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Remembering and Forgetting

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“True scholarship consists in knowing not what things exist, but what they mean; it is not memory but judgement.” James Russell Lowell

“Every man’s memory is his private literature.”  Aldous Huxley

Remembering and Forgetting

I really enjoy studying a few things; history, religion, Freemasonry, and The Great Light of Masonry – the Holy Bible. I seem to be always surprised when I have an article on a touchy subject in the works and then in the study of religion and the Bible something in that study will turn on the light for me regarding that article. The theme of this article has been in the works for quite some time, and I had no intention to finish it anytime soon, but I got a question regarding the subject of this article recently which got me to looking at it again. Then today I came across two things in and regarding the Holy Bible that gave me an idea to continue.

The subject of this article is not pleasant; maybe that’s why I was quick to set it aside before. It has to do with balloting on petitions, and what seems to be casting a ballot out of spite. There are times in a Masonic Lodge when a petitioner is rejected that there may have been a ballot cast because of spite for some reason; at least it is perceived that way by some Masons. One of the good things about a secret ballot is that only the person casting the ballot knows how he voted and why, also one of the good things is that those of us who are in Lodge to ballot on a petition rely on each other to cast our ballots in agreement with our best judgement, and for the good of the Lodge and the Craft.

One thing that came to mind today, when studying the Bible and a bit in the Talmud, was the revamping of a question: Is something that is a right, (such as voting,) always done for the right reasons? Every Master Mason has a right to vote in his Lodge, and every Master Mason has the right to form his own opinions about what transpires in his Lodge. But when we cast our vote in Lodge is the ballot we cast done so for the right reasons, and when the ballot is announced are we right to think, when the result is rejection, that a ballot may have been cast for a spiteful reason? Should our first thought be of a suspicious kind where our Masonic Brothers are concerned?

Proverbs 14:8 also came up today for me. It says in part; “It is the wisdom of a clever man to understand his course.”JPS Translation from the Tanakh   After reading this I thought of what seems to be a natural human tendency; to hold on to old memories, hurts, prejudices, and bitternesses: These contribute to the discordant passions we Masons are endeavoring to subdue. These discordant passions, which could result in a ballot being cast out of spite, are the same discordant passions that could result in another Mason being distrustful of the motives of one or more Brothers who happen to be present when a petition is presented for a vote.

In the Jewish religion this human tendency of hanging on to old hurtful emotions that will cause us to do something today that we may regret tomorrow is called yetzer hara; the tendency to do something, (which is wrong even though we know, deep down,) is wrong. This yetzer hara can be viewed as a test for us to overcome, (a test of our character,) and by overcoming it we can grow into better men. Possibly the good thing about having a name like yetzer hara, or discordant passions, for something we might tend to do that would cause us to ‘self-destruct,’ because of our attitudes and actions, will help us to pause and think about our motives before taking action.

One way to help us get in the proper state of mind when it comes to exercising the rights we have as Master Masons, and to act in the right manner when we attend Lodge, is to do our best to leave the outside world and all its values outside of the Lodge Room door. We can do this easier if – when we enter the Lodge room we meditate on the lessons that are all around us as we calmly sit there: The symbols of the Plumb, Level, and Square; the Rough and Perfect Ashlar; the Gavel; The Lights of Masonry – the greater, lesser, and the three lights; the Steps leading up to the stations of the three principle officer’s chairs; the checkered pavement which is symbolically there in every Lodge Room. In our minds eye we can recall the Principle Tenets of Masonry; Theological and Cardinal virtues, the points we learn about in the first and third degrees. How the inclination to do the wrong thing; the failure to be wise enough to understand the planned course of action,Proverbs 14:8 Tanakh   had such a devastating effect on not only one celebrated individual, but also on 15 others; how their tendency to do wrong caused them so much regret, and how much sadness it caused countless others: plus a host of other things in the Lodge Room we can draw from to meditate on, and learn from.

The lessons of Freemasonry, the lessons we learn in our houses of worship, the lessons we learned from our parents and others who love us, and who want only the best for us, are the memories we want to have occupying our minds.

Reverend and Author Eric Butterworth suggests that we need to have a good “forgettery.Celebrate Yourself! by Eric Butterworth   We also need a good “memory” for the good and wholesome things in life. Developing a forgettery is our best effort to let go of our old hurtful memories because, they are no longer real, they are in the past, and our recalling them perpetuates them in our minds only. Here is a scripture you may recognize: “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”John 8:32 NIV New Testament   Rev. Butterworth’s commentary on that scripture says; “to know the truth is to let go of untruths.” He also says that constantly remembering old negatives about ourselves and our past experiences is ‘rattling skeletons’ that have no reality, He continues; “Life is much more positive, more productive, and far happier on a past is forgotten basis.”

Rabbi Boruch Clinton wroteFor Volume XVII, number 19 ; “Since, however, there is no single set of clear guidelines that is appropriate for everyone in every situation, the real trick is to somehow accurately assess what level of restraint is right for you at any given time.”

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Milan Kundera

Words to live by: “The best memory is that which forgets nothing, but injuries. Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.” Persian Proverb

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Last modified: March 22, 2014