Disrespect and violence so often occupy centre stage in life today. We have had instances recently where respect appeared to be, at best, lacking, perhaps wilfully ignored. Two such instances spring to mind. First, we have had a distressing instance of lack of respect in a recent reality television programme, where one participant was subjected to racial abuse by some of the others. The target of this abuse was a lady who, by virtue of her own nobility of spirit, did not hit back, but maintained a serenity and composure which spoke volumes about her place at her own centre.
Even worse of course are the tragic deaths resulting from the increasing gun culture in some of our cities, particularly amongst those who are too young by any standards to be involved with firearms. In that context, it seems anomalous to speak of the need for respect, but once respect has been abandoned, we are on the downward slope towards violence and anarchy.
The middle ages were full of literature extolling ‘courtly’ love, amour courtois or hofische Minne, and of course it is from there that the word ‘courteous’ has come down to us. So the ‘court’, although referring then to a royal or ducal court of some kind, denoted, on a different level, a place where one could be at one’s own centre, a middle chamber, where we atone for wrongdoing and receive our spiritual reward. Such sentiments, for our forebears, formed a central part of how society was structured.
In Freemasonry there are many triads. Not surprisingly, all the most important symbols and allegories come in threes. We have three Grand Principles, three great and lesser lights, the three who rule a lodge, and so on. Each degree has a set of three working tools. Here, I want to give you another triad, relating to daily life: Respect, Care and Attention. In the last issue of Freemasonry Today we spoke about unity, that unity which required respect for the views and beliefs of others, care in our dealings, and attention in our own conduct to ensure those necessary qualities of care and respect.
For those who are not familiar with the Emulation Lectures in the three degrees, they constitute a vestige of the catechetical lecture system that was not only widely used by Freemasons in England to instruct newly-made masons, but also comprised the real work that went on in lodges in the eighteenth century. I still remember my initial intriguing introduction to the fourth section of the first lecture:
On what ground do our lodges
Why on holy ground?
Because the first lodge was
At that stage, I had not been present at a lodge consecration. I wondered what such consecration might
comprise, but once I had realised that the ground of my own lodge was holy, hallowed by the work of many Brethren over many years, you can see that my approach to Freemasonry might change. You can see that I might then regard the holy ground of my lodge with respect, and treat it with the care called for by such holiness. I am still inspired by these lectures today, and one of the richest sections is the seventh and final section of the first lecture. It begins:
How many sorts of masons are
Two: free and accepted, and
Which of those are you?
Free and accepted.
What do you learn by being a free
and accepted mason?
Secrecy, morality and good
Secrecy, morality and good fellowship: yet another triad! But as with all masonic allegories, things here are
more than they seem. Freemasonry, as we know, teaches self-knowledge and moral lessons. It teaches us that, by knowing ourselves, we can then, in Pythagoras’ words, ‘know the universe, and God’. The morality that starts with ourselves then becomes part of our moral obligation to the universe, and its most important component, our fellow creatures.
But what of secrecy? By secrecy, we surely do not mean concealing the so-called secrets of the ritual, all of which can be read about in books. And of course, as we also know, the true secret is the one in our hearts, the one at the centre, a different secret in each of the three degrees, but secrets which are interlinked and lead from one to the next.
We move from darkness to light. We ascend Jacob’s ladder and, later, the winding staircase. We pass through the veil and are then no longer separated from the secret of our own true nature, the centre from which we cannot err, and where we come to know to what goodness and care for others our masonic path may lead us.
Care draws on care, woe comforts woe again,
Sorrow breeds sorrow, one grief brings forth twain.
Michael Drayton, 1563-1631