Vol. XXI No. 1 — January 1943

What See You?

The degree was finished, the lodge closed. Seven brethren sat talking in the anteroom: the master, a lawyer-brother, the wheelhorse, a past master, a minor grand lodge officer, a very young brother, the old tiler.

The lawyer-brother was speaking of a case in court. “Curious thing, that half-a-dozen witnesses of the same event will testify to half-a-dozen different stories. Each will tell what he remembers, what he thinks he saw, what he thinks he should have seen, and no two accounts are the same, although each witness tells what he believes to be the truth!”

“You recall the old story of the two knights in armor,” the Master said. “They fought to the point of exhaustion because they could not agree on the color of a shield. One swore it was black, the other white. Only when they had dropped from their horses did they examine the shield, to find one side white, the other black.”

“I read somewhere,” put in the wheelhorse, “of workmen building a church. Asked what they were doing, one workman said, ‘laying stone’; another ‘earning my pay,’ the third, ‘building a house of God.’ Each is doing the same work, but each sees his work from a different standpoint; one the literal; one, the practical; one the result.”

“Might be interesting to try the idea out here,” suggested the lawyer-brother, “and hear what we each saw or thought we saw — perhaps it may be better to ask what we each thought or thought we thought as we watched the third degree. What did you see and think, Worshipful?”

“I saw a pretty good ceremony with some flaws I’m going to correct before we have it again,” the Master answered; “by and large, the ritual was fine. I made a couple of slips that I know of; the senior deacon forgot a whole paragraph and I thought the floor work a little ragged. Also the fights were not very snappily managed — that is because Brother Smith is new to the job. But on the whole I think it was creditable and that the brethren are entitled at least to speak contentedly of our work, if not to brag.”

The wheelhorse was ready:

“I saw three men take the most solemn obligation it is possible to receive in Masonry and wondered which one of them would be the first to bust it higher than Gilderoy’s kite! I saw three brethren become ‘true and faithful brethren among us’ and wondered which would the soonest stop coming to lodge. I saw three men obligate themselves, among a lot of other things, not to do anything improper to the treasury — and I wondered which would be the first to be dropped N.P.D. I saw three earnest young men, their faces solemn with the undoubtedly well-done ceremony — you see, Worshipful, I’ll brag a little for you! — and wondered which one of them would first forget it so he could tell a questionable story in the anteroom.

“I saw a hope which will end in a disappointment. I saw men who might be but doubtless won’t be the kind of Masons we try to kid ourselves into thinking all of us are, when we know well we are not! ”

The past master took up the inquiry. “I saw three young men eagerly interested in what is, of course, the most illuminating experience any man can have. I’m not so old I forget my own initiation. To apply, wait; be investigated, wait; be balloted upon, wait; be notified of a first degree, wait; receive the degree; wait; receive the second, wait; finally get the third, must make a deep and lasting impression on the mind of any man not a moron.

"Our candidates tonight were thinking just as I thought — just as you all thought! They were about to receive all the light they could get in a lodge. They were, at last, full-fledged members; they now had a right to call themselves Master Masons, and to wear a Masonic watch charm or lapel button. At long last they were going to see a lodge closed in due form, and, next meet — they would find out just what a lodge did besides make new Masons. They were all eager to take part in whatever activity a lodge might have. You could see it in their faces. We have all seen it.

“But will they be so eagerly interested six months, a year, two years, hence? The chances are they won’t. Now and then we get a brother on whom the charm never ceases to work, who maintains his interest to the end. Such brethren become the Masters and the past masters, work on committees, join the Fellowcraft team, help the tiler, attend funerals — the good fifteen percent of any lodge which actually are the lodge.

“But one of six so develop. The other five sit on the benches, come occasionally, sometimes get dropped N.P.D. And the thought kept running through my mind tonight — are you to be of the fifteen percent or the eighty-five percent? And if you are of the latter, whose fault is it? Your fault? Our fault? If our fault, is our fault correctable? Will we do enough for you, the newly made brother? Or will we pay close attention to you up to the time you are a Master Mason and then drop you like a hot potato to make your own way?”

The minor grand lodge officer spoke.

“I’m less pessimistic than some who have spoken. After all, Freemasonry is more than two hundred years old in its present form and no man knows how much older in other forms. Something has kept it alive, made it grow, has it not? As I watched those young men receive their degree tonight I thought of other young men who received their degrees and what they did with them. I thought of George Washington, applying before he was a man, getting his degrees in his early youth, loving and venerating Freemasonry all his life, refusing the Grand Mastership of the whole United States — it was offered him, you know — becoming charter Master of his lodge in Alexandria, Virginia, laying the cornerstone of the Capitol at Washington as Grand Master pro tern of Maryland. Would any of these tonight become famous as was he? They might, you know!

“I thought of other brethren who gave greatly to the Craft. Albert Pike was once a new raised Master Mason and look at what he did for one branch of our fraternity — I heard somewhere that he found Scottish Rite Masonry in a hovel and left it in a palace. I thought of Mackey — once just a newly-raised brother, who lived to be the greatest Masonic authority the world has ever known, whose books and encyclopedia and jurisprudence are still foundations on which we build. Might any of these three become future Mackeys?

“The Master Mason raised today is the grand master of tomorrow; the young man initiated now is later to be the elder statesman to whom all Masons bow. One of those young men may be the grand master of grand masters, the jurist to whom all other Masonic jurists take off their hats. Who knows? Someone has to take the place of the great Masons who today lead and tomorrow die. It may be these. Brethren, we may have been present this evening at a meeting which will eventually be as historic as those initiations and raisings which are associated with the Washingtons, the Franklins, the Pikes, the Mackeys of the Masonic world!”

The very young brother took up the tale.

