The Profound Pontifications
of Brother John Deacon
By James C. “Chris” Williams IV
The Chamber Of Reflection And A Tater In The Crik
In my business, getting the parts necessary to repair a vehicle can sometimes be the most challenging part of the job. I had sold a clutch job on a truck and was in the process of ordering the parts. I had a choice of having the clutch parts sent to me in the mail with a hefty fee added and not receiving it for an extra day…or… driving the seventy miles to pick it up and getting it the same day. I opted for driving the seventy miles and getting it the same day. As I was walking out the door guess who drove in at the same instant…. yup none other than big John Deacon. I was in too big a hurry to stop and chit chat, so I told him to load it up and off we went.
I thought we could have some really good Masonic conversation in 140 miles but as usual all he was interested in was eating. I kept telling him I had to get that part picked up, but I might as well have been talking to myself. There were a couple of times when I almost pulled over and told him to walk, but I knew that would come back to bite me in the end. We picked up the part without incident and I was unsuccessful in leaving John behind…. not that I didn’t try.
Halfway back I got to feeling hungry and realized we were pretty close to the Gristmill Restaurant outside New Braunfels. I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite places to go. This restaurant was built literally on the bank of the Guadalupe River overlooking one of the most beautiful and popular parts of the river where tubers lazily float by all day long. John had never been there so I asked for a table halfway down the bank about forty feet up from the water. I started to realize the big guy was leery of heights when it took him 10 minutes to walk down two short flights of stairs to the platform where our table was. He was trying real hard not to let me see that he was petrified but it was obvious. I asked him if he wanted to get a different table but after sitting down, he seemed to be ok and he declined to move. He did mutter something under his breath about our table hanging off the side of the hill.
It didn’t take him long to start noticing all the pretty girls floating the river below and I actually had to remind him that we were there to eat. He mumbled something about being concerned about their safety …. which I didn’t buy. Our waitress, Marcie, wanted to know what we wanted to drink, and I told her to bring two teas and she asked if we were ready to order. John grabbed a menu but before he could open it, I reached over and took it from him and while he scowled at me, I ordered three Chicken Fried Steaks with all the fixins including baked potatoes and a basket of their really good rolls. By the time I finished ordering he had stopped scowling and was smiling. I told him we didn’t have time to be picky and their Chicken Fried Steaks were great. He was happy about that and had gone back to watching the river. I just let him watch…. heck it is sure relaxing sitting under those huge cypress trees and watching the river….and the tubers go by. He said, “You know Brother Chris, I have never floated down a river in a tube
before. It looks like a lot of fun. Maybe I will try it sometime.” I must have chuckled too loud because he looked at me and demanded to know what was so funny. “At the risk of upsetting you before you get your food,” I said slowly. “I don’t think they make a tube big enough for your big……….” “There you go again,” he interrupted me growling like a bear. “Always saying bad things about me” “I was merely telling the truth and also looking out for your safety.” “My safety?” he asked giving me a skeptical look. “Yup,” I said. “The chances that you will find a tube big enough… ahhh… your size…. is slim and none. And if you did, considering the shallowness of the river and the expected displacement of your derriere I would expect that the constant contact with the riverbed would render you with extremely scraped cheeks.” I delivered the whole thing, seriously, with a straight face while he stared at me with a confused look on his face. Finally, he said, “Displacement …. ……derriere…. scraped cheeks? Can you talk in plain talk?” “Ok,” I said. “The water is not very deep, and you are going to stick out so low below that tube that you are going to scrape your butt big time.” Well he just stared at me with a blank look on his face. I didn’t know if he was going to growl or yell or ask me to explain again. Luckily Marcie showed up and set our plates down and all of his attention turned to eating. I was enjoying my lunch and I happened to look up and saw John gazing over the side of the railing looking down at the river. Just as I started to give him a hard time about watching the tubers again Marcie walked up and asked how everything was. John looked up at her with big sad eyes and said slowly, “I knocked my tater in the crik.” Marcie just stood there with a confused look on her face and said, “You knocked your what in the what?” I quickly jumped in and tried to explain. “He said he knocked his potato off his plate down into the river.” She looked from me to him and he just nodded with a big frown on his face. She chuckled and shook her head and told John not to worry that she would bring him another. Happily, he went back to eating. I told him he needed to hurry because we needed to get back, but it wasn’t necessary because he was done in no time. I paid the bill and a nice tip for Marcie who was still giggling about John’s tater in the crik.
