I’ve been asked to share some of my monthly essays that I have written. They are diverse Masonic topics, which relate to “Masonry in our lives” kinds of things. I thought I would start this one out with one on Meeting, Acting, and Parting.
Meeting, Acting, and Parting: Staying Level
The L., the P.R., and the Sq. figure prominently in Freemasonry. To me, the most enigmatic mention of them is in regards to meeting, acting, and parting.
To meet someone is to come into their presence. It might be an assembly of people or it might be more than one. The L., being the symbol of equality. Mackay states, “The l…l is the symbol of equality; not of that social equality which would destroy all distinctions of rank and position, and beget confusion, insubordination, and anarchy; but of that fraternal equality which, recognizing the fatherhood of God, admits as a necessary corollary the brotherhood of man.” In this sense, gender is irrelevant and the concept is one which we follow. Therefore, we meet as brothers, in the genderless sense of the word, as human beings equal to each other. One speculation as to why our F&AM BB wear gloves is so that no man can see the state of another’s hands – he will never know what his occupation may be – and he will treat each with the same reverence and equality that he would treat anyone else in the world.
I’ve heard it said that being of different degrees immediately indicates that we are not “on the l…l” with each other. When the l…l is employed in our lodges, it symbolizes the Strength that is felt when all BB. are at the same realm of subordination. While many people bristle at the word subordinate, it is quite clear that some must teach and govern and others must learn and obey. Humility, discretion, obedience, and forbearance are equally necessary in carrying out the Constitutional aspects of our order. The officers, elected by the members of the Lodge, have the experience necessary to not exceed their authority. Likewise, it is the duty of the membership to maintain and uphold those elected officers and not hinder the smooth running of the lodge. While Co-Masonry work is done in the Lodge by officers and columns of BB, the real degree work of the order is done within our own hearts. Degrees and medals are the outward trappings of that work, which have been conferred upon the Bro. by virtue of his ability and by the merits of his work –both inner and outer.
Thus, to be on the l…l with someone means to treat them as an equal human being. It means fairness in dealings with each Bro., to me, and by doing so, the world becomes even and faster progress can be made.
Acting is the way we conduct ourselves. To act comes from the word actus with means “to do or to have done” and from the word agere which means to drive. So, to act is the way in which we drive ourselves and what we do. In this case, the verb, it is the actual doing of a thing. The P.R. is used to check the exact vertical – in other words, to find out if something is true and perfectly upright. Using this same symbolism, when we come together in our lodge, after having ensured we are treating everyone equally, we then conduct ourselves in our true and upright nature. To be upright is to have a strict moral rectitude. We are reminded that the conduct of our bodies is the emblem of our minds and our feet of the rectitude of all that we do. More than being correct in procedure, rectitude reminds us of moral uprightness and qualities to which we all aspire.
Many people might find the P.R. to be an ineffective symbol – one which lacks any real substance. After all, as a human being, aren’t we already upright? Don’t we already walk with two legs and therefore have some innate moral integrity? What I find interesting is that the term integrity also refers to a state of completeness and of being undivided. Integrity means that our own codes have not been breached, they have not been divided by subversive actions of others or our own failure to let go of temptation. In the case of Co-Masonry, I believe we’re discussing Moral Integrity, which may also be called Ethical Integrity. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has argued that moral integrity is central to all the other virtues but more fundamental than any single virtue. In other words, each virtue can be beneficial but the entire character of a person is what is important. Taking this into account, it would seem that a moral completeness or wholeness is more the meaning of the P.R. than a rigidity of being completely and totally upright – as one might think of an inflexible piece of stone.
Morals and Ethics being interchangeable, it seems to me that what we are working toward is acting toward our BB and our lodges, specifically during our Lodge meetings, with an exalted, beneficial ethical behavior.
How do we part? What is parting? The verb to part comes from the Latin partire, which means to divide. In our case, it means to take the leave of or separate ourselves from. When we part the lodge, we are taking our individual pieces back, our individual selves, and dividing the whole of the lodge. We have created the lodge of individuals, traded the individual natures for the energy of the officers and positions we assume, and then there comes the time to break that energy apart. The question is, how do we break it apart?
Now we come to the Sq. The Sq. is an angle of 90 degrees and as such represents two opposing lines coming together. In astrological terms, a Sq. indicates difficulty and conflict. However, in Masonry, the Sq. is completely different. The Masonic Sq. does not have delineations on it but is a true Sq. used to test the accuracy of the sides of a stone, not to measure length or breadth. In Co-Masonry, the Sq. symbolizes the regulation of our actions. What does this mean? It means, in a sense, morality, truthfulness, and honesty.
The Sq. also comes to represent the material world. In 1725, the Freemason’s ritual originally asked the question, “How many make a Lodge?” The answer was “God and the Sq., with five or seven right or perfect Masons.” In this sense, God represents the plan and the Sq. represents morality. I personally view the Sq. as the outward manifestation of that morality – basically, how we act in the physical world. We all know the term “to be sq.” with someone. The basic meaning to us means to get “it” all out honestly, whatever “it” may be.
The Sq. may actually mean a great many things at many times. I do not believe it is limited to the above definitions; we see the Sq. everywhere and in many different times and places in our lodges. To limit it to the above definitions does it a disservice. For the purposes of this architecture, let’s simply state that the Sq. represents both the material world and the honesty and truthfulness we strive to uphold. It is interesting to note that the archaic form of “compassion” is “truthfulness.” “Sympathy” is not pity as we commonly take it – it is the gateway to true compassion and thus, being on the Sq. Sympathy means, literally, “an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other.” What we commonly allude to as sympathy is not – it is empathy – and vise versa. If each one of us is equal, we must acknowledge that what I am, a divine spark, is what you are as well. Thus, what affects one affects the whole.
For me, the key to it is this: we cannot understand ourselves and others if we do not have sympathy for the Divine. Once we find the divine within, via sympathy, we begin to see the Truth, and can then have compassion and strength. We will understand ourselves and others. We will understand that we each are part of a greater whole, and to gain the Wisdom necessary to progress, we must become the whole, the single, and the Divine.
We have met equally, acted ethically, and now from the energy we have created, we are dividing ourselves morally.