“My sincere hope is that in the end others will find reflection on my life as a worthy endeavor and will conclude that there was something about how I treated them and lived my life–that the tools worked for me and I worked the tools”
The purpose of this essay is to capture the impact that the working tools of Masonry have had on my life.
The Life of Work
Christian faith would have us believe that our Creator was purposeful in his design of the universe and mankind. I was always raised to believe that there was nothing random about the act of creation or the byproducts of the mind of God. In fact, in his omniscience, God knew the destiny of mankind before the manifestation of actual mankind. I was also raised to believe that God not only made mankind in his spiritual image but that there was a plan for his life. To me this implies that man must, as long as he lives, live a life of creativity and manifest divine attributes. This life-work begins in earnest from the time the Master imparted to me my first “set” of working tools until I pick them up and lay them down for the last time.
So, when we are asked, “whence came you?” and “what have you come to do?” we’ve come from the divine, to optimize the divine in human form. To me this is the call that is embodied in the mason’s life call to “improve myself” and to “subdue my passions.” Gaining a proper understanding and use of our working tools are the keys to a fulfilled spiritual and Masonic life. In the end, I realize that I must erect my human lodge (life) with the aid of the tools to mimic both King Solomon’s Temple in its splendor and beauty and the greater work and spiritual miracles wrought by the Grand Architect
The Work of the Wielder
The working tools are really abstractions of divine principles made easier to grasp through framing by the tangible objects of masonry. The obligation of the mason is to wield these tools to do the difficult internal work of improving himself and bringing under his control the basest, animalistic vices that would otherwise keep him from becoming the finished ashlar. Collectively, the set of tools is designed to transform the man generally; to make a good man better. Each individual tool, then, is to be used on himself to address aspects of himself. This requires that the individual take a candid look at himself to identify areas where each tool can be set to work. Our task is to individualize the work of the tools so we can be “workman unto God that need not be ashamed.” The purpose of the tools is not to make us feel good about ourselves. They are meant to shine the light of truth so we can see the work we must do. We then must be committed to its work and have the courage to see the work to its conclusion.
The twenty-four-inch gauge challenges us to be mindful of the time we have to do our work and to understand that each moment is fleeting. This tool calls us to achieve balance in how we use our time and to understand its value to us in fulfilling our purpose.
While the use of the gauge seems kinder, the common gavel is much more aggressive and it requires, in literal terms, physical force. Paired with the chisel this tool challenges us to smooth the edges of our innermost selves by forcibly removing those thoughts and actions (edges and contours) that stand in the way of us being just and upright Masons. The vices that are the object of the gavel may vary from person to person, but for me I’ve been challenged to control my negative and unproductive emotions, to weaken my anxieties and to tear down any thoughts of superiority or pride.
Taken together the square, level and plumb challenge us to truly understand who we are as individuals and relative to others. I believe that so many destructive behaviors are the result of a depraved view of ourselves. When our actions flow from this view how can we live a life that is in accordance with the virtues of integrity, respect and morality? As I have moved through the chairs and have seen how we respect each other and the dignitaries of our fraternity, I see these tools as a reminder that I am truly no better than any other brother, that I and we have all started as apprentices regardless of the end or glories of our respective Masonic journeys. To me these tools constantly challenge us to question our intentions and behaviors to ensure that they measure up to the highest standards of conduct.
The compasses resonate with me in terms of setting limits or boundaries. I have always tried to live within the bounds of Christian morality and personal ethics. As I have grown older, I’ve seen that morality is far more universal than I was led to believe. I now see the compass creating a larger “arc of truth” that respects other faiths and experiences and a personal freedom for me to explore those and appreciate a dialogue with others. I have also drawn smaller “arcs of judgement” in terms of how adamant I am about what is universal truth. I am actually comfortable with not knowing and not being absolute about everything.
My early disappointment with my Christian upbringing was the tolerated justification of moral failures, judgement of others and hypocrisy. This led to me the discovery and embrace of my own set of guidelines that resonated with me regardless of popular opinion or bias and helped me refine my relationship with God and others. These boundaries, in essence, resulted in my treating others in ways that probably exceeded their own expectations and shielded me from taking their misbehaviors or poor treatment personally. I found that while I place a sacred value on proper treatment of others, I also had to insist on a certain type of treatment that I expected in return. I used to tell my son, “treat others the way you want to be treated even if they don’t return the favor.” In dealing with others “on the square” I’ve found gratification in meeting my higher purpose regardless of any external rewards or whether my subjective expectations of others’ behavior are met.
The Wielder’s Object
While it is tempting to see the work of the tools as being mainly for self-centered purposes, there is a broader, more external work and global work purpose. I really want the “world at large to be convinced of (Masonry’s) good effects (on my life). This is accomplished first by the work of the tools on my life. When this happens, it is inevitable for the spillover to the “world stage” to occur. The world stage really means the local one and it’s here where the ripple effect begins. For me, it is making sure that every work and personal decision is infused with and inspired by the spirit of the work of the tools; in honoring the great charge to assume the “three great duties.”
I also realize now that the manner in which I care for and build my body may be an indication of the kind spiritual temple I am building at the same time. If Thoreau was correct in asserting that “every man is a builder of a temple, his body” then it behooves me to take care in how and what I am building. I am now more careful than ever in not only “avoiding every irregularity…that may impair (my) faculties” but in deliberately setting and manifesting intentions to build only what I want to build in this temple. I see that the scope of my life as a man and Mason will be judged and summarized by the end result of the temple I’ve built with the help of the working tools. And in the end, I am successful, I will have, as Newton offered, built a “home for the Soul” and lived a life that was more than simply building “provision for the body.”
My sincere hope is that in the end others will find reflection on my life as a worthy endeavor and will conclude that there was something about how I treated them and lived my life–that the tools worked for me and I worked the tools. And, maybe when trying to explain the reasons for the zest with which I lived my life, they will hopefully, say, “well you know he was a Mason!”