October 2, 2006
It has been said that a man has three great loves in his lifetime: his first love as a youth, the love he finds in the strength of his life, and the love he comes to in his mature years. Some men hear this as a prophecy concerning natural progression in loving one woman or the different women they will meet and love. Still others hear something else entirely, something of the spirit. This saying implies many things. It suggests that life comes to us first hot and passionate, then solid and developing, and then deeply fulfilling. It implies that the way we live changes over time and that we change within while living it. Such is life. In living, we are all subject to the dynamics of change.
Each of us experiences the tug and pull of change as we pass through life's crisis points, but most of us do pass through them with little disturbance. Change is within us continually and acts upon us slowly and subtly unless there is a major crisis point. The most common of these is the so called 'mid-life crisis' which seems to afflict some middle aged men with the overwhelming compulsion to buy little red convertible sports cars, dye their hair, and actively chase their lost youth, or what they think they should have been chasing in their youth. Those are the outward appearances anyway, and in society's judgment, they teeter somewhere between humorous and ridiculous on the fulcrum of sad. What we don't see is that these actions are driven by a crisis of spirit. Deep down inside the chaser is lost, alone and unhappy, and cannot be his own best friend. He has not found rules and guides for living that speak to him, and his spirit wanders, hearing the drummer of his compulsion, but deaf to the heartbeat of true joy and hope.
As Masons, we also change in our Masonic life, in how we experience it and understand it. Our three degrees are metaphors for passing through the three stages of life; youth, manhood, and old age. We can think of proficiencies between degrees as transition points; we pass from what we have learned to the challenge of moving forward into a new stage. Yet, even this three-fold metaphor of life and the degrees is but the first phase in our true Masonic development. Receiving and demonstrating the degrees is like our passionate youth and our first crisis point comes with this completion. Will our flame of interest burn out here or will we transition into steady, strong growth in Masonry? Many do fall away in this first crisis, unable to sustain their interest beyond this first passion, unwilling to commit themselves to the task of incorporating the spirit of Masonic truths into their lives. For them, Masonry has become an event, not a belief, and they have moved on elsewhere in their search.
Those of us who are hearing this message have passed through this dynamic and have entered the growth period, the second phase in Masonic life. Our understanding of Masonry grows within us and acts upon us slowly and subtly, changing us as our spirits come into conformity with higher rules and guidelines. This phase, measured in years and in layers of understanding, becomes the strength of our Masonry and the strength of our characters as men. While we learn and seek understanding of Masonry and ourselves, this phase is strong. Coming to Lodge, being active in Masonry is, for us, as essential as breathing, and just as natural.
But even this powerful growth has a crisis dynamic. At some point, we may feel that there is nothing left to learn, that we have done it all, and it grows wearisome. Its sameness dulls our senses and even the variety found in concordant Masonic bodies becomes old and routine. As we look to our life's hourglass and see its sands running short, we seek a stimulus, a spark that affirms our life force and denies the approach of our sure destiny. We come to believe that the comfortable sameness of Lodge and Masonic work will not give us that spark so we fall away and look elsewhere for it. This is the Masonic mid-life crisis; a crisis in spirit. In it, we teeter between acceptance and denial of life's close on the fulcrum of advancing age.
But, if we fall away from Masonry in this last crisis and seek comfort down some other path, we are walking away from the very spark that we seek; we are forgetting Masonry's most profound teachings, its assurance of light against the coming darkness. We forget that Masonry is our comfort against the approach of this profound mystery and that active Masonry prepares us for what lies ahead. It lays the foundation of surety within us and lights our path toward acceptance and comfort.
Masonry teaches us to remember that we have come this far, we need not be troubled, we need not fear this crisis; we have only to pass on through it, sure in the rules and guides we have lived as Masons, ever sure in the promise of true joy and hope, beyond.
Br. Stephen C. Harrington