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From Chapter XXVII of "Foreign Countries," by Brother Carl H. Claudy, a delightful and inspiring study of Masonic Symbolism, written for and published by the Masonic Service association of the United States.
One of the hidden, or "covered" symbols of Freemasonry is found in the many references to time.
The Entered Apprentice is given a twenty-four inch gauge as his working tool and with it taught to divide his time. The Entered Apprentice must wait a certain time before taking his Fellowcraft Degree.
The Fellowcraft is reminded of the time required for creation, and the function of geometry as to time is emphasized; "by it, also, the astronomer is enabled to make his observations and the fix the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles." He is also made to realize that there are three principal causes which contribute to destruction; the hand of ignorance, the devastations of war and the lapse of time.
The Fellowcraft must wait a period of time before he may receive his Master Mason Degree.
As a Master Mason he is reminded of the passage of time in the reading from Ecclesiastes; emphasis is put upon the journey from "the days of thy youth" to that hour when "shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." In the prayer use in the Sublime Degree we hear: "Man that is born of woman is of a few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow and continueth not. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months is with thee; thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; turn from him that he may rest, till he shall accomplish his day.
Master Masons are taught from the Scriptures of the length of time required to construct the Temple of Solomon. The three steps on the Master's carpet are of youth, manhood and old age; of which, as we have seen, the three degrees as a whole are symbols.
The hour glass, an instrument used for the measurement of time, is one of the symbols discussed in the lecture of the Sublime Degree. "The Scythe is an emblem of time, which cuts the brittle thread of life and launches us into eternity. Behold! What havoc the scythe of time makes among the human race. If by chance we should escape the numerous evils incident to childhood and youth, and with health and vigor arrive at the years of manhood, yet withal, we must soon be cut down by the all-devouring scythe of time and be gathered into the land where our fathers have gone before us."
There are many more references to time; high twelve and low twelve, the calling from labor to refreshment, the return to labor in due season, and the hour glass will occur to all.
With the exception of the small paragraph quoted above, however, explanatory of the scythe as an emblem of time, there is neither monitorial nor secret explanation of time as a symbol. Yet surely it is used as such, when so many references are made to it . . . nor can we be content with the thought that, as time is so important to us all, it could not entirely be left out in the making of the Degrees of the Order!
What is time? No man knoweth! The very philosophers who "explain it" confess the inadequacy of their explanations. We know of a past, possess a present and hope for a future. If the past is dead and gone, it yet influences our present. If the future is only a hope, it is yet the treasure box of all our lives, for which we strive endlessly. The only part of time we have, the immediate now, is always the least important of all!
Objects have length, breadth, thickness. They also have a duration. The "instantaneous cube" cannot exist; we can have no conception of anything, material or spiritual, which does not have some length of time of existence. Some mathematicians speak of time as the fourth dimension of matter, and Einstein's theories, but the General and the Special, are concerned with a something which is neither space not time, but a blend or combination of both.
The only measurement of time we know is finite; the revolution of the earth about its axis and about the sun, or any other heavenly body movement, is our only means of measurement of duration. We can expand it into "light years" or contract it with split-second watches, but all our measurement is founded upon a purely finite, material happening.
Infinite time is a phrase, not a concept. The human mind cannot conceive of endless time. We say "as it was in the beginning, and ever shall be." But the words contradict themselves, for anything which "ever shall be" must always have been, and therefore could not of had a beginning. Whether we think of time, or a piece of string, we cannot conceive it as having only one end!
We conceive ourselves as moving along in time, from birth to death, over a path which we divide into milestones of years, days, hours, and minutes; all multiples or divisors of that which elapses between sun and sun. Yet the human mind reels at the thought of travel forward which does not have something behind, or which does not approach something. If there was no beginning to leave behind, if there is no end toward which we go, are we really traveling through time, or is time a vast wheel, merely sweeping around and around us? Men fool themselves. In all ages and times past, men have told themselves fairy tales and believed them. Our remote ancestors watched the fall of a rock and believed in the anger of the stone; they heard in the growl of the thunder the rage of some mighty hidden being; they saw in the lighting flash which killed, the righteous wrath of a power unguessed.
But a few hundred years ago, an eclipse of the sun was a portent of evil, a comet in the sky a sure sign of pestilence, the earth was flat and mariners need beware lest they fall off the edge. What we do not understand we ascribe to the supernatural, in spite of the experience of science and the teachings of history. A savage mind finds a telephone a miracle.
It behooves us to think careful and make up our minds slowly. Every day we find the "knowledge" of yesterday was not knowledge but fiction. Our atoms are no longer atomic, our matter is no longer matter, our space is no longer of three dimensions, our astronomy is as different to-day from what it was twenty years ago, as that was from Copernicus' day.
We no longer "lay on hands," or prescribe the leech and bloodletting for disease; we no longer withhold water from the fevered or air from the pneumonia patient. Disease is no longer a visitation from on high but a matter of germs, from the earth. The pestilence which was once the work of Satin is now located in a drain pipe or a swamp. We have certain concepts today which we believe to be absolute facts, despite that fact that we demonstrate there is no absolute! Only a short while ago the philosopher's stone, the elixir of life and perpetual motion were demonstrated impossibilities. Now our scientists talk rationally of the possibilities of transmutation of metals, our surgeons talk of renewed youth through transferred glands, and for all we know to the contrary some man may arise with a new theory of energy, "A La Einstein," of space and time, in which the self-mover may actually function.
It does not do to be too certain of anything. The open mind is the only one into which new thoughts may come. There is no absolute; the fact of today is the fiction of yesterday; the romance of tomorrow becomes the experience of today, when tomorrow comes.
Time is the most familiar fact of our lives. Every man carries a watch. We get up, eat, work, make love, marry, have children, join Masonic Lodges, die and bury our dead; according to a schedule of time.
Yet this very familiar fact; this thing which is as much a part of our lives as our bodies; this commonplace, everyday, utterly usual matter is the most mysterious, most unknown, most completely unsolvable finite mystery about us!
Is time then, in a Freemason's Lodge, not a symbol of Deity? We believe that The Great Architect of the Universe is a part of our daily lives. We thank God for labor; we praise God for love; we marry under the blessing of Deity, christen our children with His Word, join Masonic Lodges erected to God, die in the hope of His Immortality, and bury our dead with the Sprig of Acacia, its symbol; and yet this familiar fact, this idea which is as much a part of our daily lives as our souls, is our most mysterious, most unknown most completely unsolvable infinite mystery.
Time, puzzle never solved of man's mind; God, puzzle never solved of man's soul! The conclusion seems inescapable that the many references to time in Freemasonry, the insistence upon time as a factor in the Degrees, and in what they teach of life, was no fortuitous circumstance, no mere unwitting bringing of the life of everyday into the ritual of our degrees, but a great symbol of Deity and our complete dependence upon Him; a symbol teaching that as our lives are inextricably mingled with God; a hope, a faith, but a concept never to be understood in this world.
"SO MOTE IT BE"
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Last modified: March 22, 2014