This evening I have been asked to present for our mutual consideration and discussion some
thoughts on the significance of the term "Light" as this may be interpreted masonically. In
masonry "Light" first comes to us as a result of a predominant wish of our hearts. Thus
each of us invoked light. Kahil Gilbran has written (The Prophet, on Teaching)
To man, "Light" is primarily that which is visualised. The reception of light is the most important of our senses because it embraces the greatest scope. That which it brings to us comes from an available range of space and time many-fold greater than the utmost span of our other senses. To our physical eye light is the revealor of the natural world. To the eye of the mind it is thus the bringer of knowledge to all men.
That which conveys an idea, or more properly that which is identified with the comprehension of an idea and hence which symbolizes an idea, often becomes, in the popular mind, synonymous with the idea itself. We, as masons, should know that in a literal sense such an identification is incorrect. In its crudest form we regard this error as idolatry. But we, as masons, should also know the value of a symbol in conveying the concept of an idea better than mere words can do. If, therefore, there is an identification of light, per se, with knowledge, per se, we will not misunderstand the symbolism. This complex interpretation of light is immediately presented by masonry, for we see first not merely light to which we have been accustomed but three great lights, nearest us a symbol of the common problem of mankind; underneath it a symbol of the scope of the universe which surrounds and contains us; and underlying both a symbol of a divine message.
Applying the term "light" to the symbol we use to remind us of our proper relationship to our fellow men is not without some genuine basis. Light brings us knowledge first of our immediate environment. Satisfactory knowledge of our surroundings, both material and personal, that is knowledge satisfactory at the time to us, is essential to our own confidence. Light thus becomes the symbol of confidence and I think that we will all agree that it is only on a basis of mutual confidence that reasonable human interrelations can be maintained.
The first great light is, however, too rigidly simple a symbol of the humanitarian significance of light. This was recognised at the dawn of masonry, hence in our apprenticeship we soon see the mosaic pavement. Light and darkness, said Zorocaster, are the world's eternal ways. So, masonically, the term "light" involves the whole problem of good and evil. The colour white, representing the harmoniously balanced totality of light as viewed by our eyes, has become the colour of good, of the ideal, of those "clothed in white rainment". The complete absence of light renders anything black. "Black" is thus separate or apart from our comprehension. It is not a colour but is indicative of the supreme sin of separateness from man and God alike.
Two observations may not be out of place here. When it is required to specify fully the colour of any object, this colour must be defined wave length by wave length throughout the spectrum and, at each wave length, the significant quantity is the product of three factors,- namely the intensity of the light emitted by the source multiplied by the capability of the object to reflect the light received by it and the product of these in turn multiplied by the ability of the human eye to see the light reflected. Mathematically
Yw = Ew Rw Sw
Masonically the parallel is exact. There is no light for us save which (directly or indirectly) is sent towards us, and of this only the portion which the universe around us is capable of reflecting, and of this in turn only that portion which we are capable of receiving. And this is true wave length by wave length,- entity of knowledge by entity of knowledge.
The other is that I have never seen in any masonic lodge a proper representation of the mosaic pavement. "The strange contrariety of events" is hardly to be visualised in the regularly blocked, neutrally bi-coloured ornament with which we are familiar. The mosaic of life, from our individual view and experience, is anything but rectangularly repetitious and anything but a two-tone of a neutral near-white and some other solid drab shade.
In our own mosaic let us also note with Aldous Huxley ("Texts and Pretexts") that
"Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a dose house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him."
On this basis we will perhaps more fully appreciate the light shown to us many years ago by Milton (Areopagitica):
"He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain and yet distinguish and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian.
I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, that never sallies out to see her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary."
The second great light should symbolize to us the entire scope of scientific knowledge. Some 200 years ago Mark Akenside wrote his Hymn to Science
"Science, thou fair effusive ray
From the great source of mental day
Free, generous and refined"
Here our symbol is not, and indeed cannot be, something of simple rigidity and linearity. It is, on the contrary, adjustable, orderly and beautiful. Just as trigonometry is not, as the Beloved Vagabond would have it, "a lot of damned facts about triangles", so science is no mere compendium of facts, not merely an ordered compilation to assist our memories. If in truth, as I believe, it is "from the great source of menta1 day", then its essence is to help us to think rightly about facts. We are concerned with much more than the intellect, we are concerned with reason.
Let us go directly towards the threshold of our knowledge of the universe. It is, I feel, very highly significant that the most celebrated mathematical statements of Einstein are simple. In the year in which I was born Einstein developed the equation relating mass and energy which is today the basis of many computations of vital interest. This equation is
E = m c²
or, in words, energy and mass are interconvertible at an exchange rate given numerically by the square of the velocity of light.
The final equation of Einstein's treatise on the general theory of relativity is
a=M k / (4 pi²)
or, in words, the radius of the universe is determined by and is proportional to the mass of substance contained in such universe. The mathematical derivation is appallingly complex, the field of view, lying in the four-dimensional continuum of space-time, very difficult to comprehend,- but the final idea is unified and simple.
