Vol. XXXVI No. 09 — September 1958

Dust . . . Sparks . . . Winds . . . and God

A Masonic Meditation

Dr. William Moseley Brown, PGM

The magic of the words of this manuscript can be appreciated only by hearing the sweet concord of sounds that its gifted author, Dr. William Moseley Brown (P.G.M., Virginia), has achieved. It should be read aloud as an inspirational message in Masonic lodges, by any brother who has a good voice and a practiced delivery. — Carl H. Claudy


Some time ago a Masonic publication carried the following:

Everything in Masonry has reference to God, implies God, speaks of God, and points to God.

Not a degree, not a symbol, not an obligation, not a lecture, nor a charge but finds its meaning and derives its beauty from God, the Great Architect and Master Builder of the Universe, God the Father of humanity, its solidarity and salvation. God the Maker of heaven and earth and all that in them is, before Whom silence is eloquent and wonder is worship.

Every lodge is erected to God and dedicated to the Holy Saints John and labors in God’s name, seeking to make His will the design upon its trestleboard.

No initiate enters a lodge without first kneeling and confessing his faith and trust in God, Whose love is the foundation of fraternity.

Dust . . . Sparks . . . Winds . . . and God

When Amelia Earhart was lost over the Pacific in July 1937, the tragedy shocked the entire world. She had been the first woman to fly the Atlantic as well as the first of her sex to fly the Pacific. At the time of her death she was in process of making a flight around the world. Had she succeeded, she would also have been the first woman to accomplish this feat.

Among the countless tributes penned to Miss Earhart’s daring and courage, none excelled that of Walter Lippman. In an attempt at a philosophical interpretation of the fact that tragedy often strikes down the world’s bravest spirits, he wrote:

Man is not merely a creature of his habits. Somewhere in the dust of which he is made there are sparks which are fanned from time to time by great winds from the sky.

Dust and sparks! Great winds from the sky! What an epitome of Masonic teachings and philosophy! The writer of this quotation did not intend it so. But just the same, unwittingly, unintentionally, Lippman here expresses one of the profoundest truths of human nature and human experience.

It is not the dust but the sparks that count. Great winds blowing upon dust produce only dust storms. It is the sparks that differentiate man from the beasts of the field and the rest of creation. When fanned by the great winds coming from the presence of the great Creator, these sparks can become a consuming fire at times, from which there is no escape either for the individual concerned or for the rest of humanity. For better or for worse, the entire human race becomes involved in the ensuing conflagration. Social, political, economic, and religious revolutions have had their beginnings in just this way.

A speculative Mason is required by the tenure of his profession to speculate, that is, to ponder, to contemplate, to meditate. Perhaps one of our present-day shortcomings is the fact that Masons in general do not do this. Thinking is one of the hardest tasks with which we are faced. Failure to think means that we fail also to make the proper decisions. And these decisions can be made only in accord with the moral law, which is perhaps the most fundamental of all Masonic themes.

The word speculate was first used with reference to Masonry in the Cooke Manuscript of the early fifteenth century. It is synonymous with symbolic Freemasonry and is contemporary with Symbolic Masonry. In other words, one cannot be a true Mason without being also ethical and moral. One may profess to be these, and even more, one may believe in the Supreme Architect of the Universe; yet one can be lacking completely in ethics and morality. In their very essence both of these terms imply a practical application of what the ancient Greeks called the good, the beautiful, and the true. To these, certain modern philosophers have added the holy. These form the substance of all Masonic teaching.

Scientists have tried for many years to avoid accepting responsibility for decisions involving morality. But with the advent of the Atomic Age and the jet era the acceptance of moral responsibility by scientists and inventors has become inevitable. Mere objectivity in this connection is not sufficient to relieve the scientist of moral responsibility. Man becomes responsible for his moral decisions regardless of their final results.

Hence it follows, that Freemasonry has become increasingly important in recent years. In the nature of things its overall influence has become secondary only to that of organized religion. This fact has been sensed by the modern historian, Arnold J. Toynbee, who stated recently that religion and morality are the only elements in human civilization, which will come even near to saving humanity from annihilation in the Space Age.

In his meditations, therefore, the Freemason must develop the proper philosophy of life for the era in which we are living. Every man, whether he wills it or not, is in reality a philosopher. It is the primary objective of philosophy to answer the question “Why?” And this is not always easy to do. If we cannot develop a philosophy of life, which is adequate for the present and for the years which are to come, we shall certainly not be able to live successfully or even adequately.

