Paper to be presented at Templum Fidelis Lodge, Bath Ontario 15 September 2018 by Very Worshipful Brother Dan Andrews, Past Grand Steward, Grand Lodge of Canada, Province of Ontario 2016-2017.
In operative masonry the rough ashlar could be a newly quarried, unfinished stone in need of much improvement. A very carefully chosen stone by a craftsman who was confident there was great potential believed to be hidden deep inside of it; once of course he reshaped it with all of the technical and artistic skills he had learned over his many years of hard work. The result of his reshaping would then become, at least to his mind, the finished product. It’s not a different stone; It’s still the same original rough stone he quarried, just modified by him simply removing unnecessary debris and revealing what was already there hidden inside of it.
In speculative Freemasonry, as we practice it our Emulation Ritual the Ashlars, along with The Worshipful Masters Tracing Board are the 3 Immovable Jewels in our allegory and I believe symbolically represent the Freemasons life journey in him growing and becoming a better man,……with our 3 Moveable Jewels, the square, level and plumb rule being the instruments we employ to measure our progress as we work towards becoming that better man……..….by the way for those visitors from other Grand jurisdictions following a different Ritual from the one we practice here, yes indeed our Immovable and Moveable Jewells are reversed to yours…and yours to ours…and perhaps might be something we can discuss at another time…
Regardless of those differences however in our Rituals I’m sure many of us will agree The Rough Ashlar, just as it came from the quarry, represents man as he is and always will be as imperfect but capable of much improvement; and the other, is the complete opposite. Its a polished finished stone, with no more improvement required. The corners are square, its level; the job is done and the working tools can be put to rest. This Perfect Ashlar now represents us at a self actualized or possibly a celestial state of being, the very ideal of the Freemason we hear about in The General Charge Lecture given at the close of our Annual Ceremony’s of Installation and Investiture.
The following quote was sent to me by a dear Brother just a few weeks ago and I believe its appropriate for my paper today.
“its for ourselves that we forge a personal philosophy of life. It is withinthat we come to see, little by little, what must be changed within our own being. Each person changes when a need for change is apparent to our own mind. When old ways don’t work anymore, something different must be tried, however reluctantly. Everyone will reach this point at some time.”….
Every Freemason is represented… symbolically…. in our Ancient Rituals by the ashlars that lye open in Lodge….IT IS WITHIN THAT WE COME TO SEE, LITTLE BY LITTLE, WHAT MUST BE CHANGED WITHIN OUR OWN BEING…. Not to change anyone else’s being, but our own being. Might I suggest every Freemason is tasked with their own personal responsibility, as a craftsman, to self improve upon their Ashlar. To end their day as a better person than the one that woke in the morning; and the Ashlars, both rough and perfect are excellent symbols representing our expected progress towards that goal.
Our time is short and will indeed come to an end far too quickly. Even though as men we will never achieve perfection in our lifetime, that must not discourage us from employing every precious moment in the time we are given to continue and improve on our labours in the quarry of life, to self improve, to become better men than we already are, to illuminate the brightest light possible and then to shine that light on all the others we come in contact with through our example of Friendship & Brotherly Love, through Fraternity, Liberty and Equality, Faith, Hope and Charity, through Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. To make these more than just memorized words we recite in our ritual, but as our personal north star guiding us towards becoming even better men.
The Rough Ashlar that lies open in our Lodge room symbolically marks the starting line of our Masonic journey and the Perfect Ashlar, for me, marks the entrance way to The Grand Lodge Above, hopefully a long time from now for every one of us. The Ashlars teach us it is through our labour, maturity, faith in ourselves as well as with the love and support of those we give our respect and trust too, along of course with the guidance of TGAOTU we can and we will become better men and by doing so we will not only improve our own life, but improve the lives of the others we come in contact with both directly and indirectly through our efforts.
Having said that, the best we can ever hope for, is we are now and always will be Rough Ashlars working ourselves towards becoming even better men. Regardless of how much good we have done, of how great our successes were how many rewards, promotions and praise we have received, lets never forget they were given to us for our past accomplishments. There is always better and more we should expect of ourselves and others. We’ll always have to Try and Adjust our moveable Jewels. We will always be a work in progress.
Think if you will of the Ashlars quarried by the craftsmen to build King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem. These stones were of hard white limestone and chiselled away by the craftsmen to become the building blocks of the Temple. Even though they were rough stones, they were still very carefully chosen in order to endure the pressures and stresses they were about to undergo. To not crumble into gravel as they were challenged by the heavy blows to come. They were about to be reshaped by the workmen into better stone, considered to finally be good and strong enough to be cemented into the walls of the magnificent structure to come. These Rough Ashlars would not only have to face their immediate future of being so rudely removed from their comfortable mountain homes by aggressive quarrymen, but by being stripped away of useless debit in order to reveal the beauty and talent that lies within them all. By doing so these Rough Ashlars were transformed into better Ashlars so they could stand up against the punishing elements of the wind, rain and the burning sun. Symbolically similar to what we Freemasons face in the joys along with the trials and tribulations of our lives.
Any man over the age 21 can ask to join us; but not all qualify to receive the privilege of membership. Regrettably there is a lot of flawed stone hidden in the quarry as well. Fools gold so to speak that too easily breaks up into small pieces and might weaken at best our destroy at worst our Temple walls.
