Vol. XXII No. 2 — February 1944

The Lodge of Silence

A wealthy English woman suffered a great grief. Turning to religion for comfort she went to many churches. Sometimes she entered at the wrong hours for services; then she remained to sit and think and doubtless to pray.

In the course of time she found more comfort in an empty church, or in one in which were but one or two sitting in quiet meditation, than from those filled with worshipers. The hour of quiet thought in an empty church became a daily habit. In one of these periods of sitting silent in a silent House of God she conceived the idea of a church in which no services would ever be held; a church which would be a sanctuary, and only a sanctuary, for those weary of heart and wounded of soul in which a warring spirit might find rest and relaxation in silence and solitude.

Then she built the little "Church of the Transfiguration” in London — better known as "The Church of Silence” — to bring without a spoken word its ministry to those in need.

It is possible, of course, if not probable, that some wealthy brother might build a Masonic Temple to house a Lodge of Silence, in which a member of the Craft might go for such meditation and consolation of quiet thought as for many can be had only from Masonic surroundings.

But it is not essential; almost any brother who so desires has access to a lodge room at times when it is not in use. Eighteen years ago (December 1926) The Short Talk Bulletin told the following story:

Thomas Morrow had been secretary of the little lodge over the store for thirty-nine years. He looked just as a secretary of that age and experience always does look. He had a kindly face, shrewd blue eyes, wore gold-rim spectacles, was rather thin and a little stooped and was very patient . . . he who bears with many worshipful masters of many minds must be so.

Brother Morrow had two of the several Masonic virtues developed to the nth power. He knew how to keep silent, and he understood the helping hand, whether it reached for a quarter for a beggar, a check for a charity, or support for the faltering. Which was why he knew something that no one else in Littleville knew, except the minister; knew that Jed Parsons, whose farm was six miles away, came to Littleville regularly once a week, got the key of the old Temple from the secretary, and spent an hour in the deserted lodge room.

Jed couldn’t have told, if you asked him, just why he did it. Jed was one of the world’s in-articulates; one of the men who cannot say what they feel. “It’s like this,” explained the secretary to the Minister. “You know Jed’s wife didn’t get along with him . . . city girl, she was. I don’t know whose fault it was. Maybe it was Jed’s fault. But I do know it broke his heart when she ran away with another man. That’s why he comes to the lodge room. It comforts him, somehow . . . he just goes in there and sits, and sits . . . maybe he prays, I dunno.”

The dictionary definition of silence: “stillness; without sound” is not all inclusive. He who has sat under the stars in quiet country knows that the silence of the night may be filled with soft sound; rustle of breeze in the leaves, trickle of brook, song of insects, which accentuate, rather than break, the silence. The silence of the Church of Silence may not be absolute stillness; street sounds may come in faintly. But its silence is undoubtedly the silence of the solitary, and this is what he may have who visits a lodge room out of meeting time.

There is healing in silence; there is within it comfort for the grieving, help for the troubled, wealth for the spiritually needy, strength for the spiritually weary.

“There are haunters of the silence; ghosts that hold the heart and brain. . . .” quiet ghosts whose haunting of the mind are blessings, not terrors.

Carlyle said; “Silence is the element in which great things fasten themselves together that at length they may emerge, full formed and majestic, into the daylight of life, which they are henceforth to rule.” Disraeli put it: “Silence is the mother of truth.”

It is with such thought in mind that the English lady built her “Church of Silence”; that Jed Parsons took with him into the empty lodge room above the store; that the troubled and distraught Squire Bentley brought into the meeting place of Doric lodge in The Rose Upon the Altar there to pray aloud to the God he had outraged. Those who have seen the play will recall his bitterness as he whispered: “Oh God, I have to speak to you. You are not in my house — my empty, empty house. I — I cannot go to your house. But I am a Mason — in a lodge I can pray. . . .”

There are some joys too great for laughter, as there are griefs too deep for tears. There are triumphs too great for sharing, as there are defeats which cannot be borne except alone.

Longfellow knew:

The holiest of all holidays are those
  Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
  The secret anniversaries of the heart
When the full river of feeling overflows;
The happy days unclouded to their close;
  The sudden joys that out of darkness start
  As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows.

And the writer in 1 Corinthians 14:28 knew, also: “Let him keep silence in the church and let him speak to himself and to God.”

It is worth trying, is it not? Many a brother has tried it, doubtless. It is hard to know, for few there are who break the silence to which they have gone for comfort or meditation — whether to empty church or solitary countryside or darkened lodge room — by speech about it to their fellows.

What did the empty church have to offer the English woman that the same edifice filled with worshipers at a service did not give?

Only the opportunity to think, with thoughts unled by service, sermon or prayer.

What may an empty lodge room offer the brother who there goes for meditation, which he cannot find in a lodge room filled with brethren?

Only the opportunity to muse, with thoughts unled by degree or fellowship or communion with one’s fellows.

Perhaps there is something more; a something made up of memories of the past; of personalities once loved now gone to walk this vale no more; of recollections of events once deep and pregnant with meaning, as when one held services for a friend, or raised a son, or watched a loved companion receive the Sublime Degree; a something compounded of Freemasonry as a whole and ritual and fellowship and the peaceful atmosphere created by men of warring opinions when they leave such differences outside a door and unite in one thought, equally welcome to all; a something perhaps influenced in its structure by the words of a Masonic prayer . . . “Thou, Oh God, knowest our downsittings and our uprisings, and understandeth our thoughts afar off. . . .”