So too, I have been told, Einstein now believes there is probably a valid mathematical basis for believing that electromagnetic phenomena are in "simple" correlation with other attributes of matter,
What I an 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 same thought has been put more directly thus (Frater Achad, The Egyptian Revival):
"The Highest Reason, which is in God, and which is God, is absolutely ONE. God knows all things by One Idea, which is identical with His Being.
The lowest reason, which is in the most material of corporeal beings, is segregated in the extreme degree, each idea being separated into innumerable distinct objects.
As the scale is ascended a greater and greater unity is found.
The higher any man is in the scale of existence, the more capable he becomes of grasping abstract conceptions and understanding the relations of things, and thus of knowing a greater and greater number of things in the light of a smaller and smaller number of ultimate ideas."
The message from the physical universe, conveyed to us by light, is thus ultimately a message of order. This order is on a scale now almost incomprehensible to our little minds, but there is no question but that we deal with a cosmos and not a chaos. Note too the identity of light with the knowledge which it brings,- for the attributes of light, e.g., its velocity, appear to be of the very essence of that portion of the structure of the universe of which we can be aware. The messenger and the message go hand in hand; the gift and the giver are one.
Thus, while contemplating "the Infinite Universe and Worlds", Giordano Bruno wrote (The Infinite Universe)
"It is Unity that doth enchant me. By her power I am free through thrall, happy in sorrow, rich in poverty, and quick even in death."
Thus also many centuries ago and throughout the intervening years tho Psalmist (19) has proclaimed and continues to proclaim
"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 or language
Where their voice is not heard."
The second great light, being the symbol of unity, is also the symbol of harmony.
" - - - That there is beauty in natureThe harmony of the universe, as some of us will recall, is the result of the wisdom and power of God. It is the most important attribute of unity. Thus I have written in certain quotations in the language of music as suggested thoughts or as intermezzos throughout my text.
and that man loveth it are one thing and the same
neither can be derived from the other."
(Bridges, The Testament of Beauty)
We have spoken of harmony in the macrocosmos. It is no less present in and throughout the microcosmos.
"There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies all day. And after
Frost, with a gesture, stays the winds that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance
A width, a shining peace, under the night"
(Bridges, The Testament of Beauty)
"Yea: and how delicate! Life's mighty mystery
sprang from eternal seeds in the elemental fire
self-animate in forms that fire annihilates:
all its self propagating organisms exist
only within a few degrees of the long scale
ranging from measured zero to unimagin'd heat,
a little oasis of Life in Nature's desert;
and ev'n therein are our soft bodies vext and harm'd
by their own small distemperature, nor could they endure
wer't not that by a secret miracle of chemistry
they hold internal poise upon a razor-edge
that may not ev'n be blunted, lest we sicken and die."
or again (Rupert Brooke, The Great Love),
"These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such -
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
about dead leaves and last years farms ...
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water's dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body's pain
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass; -
All these have been my loves."
But great as are the first two great lights, they are not enough. We need that which lies beneath them. Albert Pike (Morals and Dogma) has written
"So we live out our little life; but Heaven is above us and all around us and close to us; and Eternity is before us and behind us, and suns and stars are silent witnesses and watchers over us. We are enfolded by infinity."
"Life is no negative, or superficial or worldly existence. Our steps are evermore haunted by thoughts, far beyond their own range, which some have regarded as the reminiscences of a preexistent state. So it is with us all, in the beaten and worn track of this worldly pilgrimage . There is more here than the world we live in. It is not all of life to live. An unseen and infinite presence is here; a sense of something greater that we possess; a seeking through all the void wastes of life for the good beyond it."
Thus, having recognized individuality and having glimpsed something of unity, there is still lacking purpose. With a gradually developing experience of the "how?", with a slowly growing appreciation of the "what?", there remains unanswered that which reason requires, the "why?".
And let there be no avoiding this, judged from a human angle, here and now, individual man himself must have a part in the purpose. Indeed everyone who has "seen the light" has become absolutely convinced of an individual part. Thus Toyohiko Kagawa (Discovery):
'I cannot invent
Like the airships
On silver wings
A wonderful thought
In the dawn was given,
And the stripes on my robe,
Shining from wear
Were suddenly fair
Bright with a light
Falling from heaven
Gold and silver and bronze
Lights from the windows of heaven.
And the thought
That a secret plan
Is hid in my hand
That my hand is big,
Because of this plan
Who dwells in my hand
Shares this secret plan
Of the things he will do for the world
Using my hand!"
The requirement of the presence of a volume of the sacred law is an essential part of the wisdom of masonry. "It is not all of life to live". Masonry also recognises that here and now the third great is universal. It avoids each of two errors; the first the assertion (now often proclaimed by the over-zealous) that there is here and now for mankind, both individually and collectively, one and only one revelation (some day, please God, this will no longer be an error, but it is now governed by the analogue of our formula Yw = Ew Rw Sw); and the second (more absurd because permanently in error, although this is often forgotten by the under-zealous) that all present revelations are equal. Let none of us question the authority of this balanced view. It is in the first and greatest of the Ancient Charges
"Let a man's religion, or mode of worship, be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order provided he believe in the Architect of heaven and earth and practice the sacred device of morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion in the first and pleasing hand of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion and to survive by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess.