Every Freemason however was a carefully chosen piece of stone….known to be a man of substance by his 2 sponsors, verified to be so by a trio of curious investigators and finally after a successful ballet in Open Lodge by the membership to then be granted the privilege of becoming one of us as a Rough Ashlar, provided of course he made it through his initiation. Every Freemason, with the encouragement of the Craftsmen, was personally chosen because they have special qualities including the will and the capacity to reshape themselves into something even better than originally quarried and to never be satisfied their work is finished, but to strive to do even better, to become more expert today than they were yesterday and even more so tomorrow.
Every Freemason was chosen by his Brethren knowing he has rough edges. The Brethren knew they were choosing a rough cut diamond, but believing and trusting their choice has the workable qualities of becoming a better person, a more valued Member of society and our Fraternity. Workable material that is willing to do what it takes to refine and reshape themselves, through time and effort, in such a way as to build something of greater value that can withstand more of life’s challenges that will be presented to them. That’s not to say we wont eventually show some wear and tear and need the help and encouragement of trusted others, especially our Brethren; after all it doesn’t matter how perfectly sound and solid the building was built, given time the building and the man will inevitably require renovation, restoration and improvement; but we must be sure, for the future strength and continued beauty of our own temple, that we do our due diligence and carefully choose solid, workable material from the start. Just as our Brethren did when they chose you and me with our rough edges to join them in support of their temple.
As Freemasons we will pick up our working tools and begin our labour knowing it will be an endless, yet exciting adventure full of unknown mysteries and many challenges; but also having faith in knowing we will become a more expert Craftsman. The Tracing Board to lay out our plan and process to follow which will wisely guide us towards greater light. In the process expect we will be knocked down by negative influences that will present themselves when least expected, to be figuratively speaking bloodied and bruised and perhaps even a bit embarrassed, only to pick ourselves up, dust of the dirt, maybe swallow some pride and perhaps must start all over again from the beginning. But we must never stop trying to improve our Ashlar; to never give up, to patiently chip away some more debris and fully expect, with just a bit more effort good things will happen and we will illuminate even more of the brilliant light within us all.
Bro. Thomas Edison has been described as America’s greatest inventor. Regarding his decades of success and set backs he was quoted as saying ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work… Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
I’d like to think when he made that quote he had The Rough Ashlar in mind and knew his best was still yet to come.
Brethren; we were all quarried from different stone, but that original stone was, and is, good and workable. We are solid material and we don’t crumble into gravel. We endure, overcome and adapt to the challenges getting in our way. We refine ourselves into something better than found, and we know even better is yet to come. We live a good life, mature, prosper, lead, teach and advise others through our Masonic example because we also follow, learn from and listen to the advice of respected others ourselves, To know when to speak and when to hold our tongue and at some point when we face our end to bravely lay down our working tools with the greatest of confidence and satisfaction because we are about to become a Perfect Ashlar supporting the walls of King Solomon’s Temple.
We like to say, “To Make Good Men Better!” Of special note to me with that phrase however it doesn’t read to make good men perfect. Achieving that goal, in my opinion, is well beyond our earthly reach.
The JW introduces us to the Ashlars at our Initiation. He tells us the “Rough Ashlar is for the EA to work, mark and indent on. The Perfect Ashlar is for the MORE EXPERT Craftsman to try and adjust his jewels on, they lie open in Lodge for the Brethren to Moralize on. He tells us it’s for the more expert craftsman, not the Perfect Craftsman. That implies to me we, most joyfully will always be on a journey of self improvement. The Ashlars quite happily symbolize perfection, regardless of how each one of chooses to define perfection, is always beyond our reach. For goodness sake, if the craftsman was already perfect, our moveable jewels would no longer need to be tried and adjusted; what’s left to moralize on? Quite frankly there would no longer be a reason for us to get out of bed in the morning because there is nothing left to accomplish, no challenges, mystery or adventures to look forward too. How boring and how awful a thought that is.
Spiritually …I believe the Perfect Ashlars symbolically represents us in The Celestial Lodge Above. You might disagree with me and I’m fine with that; after all we Freemasons are permitted to have own personal interpretations of our symbolism. But I am learning my work for those future Lodge meetings just in case I’m right. Now, I haven’t yet received a Summons and hope not to for quite a while and as I said a few paragraphs before I also hope yours doesn’t arrive any time soon either.
Brethren the exciting news is, as we continue to improve our Rough Ashlar the world outside our Tiled Lodge Room Door can’t help but be a better place because of us.
The Rough Ashlar lying open in the Lodge Room is each one of us as a good man travelling on our life journey of becoming better today than we were yesterday. The SS has shown us and explained to us the working tools to assist us in becoming even better men tomorrow. Its now left to each one of us, however we choose to do so, to employ those working tools and improve on our Rough Ashlar.
WM, the light in here that shines out from the Brethren is quite bright….and will get even brighter with every new day we are blessed with. To us our symbolism and ritual is more than memorized fancy words and floor work, it is the living, breathing core of who we are.
We are solid stone not gravel. We are Freemasons.
Poem by Mary Brooks Picken 1924… Thimblefuls of Friendliness.
Isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings
And just plain folks like you and me
Are builders for eternity
To each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass and a book of rules
And each must make ere life it flows
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.
This paper copied from The Sunday Masonic Papers – No. 894 October 7, 2018