On the way to the truck I reminded him that he hadn’t said one thing of value so far and he needed to change that. We got back on the road and he said he did have something to talk about. He said, “I was talking with several Brothers the other day and I asked them what they thought about the “Chamber of Reflection”?
Boy, the discussion went back and forth about whether it was changing the ritual to whether it was legal or not to whether its purpose was necessary at all. What is your opinion, Brother Chris?” “Well I haven’t thought too hard about it before,” I replied. “But you can be sure I will now, but I have to say I am not sure at this point. I’ll bet you have an opinion though…. otherwise this wouldn’t be the subject of your conversation today.”
“Well you can bet your sweet bippy I have an opinion,” he said smiling. “But before I offer it up, I want to say a few things about this here Chamber of Reflection and our Grand Lodge Laws. First, You and I and every Mason has sworn to abide by the Constitution, Resolutions, and Edicts of this Grand Lodge which means that we are bound by duty and honor to follow the Laws of our Grand Lodge whether we agree with them or not. Secondly, those of us who have been Masters of our Lodges, we swore that we would make no innovations to the body of Masonry. And thirdly, is this Chamber and its purpose really necessary? Let’s start with the third point first. Is it necessary? Its purpose is to cause a new candidate just before his initiation into Masonry to sit quietly in a special place and think about his life. He is asked to ponder three questions; what is your duty to God, what is your duty to your fellow man, and what is your duty to yourself? Is it necessary that a candidate ponder these questions in relation to his life?
Brother Chris, I think it is. We would hope that as part of making the decision to become a Mason a certain period of reflection would have happened …. but that is not necessarily the case, or after hearing his first reading that he might pause to reflect on these things and others…. but sadly, most candidates receive that reading only minutes prior to their initiation and some not at all. We must not assume that every candidate for Masonry has arrived at the inner door duly and truly prepared. We must make SURE that he is. We do way too much assuming. On the second point, is sitting in a quiet place and being asked to ponder your life’s past, present, and future really an innovation to the body of Masonry? This being done before he begins his degree, is it really part of the ritual at all? And as to the first point, we don’t need to change anything at all…because WE ALREADY HAVE ONE!!” He had shouted the last four words out loud and as I looked around, a little embarrassed I shot back at him, “Whoa up there big guy. The whole world doesn’t need to know! What do you mean we already have one?” “Are you kidding me,” he asked, his voice still a little too loud? “Every Lodge has an ante room, don’t they?” In reality it’s not an ante room. It’s a preparation room. And that has, as most things in Masonry, more than just one meaning. Of course, it is to prepare the candidate physically for his introduction into the Lodge, but that is not where preparation was intended to stop. It is a place to prepare the mind also. The preparation room is there to make a candidate ready both in body and in mind for what awaits him.” “But John,” I interjected quickly, and received the usual dagger stare for interrupting his flow, “Lodges have gotten into hot water with Grand Lodge after creating a Chamber of Reflection with all the trappings of a medieval mystery school chamber in their Lodge ante roo…ahhh preparation rooms.” “I am well aware of that fact, my irritatingly observant Brother,” John growled.” It is all a matter of opposite ends of the same pole. On one end we have Grand Lodge Law, specifically Articles 127 and 223, which prohibits painting the preparation room black, adding the skull and crossbones, hourglass, or other items that symbolize our mortality or the material world vs. the spiritual, evidently because of concern that they might detract from or are not part of the ritual. On the other end of the pole we have absolutely nothing. A bare room that is hardly more than a storage closet,
and in many Lodges is exactly that. It is amazing to me sometimes just how bad we miss the mark with respect to creating the proper atmosphere and perspective for our candidates and new Brothers. Where we need to be in this debate is right in the middle, a true equilibrium. Our preparation room should be a clean, neat place and comfortably furnished. A place where, if you or I were to sit in it, would tend to calm the mind and relax the spirit and allow us as well as a prospective Brother the chance to reflect on himself and this important step in his life. In this as in everything we do in Masonry we tend to rush through it as fast as we can instead of realizing that allowing a proper time for preparation, both body and mind, can be invaluable to a new Mason preparing to take his first step in Masonry. It should be also necessary for each successive step.
