Monday, May 23, 2022

‘The Square, not the Plumb!’

I told you a little about the Third Degree my lodge conferred Saturday (see post below), and I continue the story now because I learned something new that day which really surprised me. I think it’s worth sharing—without revealing the esoterica of the ceremony.

There comes that moment when GMHA is invested with a jewel that later serves as a form of identification. I always thought the fraternity was unanimous in which jewel is used, but apparently this is not so. Before becoming a New York Mason in 2015, I had been at labor in another grand jurisdiction. There, the jewel placed about our Operative Grand Master’s neck is the Plumb.

KS rules and governs from the East (Square); KH stands in the West (Level); and HA superintends from the South, where the office is symbolized by the Plumb. To my thinking, it’s all very symmetrical and sensical. What I learned the other day however is that a different jewel is worn by GMHA in New York: the Square.

During some downtime, several officers were looking for the Square jewel to use in the degree. “Don’t you need a Plumb?” I asked, causing some conversation and confusion. A ritual book was taken up, the relevant page was found, and—sure enough—we needed the Square.

I don’t know if I can process this new information!

My thinking on the Plumb was formed more than twenty years ago, when my reading introduced me to the idea that Refreshment (remember the duty of the Junior Warden in the South) is about more than rest and nourishment. It is a time for spiritual reinvigoration.

I’m just copying and pasting something here I wrote long ago. There was a discussion in the old Masonic Light Yahoo! Group (God, I miss it!) concerning working tools and jewels, and I offered the following paragraphs. One of the brethren from Wasatch Lodge 1 in Salt Lake City (maybe Jason?) asked if he may post it on the lodge’s website. I said sure. This was 2003-04, several years before The Magpie Mason, when a number of things I had written were picked up by print and digital Masonic media all over the country. It’s still tucked away on Wasatch’s website after all these years!

The snippets of ritual prose quoted below are from my previous grand lodge; the text may differ from your grand lodge’s. And mine.
The Junior Warden in the South, who personifies the “beauty and glory” of the “sun at meridian,” wears the Plumb as a jewel. While he is the officer who calls the Craft from labor to refreshment and superintends them during the hours thereof, and in many jurisdictions the two Stewards are stationed under his watchful eye, his duty is more than to govern the brethren during their times of rest.

It all comes back to the symbol hanging from his neck: the Plumb. Masons meet on the Level and part upon the Square, but at all times we act by the Plumb.

“The Plumb admonishes us to walk uprightly in our several stations, to hold the scale of justice in equal poise, to observe the just medium between intemperance and pleasure, and to make our passions and prejudices coincide with the line of duty,” says the Installing Master to the new Junior Warden. “To you is committed the superintendence of the Craft during the hours of refreshment. It is, therefore, indispensably necessary that you should not only be temperate and discreet in the indulgence of your own inclinations, but that you should carefully observe that none of the Craft be suffered to convert the purpose of refreshment into those of intemperance and excess. …”

The Oxford English Dictionary lists several definitions of “refreshment,” and the first one even before the common usage for rest and nourishment is “The act of refreshing, or fact of being refreshed, in a mental or spiritual respect.”

Only then comes “The act of refreshing, or fact of being refreshed, physically, by means of food, drink, rest, coolness, etc….” And then the definition mentions the “Sunday of Refreshment” with a nod toward John 6.

I turned to John 6, and Verse 27 reads: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. …”

Consider the custom of our Operative Grand Master, who, every day at noon when the Craft was on refreshment, visited the unfinished Holy of Holies to offer up his devotions to God. For him, refreshment was not physical relief in the form of food, drink or rest; instead refreshment meant satisfying his hunger for spiritual peace and eternal life.

The jewel about his neck? The Plumb, by which “so great and so good a man” would be identified after his soul departed his lifeless, earthly body. Writing in his Antiquities, Josephus describes John the Baptist as “a good man” who exhorted people “to lead righteous lives, practice justice toward one another and piety toward God.” To John, Josephus continues, baptism was not a “pardon for the sins they have committed, but… a consecration of the body, implying that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by right behavior.”

In his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Albert G. Mackey quotes from Ahimon Rezon: “The stern integrity of St. John the Baptist, which induced him to forego every minor consideration in discharging the obligations he owed to God; the unshaken firmness with which he met martyrdom rather than betray his duty to his Master… make him a fit patron of the Masonic institution.”

We’re reminded of the theme of the Sublime Degree: “My life you may take, but my integrity never!” The lessons to learn from both are intended, in part, to reassure us of a better, eternal life awaiting the brethren beyond this earthly existence.

The tri-part rough and rugged road facing Hiram after his prayers can be likened to the three-year journey of the pilgrim-knight toward the Holy Sepulchre in the Order of the Temple. Pausing at the tent of the first hermit, the knight is duly provided food, drink and shelter, but more importantly, indeed to assure his success, the hermit enlightens the knight with a verse from Scripture: “Labor not for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Food for thought as we weigh the tools and jewels of Craft Masonry this month.

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