The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.


Bro. R. H. Thornton

If our ancestors could visit us today would it not be interesting what the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks or the Elizabethans would be saying of us? Undoubtedly they would ask how any hour of history could be as miraculous as ours. They would want to know if we deserve such marvels and whether or not we appreciated them. We must admit that today is a day men will look back upon with amazement and envy, for although we have lived on this planet for ‘only the flick of an eyelash’ we have come a long, long way — what with the advent of electricity and electronics, television and microwave, automobile and jets, the exploration of the atom and outer space. We are reaching in almost every direction, and will continue to do so.

Times have changed dramatically and so, perhaps, have many of our institutions. almost every day is different from the day ahead of it. The clouds in the heavens never repeat their panorama, nor do the waves of the sea duplicate their pattern. Despite the global tensions, it does not take long to realize that the crisis now upon the world is not in the field of science, but in the thinking and behaviour of people who are denied the transforming influence of spiritual guidance in their lives.

Were we to make a careful examination of Freemasonry’s objectives in the light of these dramatic changes — we would find the fundamental purposes and needs, as envisioned 100 years ago, were unchanged. We still aim to make good men better — to bring the light of God into the hearts of men — to bring peace and harmony and understanding through the teachings from the Brotherhood of Man, under the Fatherhood of God.

The scientist who understands the workings of the atom and the satellite is still a human being. The difference is that his mind conceives reality in a greatly ‘advanced stage’ but, he, like most of us can grow even more in capacity, in creativeness and character — as he searches for god’s inspiration in the secrets of nature. All Masons are subject to this influence upon their minds.

The challenge facing Masonry then is to keep Masonry alive in the hearts of the members, that the lessons of the Craft may be understood during these days of pressures and aggregation of interests, so that there is equal consideration of Spiritual Goals.

Masons are not expected to be crusading evangelists, but are to exhibit qualities of tolerance, charity and patience, spreading Good Will, Order and Understanding, contributing happiness, peace and security into our homes, communities, nations and the world.

The book of Genesis relates a story about a man called Esau who, thinking he was about to die of hunger, sold his birthright for a ‘mess of potage’. The Bible always speaks of him with contempt, the sensual man who put his stomach first, who considered only the present desire and physical satisfaction. He was a ‘profane’ man, who was barred from holy ground. Esau not only gave away his material birthright, but also gave away his right to be the spiritual head of the family, to be the priestly intercessor before God. Despising his birthright — his soul died. Perhaps his moment of decision had been too long in coming and Esau had settled into a way of life, a way of fleshly gratification, so when the moment did come, he had lost the power to resist.

What is your long-range aim? If you want to know what you are like, list the things you would never do, what you would rather die than do. Also write down your dominant convictions about life. What are your great principles? Are you a creature of impulse, at the mercy of an ungovernable appetite? For an immediate profit of material things will you give away the highest value of life and possibility of a noble future? Do you resign with easy indulgence the future — true, and good, and beautiful?

Multitudes of young people are doing just that. For quick gratification they take drugs, easy money, easy morals — these are the curse of our age — and throw away the priceless things. The problem is not new — even Omar Khayyam exhorted —

“Ah take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.”

A man is known by what he does. But he is also known by the things he will not do, by the company he will not keep, by the customs of the society to which he will not conform. The unpurchasable man not only saves himself, but also saves society. Lacking a dominant aim in life, a man is like an engine “running without a headlight”. Life requires a sense of direction, concentration, and an integration of personality.

Reading further in the Bible is another story about a man called Naboth. When Ahab came to him demanding that he sell his birthright to him, Naboth, knowing that it meant his death replied, “The Lord forbid it me that I should give the inheritance of my father unto thee.” Any man or Mason, who has not answered an Ahab in such language has never really truly lived. They will never taste the power and glory of life.

This paper was instigated to bring to the attention of You, the Mason — how to move out into the world, to interest others. There is a grimness in growing old and having a feeling of being on a dead end street. There is a loneliness as one walks the last mile unnoticed, unneeded and unwanted. there is a desire for peace which can come only from faith and understanding. how can we administer to those who have concerns and yearnings? Is it not the little attentions; little acts of kindness that provides the relief given by Masonic brethren to provide serenity for those whose care is entrusted to us?

On the other end of the age scale, are hundreds of young Canadians who, from a variety of backgrounds have rejected the great god ‘drug’, the social graces of the Old World religions, and the accumulation of material wealth. Revolution in their view seems to be the concept of change. Freedom to do their own ‘thing’ possesses their very souls. Graduating from the hard, explosive type of political revolution with its power groups of black, brown and students against the principles instituted by the ‘institution’, they are now in the ‘soft revolution’. this one is more implosive than explosive, being more or less religious in character. It shows up in rock groups, communes, extra-sensory perception, witchcraft and new religious groups such as the ‘Jesus People’. Youth of today appreciate the ‘green things’ — living things. This is the ‘Age of Aquarius’ which characterizes softness, tenderness, sensitivity and sharing, rather than the rugged individualism of former ages. If you are over thirty years of age, you just don’t understand. The youth are the natives of this new country they are building, the adults are the immigrants. Their idea of freedom is to do their own ‘thing’ now. Ironically, all the slaves endeavouring to get free, are themselves becoming more enslaved.

Freedom is like the tail of the dog — the young dog going around and around after his tail, which symbolizes freedom. If he caught his tail it would give him perfect freedom. The old dog just goes about his business knowing that if he does so, his tail, the freedom, will follow.

Freedom is the giving of oneself — the young call it ‘Soul’. The one real danger of youth is their reluctance to accept criticism. Blind acceptance of a philosophy has been known to border on fanaticism, which often leads to the destruction of the entire ideology.