It is not merely through his firm and steadfast belief in that Almighty Being whom he is taught to revere as the Supreme Architect of the Universe that the true Mason acquits himself as a member of the fraternity. The great drama of the Master Masons degree has as its ultimate purpose a profound emphasis upon the “immortal or better part of man which survives the grave.” “Bearing the nearest affinity to that Supreme Intelligence which pervades all Nature,” it can, therefore, “never, never, never die.” In other words, Freemasonry teaches nothing if not the immortality of the human spirit. Its teaching regarding the resurrection of the body is also unmistakable.

For the Mason the evergreen in the form of the “sprig of acacia” has become a symbol of the life eternal. Neither the snows of winter nor the scorching suns of the summer season nor the parching winds of a rainless climate can ever destroy it. For the Mason there is no grave without its “sprig of acacia,” symbolizing the continued existence of “those whom we have loved long since but lost a while.” For the member of the Masonic Fraternity these constitute positive convictions for which no material proof need ever be adduced, any more than he requires material proof of the ultimate reality of honor, love, faith, and truth. External evidences of these and other attributes are all about us, to be sure. But no mechanistic or scientific device has yet been invented to measure in even the crudest manner those elements in human character that we value most. There are scores of these, many of which find special emphasis in our ritualistic teachings. A man’s devotion to duty; his loyalty to his country; honesty and intellectual integrity; friendship, chastity, concern and solicitude for the welfare of others; and all of those virtues, which we classify as unselfish, belong here.

It must have been something in this category of imponderables that William H. Carruth had in mind when he wrote:

A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod -
Some call it consecration,
And others call it God.

I once talked to an eminent scientist, who had spent years studying the human brain and nervous system. He was acknowledged an expert in his field. The subject of our conversation, as we stood under the great dome of the Library of Congress in Washington, was, as Job would have put it: “If a man die, shall he five again?” By way of conclusion — and with an air of great finality — the scientist said: “I have not found a scintilla of evidence to show that there is any such thing as life after death.”

These words of the great man have remained with me through the years. They represent the typical case of the scientist, who adopts the ipse dixit of the Pythagoreans. It is so because I say it is so, the inescapable conclusion being: That is all the authority and proof needed.

It will be recalled that Pythagoras, a great Greek philosopher who lived in the sixth century A.D. is revered by Masons as the reputed discoverer of the so-called “Pythagorean Theorem” and a member of the various pre-Masonic mystery groups of his time. It seems never to have occurred to my friend, the great brain specialist, that he was far from being Pythagoras. Nor did it occur to him that he was perhaps not looking in the right place or even for the right thing. “Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?” “Thar’s gold in them thar hills” does not apply to every hill; and, too, there is such a thing as “fool’s gold” or iron pyrite, which is not the genuine article, though it passes current in a fool’s paradise, and is a favorite plaything for children.

"Gold is where you find it” is a familiar saying. And to find it we must go where it is. To the geologist or mining engineer there are unmistakable signs of the precious metal’s presence — volcanic formations, black sands in the nearby streams, shiny yellow specks imbedded in the rock formations, an abundance of quartz and feldspar.

We do not look in dark corners for stars, or in the arid desert for the rose and the lily. Search as we may with scalpel and microscope, we can find no scintilla of material evidence to distinguish between that heart and mind that are full of hatred and malice, and that heart and mind that overflow with love for the good, the beautiful, and the true, sympathy for the bereaved, and compassion, as we say in Masonry, for the miseries of one’s fellows. Yet what would mankind be without them? These, forsooth, are the unseen but nevertheless the most powerful forces that make human nature human. These can be discovered only through evidence of an indirect nature — manifestations in words of helpfulness, deeds of kindness, and thoughts of lofty aspiration.

“A tree is known by its fruit.” To enjoy the ripe, red apple or the luscious peach, we do not need to know its chemical structure, its place of origin, its botanical classification, or the secrets of its growth and maturity. When we use a piece of machinery or a household appliance, drive a car, or enjoy central heating on a wintry day, we need not be experts in mechanics, technology, and thermodynamics. Experts in these fields manufacture and service all these devices. And that, of course, is as it should be.

Somewhere, however, deep within the nature of an Eli Whitney, a George Stephenson, a James Watt, a Cyrus Hall McCormick, a Samuel F. B. Morse, and a Thomas A. Edison there have been sparks that, when fanned, have produced the great inventions attributed to them by a grateful humanity.

Somewhere in the make-up (inscrutable though it may be) of a Homer, a Dante, a Virgil, a John Milton, a Shakespeare, a Keats, a Goethe, there have been sparks, which when fanned by the divine afflatus have produced the worlds greatest poetry and prose.