Neither in Church of Silence or lodge room, empty, is prayer a necessity. Prayers may be said, but to many there comes as much comfort from the atmosphere and feeling of closeness to the infinite as in communion by prayer. Especially in these days of great anxieties and unrests; these terrible days when the daily newspaper is filled with horror, when the radio tells hourly of loss of life and of maimed men who will walk and work and see no more; when our beloved country is in danger both because of the war and of the unknown peace and the readjustments of peace to come — in these months when every thinking man’s soul is deeply troubled by terrors he cannot conquer and griefs he cannot comfort, an hour of silence and of solitude is an elixir of new life for the soul.

Our friend comes to us with hard and tearless eyes, his drawn face a mask empty of all emotion. He hands us the telegram . . . “Deeply regret — son killed in action. . . .”

What can we say? Nothing. What can we do? Nothing. What can anyone do or say? Nothing. But if he be a brother, we may lead him to a Lodge of Silence and there leave him for a time in Other Hands. . . .

With silence only as their benediction
  God’s angels come
Where in the shadow of a great affliction
  The soul sits dumb. . . .

But there is here more — much more — than a Gentle Hand for a wound. The Editor has seen the Grand Canyon of the Colorado many times, but recalls most a visit which was made unusual by the thoughtful understanding of a friend.

Away from a large group of some twenty fellow travelers he was led some half a mile through the forest, suddenly to come out on the very brink of that most awe-inspiring of natural wonders. The friend said nothing; he pointed to a tree which made a convenient back rest and left. For two hours the observer sat alone; no speech to interrupt thought, no laughter to break continuity of idea. Just the play of light and shade, the shadow of cloud, the slow wheeling of a bird over the abyss; just one man completely alone with one of the rarest writings of God, upon which to muse and think and dream. . . .

Here was no grief to be comforted, no triumph to fill the mind, no failure to be mourned. Here was only beauty and rest. But with the rest a rest for the mind the beauty became not of the earth, earthy. Nor were the resulting thoughts anything to put upon paper or give to another in speech. They were peculiarly the thinkers own because of the silence and the solitude. The mental experience was as unforgettable as the physical seeing of the color and size and depth and width of the canyon. . . .

These are troubled days for thinking minds. But also for thinking minds there are hours of solemn joy that in spite of the war and its horror and grief, so much remains of our American way of life, even as all of our American heritage remains. But can one think on these things while traveling a busy street, fighting for a place in a train or a minute on the long distance phone, struggling for a place in the sun for ourselves, our business, our profession?

Go, then, to a Lodge of Silence to muse upon blessings. Before that altar where brethren meet to pray with as well as for one another, kneel if you will, not necessarily to pray but to let the consciousness of the universality of brotherhood creep through the hard screen of defense of everyday thinking to touch the soul behind with thought of blessings that are ours. No man who thinks at all can think unmoved of political liberty, freedom of worship, the opportunity of America, the equality of justice and the certainty of eventual victory without humble gratitude that he is an American. How much more, then, must the Freemason be grateful. Not for him the barred and secret lodge, the summons by whispered word, the danger of two or three gathering about a Masonic altar. Here, in the land of lands where Freemasons can meet and proudly tell both world and police that they are meeting — is there better place thus to let gratitude well up than in a lodge?

⁎  ⁎  ⁎

He had a great problem to solve. It involved right and wrong. It also involved the happiness of many people. Unfortunately, as too often happens with big problems, the happiness of many people and the right of right and wrong did not necessarily square each with the other. There were many arguments on both sides. It was a matter for long consideration, much advice, plenty of counsel and even then the way was not a clear way, but clouded and befogged by the possibility of various unforeseen consequences which might come.

At the end of a long session with many advisors, one said, “Come — you are tired out. Perhaps I can show you a way. . . .”

He led the puzzled brother to the empty lodge room, and shut him within. He stayed in the anteroom, a tiler without a sword, that none might interrupt.

At the end of an hour the brother came out.

“I think we have solved it, together. . . .” he said.

Who were we?

Tomorrow there is a great work to be begun. You approach it with diffidence, wonder if you are competent, worry lest you fail.

There are so many things to think upon, to think through. But today is a busy day . . . it is hard to plan for the great task ahead while doing the little task of the immediate present.

Go to your Temple. Unlock the door of the lodge room, if indeed it is locked. Light the Lesser Lights and open the Book upon the altar. Hold, if you will, a little lodge meeting all your own; let it be attended only by those “haunters of the silence,” those “ghosts that hold the heart and brain.” For here your “great things will fasten themselves together.”

⁎  ⁎  ⁎

Comes once more our brother; this time his eyes are soft with tears, his face is no longer a mask but a page written large for all to read. He can no more speak from joy than he could from grief. This time the telegram reads: “Not killed in action — prisoner of war. . . .”

What can we do? Pump his hand, beat him upon the back, telephone the glad news to our friends . . . does it add to his joy? Joy too deep to speak, happiness too great to share

For him, too, the little journey to the Lodge of Silence. Light the lights. Open the book. Close the door. Leave him alone.

In the lodge of Silence he will not be alone.

The Masonic Service Association of North America