Our world is beset with confusion and bewilderment. Today’s youth face problems which seem insurmountable, yet society today overlooks some of the laws for nurturing culture. Have we not noticed — what happens to rich, green lawns that search for water and nourishment — how they become parched, scraggy and brown? Have we not observed tender seedlings unable to assert themselves because of the intrusion of pernicious weeds that overwhelm, choke, starve and literally obliterate something promising? Today’s youth appears to face the same predicament as the parched lawn and unweeded garden. They need the equivalent of water and nourishment to prevent their minds and souls from becoming parched and brown. During their dependent years, they need someone to remove the weeds of ignorance and selfishness, to become able to reach their fullest, potential glory. Today’s youth is more than big business — they hold tomorrow’s destiny!

Freemasonry has stood the test of criticism for many centuries. It could withstand, indeed be assisted, by some fanaticism by the ‘joiners’ of the Craft. There is the story of the boy entering the blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith had just completed the shaping of a horseshoe and had thrown it on the dirt floor to cool. The young lad, being uninitiated to blacksmith’s work, bent over picked it up, and with a surprised look on his face immediately dropped it. “What is the matter boy, is it pretty hot?” exclaimed the blacksmith. “No”, replied the boy, “it just doesn’t take very long to look at a horseshoe.”

How like the young lad are many of us, it does not take very long to look at Masonry, especially when we are surprised to find it takes some work and time to fathom the principles upon which it was founded. Principles of an institution are still weighted by what the populace sees and thinks of that institution.

In the search for values, the need is to return frequently to the fountain for nurture. You — the Mason must return to Lodge meetings, often and regularly — for these meetings are the springs from which Freemasonry flows. Thoughts do not end with their utterances. They echo and live, sometimes travelling to unbelievable ends to make an impression on hesitant friends who are ‘members in name only’ and are indisposed on meeting nights.

Do we underestimate the importance of disposition? It is one of the most important variables in human beings. Our disposition tempers our attitudes; our attitudes our habits; habits establish character which in turn determines our happiness in life. After all, most of us spend our days diverting ourselves from our narrow pathways, our unachieved dreams, and groping for periods of silence. Our life, without others, is like an artist’s canvas untouched. We need each others contacts, contrasts and tribulations to give our lives character, colour and inspiration. Otherwise, why would you attend the Banff Spring Workshop? Here we receive new trails of inspiration. Trickling brooks sing endlessly, but new tunes follow the storm with its accompanying flood!

What we sometimes overlook, as we see the magnificence of an iceberg, is that its dazzling beauty would never show but for the buoyancy and mass of the 80% that is the invisible part of its structure below the surface of the water and supporting the whole body. This concept is often true in Freemasonry. A great deal of the time, too inactive, but may be members in heart only. Yet, whether seen or unseen, like the iceberg, they support the good done by the fraternity in aspirations, ideals and example.

There are two kinds of power — that which is seen in things outside of ourselves, and that which is unseen in the hearts of men. Machines have multiplied our capacity for increasing our productivity, increasing the ingredients of energy, deterrents of disease, the control of far away objects. But these impressive advances are exclusively material things — all outside ourselves.

What then is the source of power within ourselves, without which gain is in vain? Is it not the power we obtain from faith, from hope, from love? It resides within the heart, unseen from the outer world, but characterized in deeds and action.

Brethren, with this power, You — the Mason will move out into the world to interest others because:

  1. You are commanded to do so by the G.A.O.T.U., there is no need for discussion because of the command — “Go ye into all the world and teach all nations.”
  2. If you have studied and appreciated the principles of Masonry, enough to live by them, you will be enthusiastic to extol the virtues to others. There is a fable about Xanthus and Aesop. It seems Xanthus wanted to give a banquet for his friends. He sent Aesop to the market to buy the best for his friends — nothing but the best. Aesop returned, prepared the banquet, and every course was tongue, the tongues of exotic birds and beasts. Aesop’s reason: “is there anything as good as the tongue? Great and noble truths are uttered by the tongue. The tongue can make friends. The tongue can comfort the sorrowing. It can give instruction. With the tongue, we can praise God!” Xanthus (who was not very fond of tongue) sent Aesop to purchase supplies for a second banquet. This time he was ordered to get the worst things. Aesop returned to prepare the banquet. You guessed it — Aesop returned with tongue. His reason: “Is there anything worse than the tongue? The tongue brings strife. The tongue causes lawsuits and wars. The tongue spreads lies. It brings sorrow and even death!” The tongue, small as it is can boast of great things. ‘The terrible responsibilities of words.’
  3. The lessons and truths of Freemasonry should be inherited as landmarks, just as learning was founded in the East and hence spread its benign influence to the West that is, country to country, generation to generation. Work and study create self- interest, so by research and practice you will become enlightened and be qualified to pass on the knowledge to others.
  4. Show your gratitude to the G.A.O.T.U. for the gifts of nature, and your appreciation of the talents given by Him. The gifts and talents are only on loan from Him to be used by you for the instruction of those in your world. Stewardship is what a person does about what he says he believes.

Therefore Brethren because you belong to an organization which boasts eternity, you are commanded to reach out to society as a whole; to pass on the principles of Masonry to the unenlightened; thereby giving thanks for the gifts of nature bestowed by the Creator. Use the talents loaned by Him — for every human being has claim upon your kind offices.

When we seek for Truth, Love and Faith — in all tongues — we find Brotherhood.

We have survived the Stone Age; we are in the Space Age; but ahead of us is the Golden Age.

Reaching further is our Mission!