Tradition and Understanding

by Thomas Hauder, PGM

Tradition does not form us automatically,
we have to work to understand it.
— Thomas Merton

This quote recently popped up on my planner and it made me stop and think for a moment how this really applies to Masonry, to all Masons both new and seasoned and to myself.

When raising a new Master Mason or trying to explain why we are in Masonry, we often get caught up in quoting the traditions and traditional values that Masonry is trying to teach us.  For many men coming into the Craft, it is these traditions and traditional values that attract them to the Craft.  They may have read about some famous past Mason and how his life was one of admirable deeds and heroic accomplishments.  Often these are attributed either by history writers or the person themselves, to the influence of Masonry.

Quite often in Masonry, I will run across Brothers who are quite proud of their Masonic membership and are happy to tell all who will listen how it has been a positive influence in their lives and how all men should be members and so on.  But exactly how Masonry has changed them is never quite made clear.

When I press for details, I often find that the Brother hasn’t been to Lodge in many years, knows nothing of the ritual or traditions, hasn’t picked up a book on Masonry in years and looking at how they live their life, it would seem they have spent little time trying to internalize the lessons that Masonry teaches.  I can only conclude that Masonry for them is like exercise is for many of us…a grand concept but not one daily practiced!

Indeed, when any move is attempted by the Grand Lodge or other leadership to increase the amount of work/learning a candidate must do to become a Master Mason, it is soundly defeated and roundly disapproved.

In contrast, there are many Brothers for whom Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth seem to be a way of life.  Not only in their interactions in Lodge but also in their daily lives and interaction with others, they seem to alway hew to our three traditional principals.

Why do some only give lip service to Masonry and others live it every day?

When talking to the Brothers I’ve found to be living Masonic values, I find one common thread that runs through all the conversations, and that is the concept of constant work and effort to understand what Masonry has to offer.

For some reason, many believe that just because they went through the degree work, that somehow they were changed. While such an epiphany is possible, it is very unlikely.  As Masonry is not a religion, the GATOU is not going to reach down and suddenly make you a better person that follows all the principles of Masonry.

What I have learned from my Masonic betters is that you must work to understand and apply the lessons of Masonry.  And that this work is never ending, must take place every day and only becomes a part of your natural actions after much effort, making mistakes, correcting your behavior and trying again.  They often tell me stories of a Brother with whom they spent many hours learning ritual and it was in the times between reciting ritual that their mentor would discuss the practical applications of ritual and share life experiences.

In other words, using my exercise analogy, just as I can’t be an Olympic athlete by simply saying or thinking that I am, I must put in the hundreds of hours of training with a proper coach, so the same thing is true about becoming a Mason.  I must put in the time and effort to get the result. Simply having a membership card will not make it so.

To be sure, we all experience Masonry differently and as we are all human, we are flawed in our ability to live up to the standards that Masonry demands.  Nonetheless, we will only honor the traditions that have been handed down when we take the time and effort necessary to understand why they were so important to the Brothers that came before us and why they felt it was important to pass these traditions on to further generations.