Vol. XLIV No. 12 — December 1966

Great Expectations

Conrad Hahn

Hollywood and television have made familiar to many Americans (who otherwise would never have read it) Charles Dickens’ story of the orphaned Pip, the hero of Great Expectations. Young Philips hopes for a large financial inheritance were never realized; but he was enriched by the experience of growing up in Joe Gargery’s household, where simple kindness, love, and generosity were always to be found.

A lodge of Master Masons arouses great expectations in its initiates. (If it doesn’t, it should.) Like the blessings that came to Pip, these expectations are not materialistic. They are hopes for some social, intellectual or spiritual enrichment. If these are not fulfilled, the sense of loss may be the beginning of disillusionment and lack of interest.

Very few men would disagree that their initiation into Freemasonry made a significant impression on them. Members may neglect attendance at their lodges. They may wander away into other activities and apparently forget Freemasonry. But if they have glimpsed its beauties and potentialities, they retain a memory of something fine, something desirable. That recollection is never completely effaced.

For some men, unfortunately, the expectations that they experienced at the time they became Masons were never heightened into greatness. Many an eager member has contributed to that failure by his lack of understanding about those expectations.

A thoughtful man who has been led to a mountain top experience while “taking the degrees,” who feels and wants to understand the “sublime” in that adventure, is frequently let down when his congratulators treat the experience lightly. “Riding the goat wasn’t too bad, was it?” is hardly an inspiring comment to the newly-made Mason who has just completed a solemn journey.

Equally disconcerting is the wrong emphasis that other well-meaning brothers place on that event. “You ain’t seen nothing yet! Wait till you take some of the higher degrees.” Why must the sublime degree be disparaged this way? That is really what makes it so objectionable to offer petitions for other bodies to initiates in Symbolic Lodges before they have completed all the requirements and have had some Symbolic Lodge experience. It’s not only distracting to a new member; it’s selling short the expectations that were aroused by the ritual work of the fundamental degrees. Let a man digest one square meal before you ask him to swallow another.

Give the newly-raised brother credit for some lofty thoughts and serious impressions that the degree work has made on him. That is the beginning of wisdom in Freemasonry. Treat his new feelings and conceptions with dignified respect. Encourage the great expectations that his new fraternal experience has presented to his view. That is the moment to converse with him Masonically, before he quits a “sacred retreat of friendship and virtue, to mix again with the world.” The newly-raised Mason needs to feel that his brethren shared a profound spiritual experience with him.

If that feeling of participation in a sublime experience is choked off by levity or false emphasis, a new member will find it difficult to seek a true conception of the purposes of Freemasonry. Fellowship there is, obviously. But if it’s all “kidding” or “just a formality,” what’s the difference between Masonic fellowship and that of any other social club? Perhaps many of the lodge’s absentees never got the feeling that they had entered a new world where a special bond of fellowship was formed, a mystic tie growing out of a deeply moving spiritual experience that every member cherishes unreservedly. From a dead level to a living perpendicular is not a convivial event of back-slapping togetherness.

For that kind of fellowship there is a proper time and season. A well-managed lodge of Master Masons has suitable occasions for joy and mirth, for the pleasures of personal friendship and social gaiety. But even “the festive board,” whatever form or program it adopts, must appeal to the feelings of participation in a Masonic experience that were created by the labors of the lodge.

That feeling of belonging begins with little things, sometimes neglected or ignored. When a man is helped by a friend to present a petition to the lodge, he expects that friend to accompany him through his initiatory experiences. He expects to find him in lodge whenever he receives more fight in Masonry. Even greater is his expectation of the interest and support of the members who signed his petition as recommenders. Their absence from any of the meetings during which he “takes the degrees” is a denial of that participation in Masonic fellowship that he has been led to expect.

Even the members of the investigating committee, who called on him at his home, who gave him his first insights into the meaning of Masonry, may help to dash his great expectations by staying away from his most meaningful Masonic experiences. He expected them to share with him the first steps he took to become a fellow craftsman.