To me reflection and how to reflect should be an important part of A Mason’s Masonic Education. How many times have you heard of someone saying that they don’t know how to pray? Most people just assume…there’s that word again…that a person knows how to pray just like we Masons assume that a candidate and new Brother just instinctively knows how to reflect. I know by experience that this is not true. A Brother told me the other day that I was being too dramatic and too theatrical as it relates to the Chamber of Reflection and maybe that is true to a certain extent, but I see two problems that speak to this issue.
First, we consistently fail to properly prepare a candidate mentally for his initiation. Once we have his money and his petition, we seem to have a major letdown in our commitment to his Masonic education and leave everything up to him to figure out from that point on. In fact in many Lodges instead of preparing his mind for the beautiful experience that becoming a Mason is, they instead fill his mind full of uncertainty with talk of goats and other things to the extent that he spends his whole degree thinking about things he shouldn’t. You would think that since this is, for all intents and purposes the beginning of the rest of his life that we would go above and beyond in making sure that he is totally ready mentally for this experience. Could this be a major reason we lose so many new EA’s? Add to that the lackadaisical attitude that many Lodges and Brothers have in making sure that the ritual is done right and it’s a wonder we are able to hold on to the ones we do. As far as being dramatic, each of our Degrees IS a play of sorts with Brothers playing certain parts in order to teach certain lessons and dispense wisdom or light to that candidate. A certain amount of drama is not only expected but is in fact necessary to the success of the ritual.
Every day in this society we are subjected to situations and images both in real life and in the media and movies and music that bombard our senses and emotions to the extreme. We have and continue to be desensitized as to our emotions and feelings and it takes more and more of the same bombardment to keep our interest. There are things that we can do to enhance a new candidate’s first experience in Masonry and doing the ritual correctly in words and movements
is one of the first. But to make sure that he is in the right frame of mind mentally is just as important and a period of reflection before his degree is essential. Not preparing a candidate mentally for his experience would be like telling an NFL team to show up thirty minutes before a game and suit up and take the field without any mental preparation for the game…. without a game plan. In that context, the unprepared players would surely fail to succeed in any part of the game just as our new candidates without proper preparation cannot succeed in understanding the lessons imparted to them in the degree. Instead of preparing them to succeed we set them up to fail……and then we scratch our collective heads and wonder why we lose so many new Brothers.
So, my opinion is: I believe that asking a candidate to sit quietly in reflection in some form just before his initiation and reflect upon those three important questions will not only better prepare him for his reception into the Lodge room but will also enhance the experience. Back in the earlier days of our Fraternity our degrees were an awe-inspiring experience….as they should be now…anything less should not be acceptable.
The ritualistic lessons of our Craft must be as vivid as possible. Our more philosophically and esoterically inclined “New Breed” of members will cherish the experience of reflecting before seeing the Light. They will treasure the instant when called upon to reflect on their duties to God, to their fellow beings, and to themselves. And performing this task before the degree even starts will take nothing away from the ritual itself. I think this is something we owe to our new Brethren…. I really do.”
He stopped talking and we just rode along in silence for the last 30 miles to the shop, me thinking about what he had said. I didn’t even realize we hadn’t spoken until we were turning into the driveway. I apologized to John for ignoring him and he chuckled and said, “You were deep in reflection and that is key to your and to all of our moral and spiritual development which leads to a happier more peaceful existence.”
“You know Brother John?” I said grinning. “It is sure expensive hanging around you, but you sure do get me to thinking and I thank you for that.” “He laughed out loud and grabbed me and gave me a big bear hug. “Let me go,” I gasped. “I can’t breathe.” He finally dropped me and shook my hand. “I’ll see you next month my Brother,” he called out over his shoulder as he climbed in his truck.” As he went out of sight in a cloud of diesel exhaust, I reflected…yup… I reflected on how much I enjoy my time with him. Hope it doesn’t end very soon.