“I suppose I ought not to speak in such experienced company, but I have such a different slant on it that maybe you’ll let me give my young views.

“I received my Master Mason’s Degree, as you all know, at the hands of my father. I can recall no experience which seemed deeper, more profoundly moving, than to hear the words of the obligation from the lips from which I have heard everything of counsel and command and advice and friendly interest.

“I was moved to my depths by the degree. It was not only an honor, but a personal gift from my father to me. The words five in my memory. Every word of the ritual seemed to come directly from my father’s heart to mine.

“But I had no such kick out of the words tonight. I am not, Worshipful, criticizing your rendition of ritual, nor that of the other officers. I have heard only a dozen degrees since I was made a Master Mason, but all of them sounded impersonal. Machine words, spoken by machine voices; a job being done by those who had it to do. I don’t suppose you can find a father to raise every candidate. But I do believe that ritual could be made more personal, more alive, more vital, if there was less emphasis put on literal letter-perfect rendition and more on the meaning of the words, the truths of the story, the vitality of the teachings.”

The old tiler had listened patiently. He waited now, should anyone else have something to offer. Then he spoke.

“Curious things, men’s minds,” he began. “You all saw the same thing and each had different thoughts as a result. Our Master thought only of the ritual, the ceremony. Another brother was scornfully pessimistic about the effect of the degree on those who received it. The third speaker saw young men interested now, but doubted we had wit enough to hold that interest later on. Our grand lodge officer saw possibilities of future leadership. Our young brother felt the degree lacking in personality, in heart, in life; too much ritual and too little meaning in it.

“I did not see the degree, of course. But I can follow it pretty well out here; when all the brethren have come who are coming, I can sit in my old chair and hold my sword and dream of what is going on in the lodge. I can think of other degrees I have seen in the past — I haven’t always been a tiler, you know.”

He paused to light his pipe.

“You all know that when we close up in the heated months I go back home — out west where the mountains are, and the clear air and the green streams; the wild game, the lonely ranges, the open spaces. It does something to me, the mountains and the west.

“There is much in the Master’s Degree which makes me think of the west. Our young men came into the lodge tonight wondering what was before them. Adventure? Difficulty? Danger? They have heard things all their lives about 'the third degree'; even though it is among friends and brethren that they go, they are a little anxious, because they do not know. I have felt the same way going into the mountains with a horse, a frying pan, a fishing rod, some bacon and beans, a blanket. A mile from the last road and you are in the wilds; a day in the wilds and you are utterly lost, alone, save for the animals and birds — just you and God. So as I watched these young men in my imagination tonight, as they were conducted through part of the first section, I thought I knew what was in their minds. And I thought for the thousandth time, that it should be the duty of someone to tell them, before they are prepared for the third time, not to fear — not to fear anything, save as man must fear God.

“None of you have mentioned the word ‘sublime’ in your talks; if the third degree is the sublime degree, it ought to be kept sublime in the minds of those who take it — and one cannot see that which is sublime through fear.

“My imagination watched them as they knelt before God’s altar. No man can do that in a Masonic lodge without a clutch at the heart and a lump in the throat. I have felt like that on a mountain top. . . . Oh, my brethren, may each of you sometime ride a good horse slowly up through the timbers of a high mountain, seeing nothing but trees until suddenly you come to timber line. Ten, eleven, twelve thousand feet up, you look out across the gulch to the next mountain, and beyond the valley to another and another — you see clouds resting on mountain peaks; there is sunlight and shadow by the square mile picking out patterns of beauty on the sloping sides, changing as you look. And you see — you cannot help but see — the garment of the Most High. It may be but an instant glimpse — man’s eyes cannot bear the sight long any more than he may look at the sun. But that one glimpse leaves you never quite the same.

“Our initiates tonight climbed to the glorious heights of the sublime degree. If they were lucky — perhaps I should say, if they were thoughtful, and imaginative — they could see for an instant glimpse the shining fringe of the great garment.

“There are three mountain peaks in the sublime degree — you know them as well as I. Before the altar for the first time — before the altar for the second time . . . the raising and the five points.

"I watched our youngsters tonight in imagination as one by one they came back into the lodge room, each to do for himself what hitherto the lodge had done for him. This I think of as the highest peak, the greatest lesson, the most in beauty. I recall a sunset from the top of a mountain near old Emigrant Peak — and the Shekinah of glory of the red rays of a setting sun bathing his snow cap. It was such a light as seldom is on land or sea and it swept me along with it to heights of wonder and humble gratitude that I was privileged to watch such blinding beauty before the glory faded, the short twilight ended and the lamps of heaven came out to make a new picture. . . .

“Did these three, one by one, see as I saw? Did they have in their hearts what should come to every man, what must come to every thoughtful man as he prays in silence and alone? I hoped so. For those who see thus and think thus as they receive the Master’s Degree they are never the ones to be dropped, to lose interest, to stay away . . . they are the brethren who keep Freemasonry alive in the hearts of men. . . .

"I pitched my camp; I made my fire; I cooked my meal. And before I rolled in the blanket I sat before the embers; I lighted my pipe. It becomes cold on a mountain at night. But there was warmth in the scenes. One by one the jewels of the night crept out of hiding; one by one they lit the heavens, hanging low, low, in the clear western air. I could have reached up and touched one if I would. . . .

“Our young men, in their raisings tonight. . . the five points of fellowship were each a silver star in the blue night of the sublime degree. Did they wish to reach and touch the reality behind the symbol? I hoped they did. For he who does that is never the same . . . never, never. . . .

“You know, brethren, I really saw nothing tonight; I was outside. Only my heart was inside. I should not try to tell you what I saw when I really saw nothing. . . .”

What see you, brother, when you witness a third degree?

The Masonic Service Association of North America