me - that seemed on the one hand to be so important but on the other hand so difficult to grasp. Not everyone joining a Masonic Lodge will have this experience but as Christ said, after telling the Parable of the Sower: "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. " Masonry speaks particularly to the man who feels a sense of incompleteness, that something is missing in his being, a hunger for something that is lost. A glance a t the "Mind, Body and Spirit" section of any large bookshop will show you that such concerns are of considerable importance to many. This section is usually about the same size as the section on cooking, for instance, and is perhaps trying to fulfil a need as essential as that for food. The "Mind, Body and Spirit" section, however, is usually divided into shelves on: the Search for The Philosophers Stone, or the Holy Grail; Druids; Witchcraft; contemplation of Crystals and Mystic Runes; the study of Kundalini and the Chakras; the Alpha Course; and so on. In amongst all of this, the jewel of Freemasonry is hiding - on its own little shelf.

Freemasonry hints that a man can be made whole; and it provides clues as to where and how to look for what is lost. It is a gnostic system in that this missing thing cannot be described; he cannot be told what it is any more than you can tell a blind man what the colour green looks like, or communicate to a deaf man what it means to hear Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto. Each Freemason must find it for himself, within himself, and experience it in order to realise it and make it a part of himself.

A Freemason is thus taught to look beyond the surface of his life, beyond the veil of material things, both within the Lodge and also in the outside world. Our Founder, W.L. Wilmshurst, was convinced that: 'the purpose of all initiation was, and still is, to educate the mind in penetrating the outward shell of all phenomena.' In this way every story, every legend, becomes a parable - all relating an aspect of the eternal, fundamental truth underlying all things. So it is that Masonry helps a man wrestle with the great questions in life: Who am I? What am I doing here? Is this material universe all that there is? Is there anything after this life? Surely everyone has asked themselves such questions, even if only in those moments of deepest sadness and despair.

Finding the answers to his questions through Freemasonry is a spiritual journey, which can transform a man and his approach to the whole of his life. It does not require him to renounce any of his current beliefs or to contravene any moral law. At its best and most powerful the Masonic transformation is, in a way, analogous to the process of pupation in insects, where the individual is taken down into what appears to be a soup. Certain plates of cells remain and the soup in reorganised around these plates but using a different plan from the original one. The Freemason dismantles himself and examines his component parts before discarding some and reorganising the rest into a higher form. All this is done within the protective cocoon of his lodge. But as the butterfly kicks off the husk of its former lives and begins to sip the sweet nectar from the flower does it remember its former earthbound existence chewing on cabbage leaves? As the dragonfly swoops and hovers over the water, is it haunted by memories of crawling around in the slime at the bottom of the pond. A Freemason remembers where he has come from, what he doesn't know is exactly where his journey will take him.

A Freemason's journey is not a solitary one, however, he does not have to search for the answers to his questions alone. In Freemasonry there are travelling companions to provide fellowship and support - but I have already talked about the fellowship to be found in the Lodge.

I would end by saying that some of you might find Freemasonry very valuable and indeed it might contribute a new and different perspective to your lives. Many of you, however, will not be eligible to join - those who have no belief in any authority higher than a human hierarchy for instance. Some of you would not fit in at all, would be unhappy, and would soon leave. A few would disturb the harmony of the Lodge and be counter-productive. We need true and solid stones from which to build our spiritual temple. We, therefore, choose our rough stones carefully from the quarry of the outside world. For me being a Freemason is a great privilege. Freemasonry is one of the greatest forces for good I have encountered in the whole of my life and it is very important to me. So I would not try to market the Craft, to sell it, to those who would not value or appreciate it. I would not want to risk damaging it by encouraging the admission of potentially destructive forces.

If, however, any of this strikes a chord in you and you would like to join us, why not seek us out, contact us and convince us firstly that you would benefit from Freemasonry and secondly that Freemasonry would benefit from your membership.

AR Baker - March 2011
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