Why did this small band of Brothers undertake this journey you ask?
Well, we were on our way to have dinner and enjoy a lecture from Worshipful Brother Andrew Hammer, author and Past Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge no. 22 in Virginia (which apparently had some famous founding father of the United States as a member in the past with the initials G.W.). His book, Observing The Craft was the topic of the evening and his host was Wyllys St. Johns Lodge no. 4, in West Hartford Connecticut. I had been meaning to travel up to Wyllys St. Johns for a while, as they are the first lodge in Connecticut, I believe, to institute a Chamber of Reflection and the guest speaker was an added incentive to make the trip. No sooner had I sent out an email to the like minded Brothers in my old Lodge announcing that I was traveling, I received immediate positive responses to join me.
We arrived in a misty rain and entered the big brick building with the classical facade just in time for a tour and some idle chat. I had said hello to our graceful and ever ebullient Deputy Grand Master who introduced me to a young dedicated Brother that also is a reader of this blog. One of the greatest thrills I receive is talking to someone who reads my stuff and I was very glad for meeting this new Brother and talking about my last post and his journey so far in the craft. I cut short our conversation and caught up with my traveling party just in time to be taken to the Chamber of Reflection.
What can I say... I certainly had heart palpitations when I saw it and I think I can say that we were all floored by the simple room in the attic of this huge temple and how it must affect the men who are voted in to receive the degrees of our Order. You can read about these chambers and see pictures of what is in them, but until you step into a well appointed room set aside for this purpose you cant imagine what it would be like to be in one. The walls were painted black with the word V.I.T.R.I.O.L and a few other alchemical symbols in white. A small desk with a skull and bone, salt, sulpher, a picture of a rooster and a picture of a skeleton were against one wall and a lone mirror was on the other. All lit by a single flickering lamp. It was beautifully done. The Chamber of Reflection in this lodge was just recently incorporated into their ritual and the long term effect it may have on the lodge is not yet known, but the Master of the lodge said you can see the difference on the candidates faces when they exit the room before their Masonic journey begins. I am definitely jealous and wish that my quest started in such a profound and introspective room.
Wyllys-St. Johns has one of the youngest officer lines in the state and their rallying cry to a deeper Freemasonry has been the book that we came to hear about, Observing The Craft.
W:.B:. Hammer has been a Freemason a little longer than I and we have had a similar experience along our paths. We both joined old lodges. We both were searching for a place to tie ourselves to the bigger things in life by joining and we didn't find what we were looking for. Our biggest differences are that he took a break in the beginning to regroup and I am taking a break now, and he has that charming British accent and I have a semi-New York cabby way of talking.
His book is all about restoring the foundation that he and I both believe is what our fraternity was meant to be: an initiatic Order where men come to grow themselves both mentally and spiritually. For most of his lecture I sat there just nodding my head, loving the fact that another Brother had put down all of the things I have said on this blog in a book form and is traveling the country giving talks to lodges about it. Brother Andrew has never read my blog but in my head I was thinking back to posts I had written over the last 5 years and saying Here Here in my head. I have still yet to read the book and will follow up with a proper review when I finish but one of his finer points that I took from his talk was what he disliked about how his lodge was "sold" to prospective members and how he has changed it.
He said when he came into his lodge, the three questions asked by the investigating committee were;
1. Do you believe in God? 2. Are you the proper age? And 3. Do you know that George Washington was a member of our lodge? It is an enlightening point that shows that most lodges are not looking for men to better themselves but simply looking for another dues paying member to whisk through the degrees and get the money and they try to sell sell sell our fraternity to any man that walks through the door. I for one was guilty of similar selling with my old lodge and could not wait to give the prospective member my long winded tour, with historical undertones, in hopes to try and keep them interested.
Brother Andrew's most profound statement was that he was more interested in making a lodge where George Washington would want to be a member, than one that sat on the laurels that he once was.
That one hit deep. A lodge that is more interested in the men who belong to it or want to be a part of it than the ones who once did. That is what I want in a lodge. Not to diminish my obsession with history in the least, which is what distracted much of my time in my old lodge but I never saw the forest for the trees.
The little trip I took last night to eat a good meal, enjoy...really enjoy the company of my Brothers and leave on a higher level than when I came is what I joined Freemasonry for, not to be in a dusty old building filled with priceless artifacts...well I never will get over my obsession with history, I just need to separate it from what I want in a lodge.
Thank you Brothers of Wyllys St. Johns no. 4,
Bravo Worshipful Brother Andrew Hammer,
You have both done your job on this Traveling Man.