The Well Known Symbols and the Tracing Board
Charles A. Sankey
6 February 1968

Those who are not members of our fraternity and who refer to our organization as the Masonic Order, speak more correctly than they know. As is evident to each Mason, our entire system is, in imitation of what we believe to be the realities of the universe, based on the concept of order. This concept is broadly and authentically set out in that remarkable introduction to Freemasonry we call the first degree. Let me say at once that our concepts are sometimes stated in archaic language, and sometimes illustrated from ancient saga literature which many of us find it impossible to accept literally. Some of us, including myself, may even deny the validity of a literal acceptance of some of the statements. But, in spite of such as-of-1968 shortcomings ,the Masonic philosophy of order in its full breadth and depth is brilliantly condensed in the degree conferred here tonight.

The concept of order flows in every direction from the Three Great Lights which are in our immediate view, when, for the first time, we see a Masonic Lodge in session. Its extent is so great and so diverse that I shall return to it more than once on future occasions. At Niagara Lodge I suggested that the square envisaged regularity and confidence - each an important element for right human interrelations. I suggested also that it is too rigid, or, more properly, too precise, to be really human. Therefore, as a Masonic-thing-to-live-by I placed it on the mosaic pavement as a guide to right conduct, at the same time reminding you that the mosaic pavement is always individual for me, for you, for your brother, for your neighbour, and for the stranger.

Tonight I ask you to look beneath this symbol of the common problems of mankind to a symbol of the scope of the universe which surrounds and contains us. Let me remind you that the compass draws a circle which, to the ancients, was a representation of the universe.

Here our symbol is not, and indeed cannot be, something of simple rigidity and linearity. On the contrary, it is adjustable, it is orderly, it is useful and it is beautiful. What I am saying is, in some way, a paradox. The first Great Light by its rigidity shows us diversity. The second Great Light by its non-rigidity shows us unity. The message of the physical universe, conveyed to us by light, is ultimately a message of order, the great Order of Nature. But the combined message to us of our well known symbols says something more,- it says that we, you and I no less, are part of that order.

To portray this broader concept let me quote from Robert Ardrey's remarkable and highly controversial "African Genesis". Order is the primary concern of that part of the Universal Cosmic Management whom Ardrey calls "the Keeper of the kinds". Ardrey writes

You may sense his presence in a star-scattered sky as silenced you stand on a lonely hill. - You may sense his presence in the kind of matter called helium, that has always and will forever behave according to the rules and regulations of helium. You may sense his word in the second law of thermodynamics, or the patterned behaviour of brook trout in a clear Hew Zealand pool. - You may find his word in the forms of cities and symphonies, of Rembrandts and fir trees and cumulus clouds. You may read his command in the regularity of turning things, in stars and seasons, in tides and in striking clocks. - Where a child is born, or a man lies dead - there see his footprints, there, and there.

And so, as I placed the square on the mosaic pavement, I now place the square and compass together beside the tracing board. The tracing board is for the Master because he is the focus of the lodge. Let us be candid,- no Master, worthy of the task,would accept his position unless he thought he had something, however little, to contribute to the life and future of his lodge.

But please don't tell me that the tracing board is only for the Master. I suggest that the Order of Art and Artistry, the Order of human works for humanity, and that is a mighty Order for us, is symbolized in the tracing board. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven's Hinth Symphony, Rembrandt's vision of Peter's denial, the Taj Mahal, the cathedral at Prague, Shakespeare's Hamlet, John XXIII's Pacem in Terris, Albert Schweitzer's reverence for life, are, of course, designs left to us by Masters. But we too, as individuals, have our tasks, our duties, our thoughts, our accomplishments. These are our tracings in and for the saga of humanity.

My point is this. It is good to say,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Day unto day uttereth speech
And night unto night showeth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language,
Where their voice is not heard.

Yes, it is very good to say so, but it is not enough, even when we say it with full heart and mind. It is good to say,

Let us now praise famous men,
And our fathers that begot us.
Men renowned for their power
Giving counsel by their understanding
And by their knowledge of learning meet for the people
Wise and eloquent in their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes
And recited verses in writing
All these were honoured in their generations
And were the glory of their times. "

Yes, it is good to say so, but it is not enough, even when we say it with joy and with justifiable pride.

Why are these not enough? Let me answer from another tracing board also from the Hebrew tradition. The Hasidic Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol lived in the l8th century. He is reported to have said "In the coming world they will not thunder at me 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me quietly 'Why were you not Zusya? ' "

And so, as a Masonic-thing-to-live-by, tonight I do not give you anything . Instead I show you, once again, our well known symbols . Will you take them to your own tracing board and use them there?