Somewhere in the soul of a Pheidias, a Praxiteles, a Michaelangelo, a Leonardo da Vinci, a Raphael, a Christopher Wren have been the inextinguishable sparks that, when fanned from above, gave to the world its greatest examples of sculpture, painting, and architecture.

Somewhere in the spirit of a Socrates, a Plato, an Aristotle, a Pythagoras, a Cicero, a Seneca, a Marcus Aurelius, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis of Assisi, a John Locke, an Isaac Newton, a Martin Luther have been sparks, which when fanned by great winds from the sky, have set the world afire with the race’s greatest thoughts in religion, science, and philosophy.

Somewhere in the heart of a Jeremiah or Ezekiel, in a Hosea or Isaiah, there have glowed sparks of spiritual insight, which when fanned by a Divine Wind from Sinai, burst into a passionate call to repentance and righteousness.

Somewhere in the mind of a William Preston, a Jeremy L. Cross, a Robert Freke Gould, a William J. Hughan, a Joseph Fort Newton, an Albert G. Mackey, a Roscoe Pound, an H. L. Haywood, yes, and a Carl H. Claudy there have also been sparks, which were fanned by winds from on high and have thus enriched immeasurably Masonic history, philosophy, symbolism, and ritual.

And somewhere in the minds of countless seekers after Masonic light other sparks have been blown by celestial winds like the rushing mighty wind of the first Pentecost, causing them to point the way by which the members of our Masonic Fraternity might be enabled with the help of their brethren to "rise from a dead level to living perpendicular”; to understand something more of the mystery of life and death and to attach a proper and rational spiritual meaning to both; to promulgate and to practice the true principles of morality and to be in the profoundest sense of the word seekers after TRUTH, searching for the "wisdom of the ages” and thus being true to their eternal trust as Freemasons.

It is not necessary here for us to indulge in rationalizing or in wishful thinking; nor can we shut our eyes to the sublime realities of human experience in our effort to solve human problems or to obtain “more fight” on a particularly difficult matter. Nor do we have to play the traditional role of the ostrich, hiding our heads in the sand in order to escape the stem realities of a hostile world or the situations that threaten at times to overwhelm us.

For it is in times of crisis that our physical powers of endurance are somehow increased marvelously, that our mental faculties become more sharpened and potent than we ever dreamed they could be, and that our spiritual insight becomes clearer and more incisive than could ever be the case under ordinary everyday conditions. Then the normal becomes indeed supernormal and suddenly, through the affinity that all of us bear to the Supreme Intelligence, we become physical, mental, and spiritual giants. Then the heavenly winds begin to blow; the sparks, ordinarily latent and deep in our natures, burst into flame; the mind and the spirit begin to glow; and eventually a consuming fire takes complete possession of our being. We rise, somehow, above the pettinesses of self and our baser desires: for these are consumed as dross by the intense heat of the flame. We pass through the fiery furnace but not a hair of our heads is singed, nor is there the smell of the fire upon us. Only the pure gold remains.

This is the price of the mental and spiritual purification, to which every Mason worthy of the name aspires. The “rite of lustration” (washing with water) is hardly more than a symbol. It produces no such cleansing as that which comes from fire. Water, of itself, never produces complete purification. Fire is intense and all-consuming. Few things can withstand its heat save the pure gold of Life and Character.

Whatever it may cost, let us pray the Supreme Architect of the Universe, that when the sky-wind blows our way, it may come with such force as to fan our sparks into fire, that we, too, may make our contribution to the progress of human-kind and of Masonry. If the winds and the sparks lead us to attempt daring deeds, let it not be for the sake of hoped-for reward — for that produces only heroics — but because the cause is great, the goal is far, the aim is high, and the compulsion upon us is irresistible.

“I have done what I could not leave undone!” Thus exclaimed William Tell of Swiss fame when he rescued his neighbor from the fury of the governor’s horsemen by ferrying the unfortunate man through an angry sea, where none other would venture. Tell, too, was but responding to the fanning of the sparks. So was Nathan Hale when he exclaimed: “I regret that I have but one life to give to my country.” So also did thousands of others to whom the cause was greater than themselves; liberty greater than life; principles and convictions dearer than all else in the world.

All genuine accomplishments in life are produced similarly. Dust alone and by itself remains ever “of the earth earthy.” Dust activated by the sparks fanned by the winds from the sky above us can render man invincible.

The Masonic Service Association of North America