Supporting A Brother In Need
By Brother Anthony Hawthorn
Address at Lodge De Goede Verwachting
21 January 2016
The thoughts expressed in this piece of architecture are intended to stimulate a conversation on a topic that we all experience, but avoid talking about. I introduce it by way of a crisis of conscience: I see my brother Manson grieving at the loss of a loved one. What can I do? What do I do? Do I have the strength to do it?
As human beings we are hardwired to run away from things that threaten us. If confronted with a lion, it is not human instinct to take a seat and contemplate the options before you. Your body will trigger autopilot, which has one of three pre-programmed routines: run to get away from the danger; freeze in the hope that the threat won’t see you; or stand and fight.
Death (and all things denoting death), although a reality to all of us, is seen as the greatest threat to the human system. Therefore, when confronted with death it is common to display one of the three behaviours listed above. Some will run away and avoid the person who has lost a loved one; others freeze (from feelings of inadequacy) and simply don’t know what to say or do; the last may fight through naming and shaming or impatience at the perceived weakness of the bereaved.
So what will it take for a Mason to rise above the pre-programmed response? Let me suggest three tools that every Manson is challenged to develop. In the first instance, a Mason is challenged to understanding his duty. Secondly, a Mason is taught that his first labour is to himself. Lastly, a Mason is accepted on the condition that his desire is to labour with his brethren. The balance of my remarks will address the utility of each of these in the supporting of a Brother Mason in his hour of need.
In the hour of a brother’s loss, each one of us are confronted with the same question posed at the Genesis of our time: “And the Lord said unto Cain, ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ And he said, ‘I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?’” As Masons it could be asked of us: “Bro Anthony, where is thy brother in need?” At this junction of integrity the question is posed: “Do I consider myself my brother’s keeper?”
In the First Degree ritual we say, “It will be your duty whenever you find a Bro. in difficulty and danger to help and succour him to the best of your power and ability, remembering the position in which you are now placed.” The first restraint to our natural inclination is therefore to firstly understand our duty as a brother Freemason. Is duty, however, sufficient a motivation to override our natural instinct for self-preservation? I would suggest that duty alone will not suffice. In the example of parent who offers there life for the life of their child it is not duty alone but duty that is motivated by pure love that overcomes the instinctual response to self-preservation.
The conflict between duty and action often results in feelings of shame and helplessness. We want to help but either feel inadequate to the task or just don’t know how. Creating awareness of and owning these feelings is step in the right direction. In preparation for labour, a key insight is found the symbolism of the First Degree ritual: “As an Apprentice you must wear it with the flap turned inwards which means that your labour must return to yourself or, in other words, that self-knowledge must be the aim of the Apprentice Freemason.”
To help a brother in need you need to create within yourself the capacity to hold the pain and emotions of your brother. The only way to achieve this is through self-labour. The harder we work on knowing ourselves, the more we come to accept both the light and dark within us. This acceptance of self creates capacity for others. The struggle we feel to support a brother in need is often a result of feeling overwhelmed with our own struggles. What may appear as indifference is really just self-preservation - particularly when we are facing a brother’s loss of a loved one. When confronted with this, we are forced revisit our own losses and our own mortality. The key to being there for a brother Freemason is found in the courage to confront your own fear and pain.
What has been discussed thus far are valuable ideas, but they still don’t answer the question: “What do I do?” So let’s remove the ego from the equation and rephrase the question to read, “What does my brother need?” Let us put the tools of the Craft to work.
Firstly, a brother needs human contact to keep him grounded. The confusion of intimacy and sexuality is plague of our generation. Every man who is suffering longs for the intimate touch of another man. This act conveys a powerful message: “I feel your pain and am willing to hold it with you while you find your feet to stand alone.”
Secondly, a brother needs to feel connected and part of a community. As a Mason you become part of a community of Masons. The collective strength of feeling this community around you at the time of your grief can provide the strength that is needed.
Thirdly, a brother needs his brethren to pitch up. In the First Degree ritual the brethren who support you on the ladder don’t utter a word; you simply feel there presence. I know from personal experience how grateful I was to these brethren who were simply present for me to lean on at a time when I felt most vulnerable. There is a profound truth to be found in the ministry of presence. Your will note that at the start of Job’s trials in V.S.L., his brethren simply sat with him. It was only when they started talking that they added to his burden through the inappropriate things they said. Perhaps as a Mason our labour is do through our presence and not through what we say.
Fourth: be patient and accepting in a brother’s grief. Any personal loss is a roller coaster of emotions. This is not a time to draw conclusions on a brother’s character. It is rather a time to apply the wisdom of: “let us ever be forbearing towards the faults and frailties of a Brother.”
I can only hope that a brother will find within his lodge a place where he can descend to his darkest self and still find acceptance and understanding. If we provide the environment for a brother to heal in time his journey will lead him back to us. The reason for this is simply because we have given him a place where he feels that both his light and dark will be equally accepted and valued.
So, in a nutshell: three tools allow us to overcome our natural impulse to flee. Understand your duty, prepare yourself to labour, put your tools of the Craft to work.