No Mason has served his lodge well if he merely brings in a petition. He must accept the responsibility of fitting a stone for the builders’ use. He must help to arouse and fulfill the great expectations that come to every worthy candidate during the degrees.

If he realizes the needs as well as the hopes of every new member, no Master Mason will decline the opportunity to instruct a candidate. “Intenders,” “mentors,” “teachers” — whatever the title may be — are key men in fulfilling the initiate’s great expectations, if they do their work Masonically.

Consider also the expectations of a visiting brother. Here is a Mason who has so much pleasure in his fraternal experiences that he is eager “to travel and work as such.” What do we do to his hopes for Masonic fellowship if we treat him as a few lodges did on a journey to faraway places?

Some lodges went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable at their meetings. I felt as if I belonged, in a place where I had no real ties or acquaintances. Others gave me the feeling that I was non-existent. For example, would you want to go back to a lodge where you are unknown and, after the master introduced you, you were thereafter completely ignored?

When similar treatment is accorded a newly-made Mason, should we not blame ourselves when he fails to come to lodge again? His expectations for fellowship and friendship were crushed, even before the first blossoms could be seen along the bough.

Just as destructive of a brothers hopes for friendship and Masonic brotherhood are the much too zealous examining committees, who subject a visiting Mason to an inquisition rather than to an examination of his Masonic credentials. Even worse are the members of such a group who literally put a man through a third degree, in the mistaken idea that they are protecting the Fraternity against possible imposters. Such a committee should always work with a slogan like this: “I examined a friend, whom I afterward found to be a brother.”

In The Short Talk Bulletin,Yet Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves” (Nov. ’50) Carl Claudy wrote,

Any visitor who compliments a lodge by asking for a committee has the right to receive a courteous and efficient examination. . . . It is not their task to find out how much he knows, how good a ritualist he is, or to point out how different his ritual is and how superior theirs. . . . Catch questions are rude questions. . . . A committee and a would-be visitor are three or more brethren, brought together to establish their bona fides, and for no other purpose.

Where a visitor, or a newly-raised brother, is made to feel at home, where an effort is made to acquaint him with all those present, where intelligent interest is taken in him as a person, where signs of friendship are unmistakably in evidence, the likelihood of his return is almost a certainty. His great expectations have not been disappointed.

Masonry, however, does not exist merely to provide friendship and fellowship. That wonderful world of familiar association is all that some members want, but there are more expectations that Freemasonry creates in those who seek its benefits. Too often these hopes are ignored and the individual Mason suffers. Too many Masons don’t even know what they’re missing. Their great expectations were never fully developed.

One brother has written,

It wasn’t until I began reading the books supplied by grand lodge that I started to get a true conception of the purposes of Masonry. As I read, I saw that by applying Masonic principles to every day life, I could make a better world for myself and those with whom I came in contact. I learned to be more tolerant of other people’s ideas and their mistakes. If someone’s opinion differs from mine, it may be due to variations in our experiences and knowledge. To understand and to respect each other, we must recognize those differences. People make mistakes, but no one in his right mind makes them intentionally. With this in mind my approach to correcting an error and the person who made it has changed for the better. I found that by being patient I didn’t get my nerves all stirred up.

Obviously this brother has had some of his great expectations of Freemasonry come true. He realized that the Fraternity teaches a philosophy of living for the individual.

He expected to acquire knowledge to help him understand that instruction and apply it to his own activities outside the lodge. He was fortunate. His grand lodge was concerned about his great expectations. It had some educational tools available.

He was twice blessed, for he was really made a Builder. He was inspired to become a Speculative Mason, probably by the brethren of his lodge. They aroused his hopes and aspirations; they set him on the course that led to his enjoyment of the building of his Temple.

“Harmony being the strength and support of all societies,” — this was the crown of the brother’s great expectations. “An appreciation of Masonic teachings has given me an inner strength. In a Masonic atmosphere differences can be dealt with and harmony maintained.” Freemasonry has no greater moments than those in which a brother achieves his great expectations.

The Masonic Service Association of North America