At the balance point diversity and unity become universality.
What then is the message? What then is the light? May I, can I, dare I try to answer? At least some few of the glimpses others have seen may be transmitted. These glimpses have always been luminous. The vault in which a fragment of truth remains enthroned is always self-alight. We care not by what Rite it is approached. We paint the saints with halos.
So "In the beginning was the Word". God descends from ideas to things. Man ascends from things to ideas. On the descending path at first Will, then Love actuating Will to Wisdom, then Love-Wisdom generating the Light. The ascending path sees the reverse. First labour. The story is very old and we all know it,- the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the sweat of man's brow.
"Since daybreak I have laboured until now,
Stretched on a shady bank, I wipe my brow,
Enough bread garnered for myself and Eve.
God's punishment for sin, that I must leave
The paradisal groves of idleness,
Haunted by dreams of love and soft caress,
And with my body's sweat and patient toil
Ravish a harvest from the grudging soil.
'Tis hard, at times, in frost or burning sun,
Panting, to strive until the race be run;
Still, O most jealous and revengeful God,
I find in me to say, "I kiss thy rod",
Not in submission, but in proud disdain,
My mind is not cast in so mean a plane
That all my joys should lie in slothful ease.
True, I would keep the shore in stormy seas,
No hero of romance, but, for its test,
There must be some work done before my rest;
Labour may be a burden? so it may,
Yet better far than everlasting play.
If labour be the penalty of sin
I would transgress, the penalty to win.
Perhaps, still smarting from that garden scene,
I challenge God with too severe a mien;
He may have failed His meaning to express,
And when He seemed to curse have meant to bless."
And then a realization of what actually can happen:
"You work that you may keep peace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons and to step out of life's procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
You have been told that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge.
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge.
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work.
And all work is empty save when there is love.
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself and to one another, and to God
And what is it; to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit.
Work is love made visible."
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, On Work)
Vivekananda, the great Hindu mystic, attained the state of Nirvana as had his teacher Ramakrishna before him.
"And when he returned to the ordinary consciousness he said that in his infinite joy he had forgotten the world, and he begged Ramakrishna to let him remain in that state. But Ramakrishna told him he had work to do in the world bringing this spiritual consciousness to men; and he sent Vivekananda forth to carry out his mission." (Francis Younghusband, The Living Universe)
Thus working with love there inevitably come sacrifice and struggle, for the mosaic pavement is still beneath our feet. But, in love, none would avoid the price, for the result is in the testimony of every mystic.
" 'Behold I call my creature, even thee,
The poor, the frail, the sinful, and the sad;
And in my glory, I will make them glad;
Come unto Me, My friend, come unto Me!'
Even so the voice from heaven, I heard and came,
And veiled my face and plunged into the flame.
Last night I lived a mean and abject thing,
Content in bondage, glad and prison-bound,
With greedy fingers blindly groping round
For such brief comfort as the hour might bring.
To-day I am the North wind on the wing,
And the wide roaring of the clamorous sea,
And the huge heaven's calm immensity,
And all the bloom and music of the Spring.
I lived and loved. Now is it life or death
Here in this vast world wherein I move?
Now, when the winds of heaven are my breath,
And the great sun the eye whereby I see?
I live not in myself, only in Thee.
Last night I loved. This morning I am love."
(Hallal al Hallaj, a Persian mystic, written 300 years ago on the eve of his execution for proposing the heresy that on death man would become part of God.)
Or we may share the same thoughts in the Christian tradition
"Thus unto all who have found their high ideal in Christ,
Christ is to them the essence discern'd or undiscern'd
of all their human friendships; - -
for Goddes love
is unescapable as nature's environment,
which if a man ignore or think to thrust it off
he is the ill-natured fool that runneth blindly on death.
This individualism is man's true Socialism.
This is the rife Idea whose spiritual beauty
multiplieth in communion to transcendant might.
This is the endearing bond whereby Christ's company
yet holdeth together on the truth of his promise
Lo, I am with you always ev'n to the end of the world.
Truly the Soul returneth the body's loving
where it hath won it . . . and God so loved the world ...
and in the fellowship of the friendship of Christ
God is seen as the very self-essence of love
Creator and mover of all as active lover of all,
self-express'd in not-self, without which no self were,
In thought whereof is neither beginning nor end
nor space nor time; nor any fault nor gap therein
'twixt self and not-self, mind and body, mother and child,
'twixt lover and loved, God and man; but one eternal
in the love of Beauty and in the selfhood of love."
(Bridges, Testament of Beauty)
And for those of us who would follow the answer too is plain:
"Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been, they remain.
If Hopes were dupes, fears may be liars,
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field .
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seen here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward look, the land is bright."
(Arthur Hugh Clough)
For the present then, let us work on end with the light,- for where there is no vision the people perish.
In 1952, Dr. Sankey was a Past Master of Perfection Lodge No. 616 GRC, a 33° mason of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, and a member of the Royal Order of Scotland. The photo was taken in 1981 with his son George, then a Deputy District Grand Master, Montreal District No. 2.