Who Comes Here?
By Grand Master Shaun Bradshaw
I’m going to say something that I believe most of my brethren will agree with, but which still seems too controversial to openly admit in our Fraternity.
Freemasonry IS NOT for everyone.
The Master Mason’s charge is clear on this fact when we tell the newly raised brother, “If in your circle of acquaintance, you find a person desirous of being initiated into Masonry, be particularly careful NOT to recommend him unless you are convinced he will conform to our rules.”
Now, let me be clear, I’m not suggesting our fraternity is elitist or only “certain people” are worthy of the honor of joining our craft. Rather, I call your attention to the Entered Apprentice catechism, which gives us an excellent definition of who is worthy of membership when we ask, “Where were you first prepared?” The answer, of course is, “In my heart.” But one natural question that arises is, “Prepared for what?”
I believe that a man who wishes to join our fraternity must recognize in himself, in his heart, a need to improve who he is as a man – to recognize a need for the transformative experience, which our rituals are designed to foster. As Brother Tony Hornsby said in his book The Rough and Rugged Road, “Initiation … is designed to give us certain experiences that allow us to discover new things about ourselves.”
Now, there is an important corollary to this idea – in order for a man to recognize his need to change, his willingness to be transformed by our rituals, he must be able to honestly answer another important question from our rituals: “Who comes here?”
At first glance it seems like a simple enough question, but have you ever considered why our ritual places so much emphasis on it? Throughout our degrees we ask the candidate this same question no less than 12 times. It seems to me, anything in our ritual that is repeated that often must be significant; perhaps even one of the most essential lessons our ritual attempts to impart to us.
Let’s consider for a moment how we respond to this question. Just like in the ritual, most of us would answer by giving our name and then, depending on the situation, we might describe what we do (or did) for a living and what we do for fun or what our hobbies are. Sometimes we might talk about ourselves in the context of our family by mentioning our marital status and how many children and/or grandchildren we have. And occasionally we may talk about our political or religious beliefs as key ways of defining who we are.
While each of these describe some aspect of who we are, I suspect we each present ourselves in a somewhat different way when we are acting in those different roles. In other words, how we present ourselves and how others perceive us frequently changes based on the context of the situation. One way to consider each of these roles is to think of them as different masks we wear. When we are at work, we have on our employer or employee mask. When we are at home, we have on our husband or father mask. When we are on social media, we have on our “life is great” mask … well, some of us do.
I’m reminded of a family vacation we took about nine years ago. We were in the Outer Banks and I had an important business call to make while we were driving to the lighthouse for a tour. As I drove along, with Sharon sitting beside me and the kids in the back seat, patiently waiting for Daddy’s phone call to end, I went about my work conversation as I normally would. At the conclusion of the call, both my children commented on my “work voice” and how much more “serious” I was when I was on my call. That wasn’t a mask they were accustomed to seeing from me and was an enlightening moment for me at the time.
Now I want you to consider a different situation you might find yourself in. What, if any, mask do you wear when you are sitting quietly thinking about your life, your plans, your hopes, your dreams, your deepest desires? What mask are you wearing when you read through the OSW or Bahnson manual to learn or practice a part of the work? What mask are you wearing as you read through this article?
Who? Comes? Here?
I would submit that the thoughts and feelings that stream through your mind during these moments aren’t a mask at all. They are a part of your true self. And the reason our ritual asks this question so often is to teach us that we must recognize and reconcile our true self with the masks we regularly wear, because too often we don’t distinguish between them and we risk losing who we truly are.
By the way, I don’t mean to imply that all masks – including masks folks are wearing into many stores and restaurants these days -- are a bad thing. Society, in general, sets expectations of how we should act at different times and so we comply with those societal norms, but it’s vitally important that we understand for ourselves when we are wearing the mask versus when we are being our authentic, true selves.
Another idea presented in The Rough and Rugged Road is that the more we as Freemasons come to understand the esoteric nature of the symbols, the more we are led to contemplate our thoughts, words, and actions. Thus, by understanding our true nature – that the divine ray of Deity lives within each of us – we find it easier to navigate the world around us and ultimately to act through will rather than react through our base material nature.
Taking this thought back to the beginning of the article – before we even ask a man where he was first prepared, we must know, to some degree, what’s in his heart. We need to understand if he has the desire to learn who he truly is, to answer the simple, yet complex question of who comes here. To confront both his biases and his disinterestedness. To work to transform himself and understand when he’s wearing a mask.
Finally brethren, I encourage you to share your story and tell me what you have learned about your true self since you joined our fraternity. If you would like to contact me about your story please don’t hesitate to do so. I thoroughly enjoy hearing from each of you. Just email me at email@example.com, or if you prefer, send a letter to me at the Grand Lodge. They’ll get it to me.
Brethren, keep the light and tell your story!