One of the most challenging aspects for me as a new Freemason has been the balance between the practical and the philosophical in the work of the Craft. The practical contains many components and ranges from the direct, immediate work of the ritual, lectures, and the processes around the conferral of degrees. Depending on the practices of your Lodge, this could include the use of mechanisms such as the Chamber of Reflection, a moment for meditation at the beginning of meetings, and certain additions or adaptations to the ritual work such as music, lighting, and incense to develop the atmosphere.
The philosophical elements of Freemasonry, I would argue, come from a careful study of the rituals, charges, and short lectures peculiar to the degrees themselves, such as the “G” Lecture in the 2nd Degree. These philosophical aspects are designed to increase knowledge and promote contemplation.
I would expand these definitions by challenging our practice of the Craft, that we may practice outside of the Lodge those admirable principals which are inculcated in it. In this sense, the practical and philosophical become questions regarding our comportment in the world outside of the sacred space. Secondly, we then ask ourselves how, if at all, we take our learning and development in the Lodge into the places and spaces of the outer world.
There are those who might argue that the work of the Craft occurs within the Lodge and the labor of the Mason is completed and contained within the Lodge only, with no need for additional Labor, learning or contemplation. But I would disagree. I came to the door of Freemasonry approximately four years ago with the objective of joining an organization which would contribute to a complete lifestyle change for me. I sought an increase and development of my spiritual life, a connection with others seeking to explore the questions and mysteries of existence, an examination of esoteric subjects, and an environment to study and discuss these topics and other related issues.
This interest is what drew me to participation in the 2016 York Rite Retreat this year in Hudson, WI just outside of the Twin Cities. Sponsored by the Minnesota Chapter No. 1 of York Rite Masons, the event was held over two days in September. The retreat was designed by its founders to provide “a rich and fun learning experience” which would include Masonic fellowship and time apart from the “hectic world,” with a focus on Masonic learning and study.
This year’s retreat included presentations from a number of Masonic authors and scholars, including Peter Tomlinson, Scott Wolter, Jeffrey Kupperman, Ray Hayward, Josef Wages and Timothy Hogan. Topics ranging from Daoism to the Kensington Runestone were discussed during the retreat, and there were multiple times and spaces for Masonic fellowship through the discussions, debates and dialogues. Each presentation brought a unique perspective to Masonry, its practice and place in our lives. Along with deeply insightful and thought-provoking talks on esoteric subjects, we also discussed and enacted practices like meditations, designed to enhance our Masonic/spiritual experience. Of utmost interest to me was a set of presentations which could be categorized as “practical” presentations. These were designed to offer meditative and contemplative work that could supplement and support Masonic activity, as well as personal spiritual growth.
This retreat was, in my mind, an excellent example of what I was hoping to find upon becoming a Mason. While the work of the Lodge, the ritual, and the practice has always been important to me, I have wanted to push my development through as many avenues as possible, both philosophically and practically. Grappling with the implications of Hogan’s discussions on Gnosticism was as intriguing and useful to me as considering the practical applications of Plato’s ethics as presented by Kupperman. The totality of the presentations allowed for a beautiful synthesis of thinking and doing in a way that I deeply appreciated. I hope to participate in the future in this retreat, and thank you to my Brothers for the opportunity to participate.