Our Masonic Quest
Most Worshipful Grand Master, Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master, my colleagues of the Grand Line, Right Worshipfuls, Very Worshipfuls, Worshipfuls, Brethren all Good Morning!
Quest 37. Thirty-seven years of Masonic education. Well, if that’s not a “Way of Life”, I don’t know what is. But what, exactly, is a quest? Oddly enough, the dictionary only defines “quest” as “a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something”. Yet somehow we understand that this definition does not adequately express our understanding of a quest. Yes, our attempts to find the missing car keys or the remote to the TV may sometimes seem like a search through a dense and foreign jungle, but we know at our heart that these situations do not truly resonate with us as embodying a quest.
Without having to read it in a book, we recognize that a quest involves something much more important than a small trinket. Perhaps the most famous traditional quest story is the tale of King Arthur’s round table and their search for the Holy Grail. In more recent times, the story of Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship of the Ring has been made into a number of very successful movies.
Both of these stories feature a long and difficult journey for the heroes; filled with dangerous villains, dead ends, character-challenging decisions, and outcomes that were hardly what was expected when they started out at the beginning. So as we gather here for the 37th installment of this event, it makes complete sense to ask ourselves “What do we hope to achieve in our Masonic quests?”
But before we set out on that journey, are we sure that we are properly prepared for it? Certainly by implementing the Northstar program, we will do a better job of filtering out those applicants who lie about who they are on their applications. But how do we ensure that we, ourselves, are honest about who we are, or what we are pursuing? This does not only include WHY we became Masons, but also HOW we accept the Masonic paradigm, even though it seems to run counter to everything else we have been taught.
You see, life outside of Lodge has trained and prepared us to accept traditional advancement and reward as the goal in most of our pursuits. Sports, jobs, even other social clubs. If Masonry is truly different, we must discard both advancement and reward of this kind. We must also accept the premise that while we might have accumulated a lifetime of experiences, and even professional titles that point to career success, these milestones still mean that we are all rough ashlars when we begin our membership, and we are all accept that “Brother” is the highest title.
Once we are in the door, there still exist perils that can too easily trip us up. Shiny gold jewels and medals, and fancy purple aprons can too easily dazzle the eye. And, sadly, too many of us think that these baubles are a worthy pursuit in and of themselves. I can personally assure you that wearing one does not impart any magical powers to you, nor does it make you a better Mason. However, since we’re examining our Masonic quests, I will share with you a personal observance. Have you ever noticed how Masonic jewel collars are exceptionally wide? Now some might say that this is to fit over the exceptionally large heads of Grand Line officers; but I believe it is because they are meant to be worn in the English style – more on the shoulders. My own theory as to why is that we are meant to symbolically feel the weight of our Brothers hands upon our shoulders to remind us of how they have entrusted us with their good keeping. After all, we did take an obligation to aid and assist them.
Certainly we can easily do that. We already have a group of Brothers we “entrust” with this duty. The Trustees of the Masonic Hall & Home carefully grow and manage our Masonic Care Community so that no Brother, or their family, has to live without dignity or without family, at a time of life when so many Americans sadly do. This is why I will always encourage donations to the Masonic Hall & Home, and will always take every moment that I can to thank them for their service.
But back to my observation about the collars. I am very fortunate. I was raised in a District where every leader that I admired and wanted to emulate wanted to help me be a better Mason. And I don’t just mean a better Mason in general. I mean a better Mason than them. To want to polish a lesser-grade jewel to make it shine – just as long as it doesn’t shine brighter than you – that’s an easy task, and a very selfish one. But to want someone to exceed you; now that’s a journey worthy of the term “quest”.
Surely, as elders of the Craft, we can correct the minor errors of our younger Brothers. And we can ask them to be open to that “constructive criticism”. But that type of teaching is really only appropriate at the very formative levels of learning – when we need to learn the very basics of communication. What yields the best student is mentorship, and not just mentorship that looks from the outside into what the student is doing. What if we brought it to a different level? What if we let them in on the secrets of our personal quests? What if we shared our journeys?
Mentorship that acknowledges and shares the teacher’s journey is the next level. Show them where you strayed, where you erred. Explain to them your most well-intentioned attempt at helping a situation, and how, and why, it still went wrong. Show them that even an honored ruler in the Craft suffers from the same frustrations and sometimes dead ends that they do. And, most importantly, explain to them the value of why you get right back up and try again.
In the fire service, we always get together after a major call for a couple of “chalk talks”. Actually, in the modern era, we should probably call them “dry-erase white board talks”, but that is not nearly as catchy. Anyway, first it’s the Captains getting their Company together to talk about the fire. Then it’s Department-wide with Chiefs, Captains, and Lieutenants. We talk about what went right, and what went wrong. Officers take responsibility for what could have gone better, and praise is meted out to teams and “probies” who got it done, and put in serious work. We are always left with an odd sense of satisfaction – that we can’t wait for the next fire…to do it even better.
The only way that works is if everyone accepts that learning happens at all levels. Yes, chiefs and officers are respected, and their orders are not second-guessed in the heat of the call, but they are just as open to learning as the newest member of the Department. They know that white Fire Chief shields melt at the same temperature as the ones that say “Probational” on them.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is only successful at ridding his world of the ultimate symbol of evil by the aid of many friends, with many skill sets, from many different walks of life. We are told that two of the races, Elves and Dwarves, actually despised each other. Yet their leaders recognize that their quest is more important than the prejudices that their ancestors thought they needed to impart. In the end of this story, some ties are broken, some friends are lost forever, and some scars will never heal. But each character recognizes that their sacrifice has ensured a better world for those who come after them, even if some of the party’s only intent was to protect their little village, The Shire. They know that the value of that future is more precious than any gold ring.
In King Arthur’s Holy Grail it is not the strongest nor the bravest knight who succeeds. Only the purest knight, Sir Galahad, is able to actually see the Grail. And what does he do when he finds this ultimate treasure? He leaves it there. He doesn’t bring it back as a trophy, nor does he exalt himself as the ultimate knight. He realizes that the quest for the grail was not an object, but a pursuit in itself for the ideal. While he is rewarded with eternal life, he asks to be allowed to die, knowing that no other work of more import could possible lie before him.
My Brothers, we are not fanciful creatures of myth, nor are we knights of old in the service of a great King. As Masons, we are already taught that our quest is not one for gold, nor laurel wreaths, nor personal victory. Our quest is not another dues card and another title. These do not distinguish us from one another, nor do they elevate us from the common cowan. But like the famous quests of fantasy, ours is based in humility and service, where wisdom is knowing what you know and knowing that you still have so much more to know.
What we quest for is not just acquiring knowledge, but passing it on to the next generation so that they can build upon the foundations left for us by those whom have come before us. Now that’s a noble quest we can all be a part of, and one that we should recommit ourselves to today. I thank you for letting me be part of your quest, today, and always. Thank you.
R\W\Peter Flihan III