A Word from a Spy

Photo of Grand Commander Ronald A. Seale, 33°

By Ronald A. Seale, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander

From our earliest days as Masons, we learn the Great Light in Masonry is God’s word. In commemoration of his raising as a Master Mason, a candidate is often presented with a copy of the Holy Bible, often designated as a “Masonic Bible,” not because the Holy Writ is in any manner altered but as a result of the inclusion of additional articles on Masonry or indexes of scripture references to Masonic degree work, for example. The text itself remains the same as any other copy of the Bible. It is presented to us within the body of a Lodge with the admonition that we shall there find wisdom and instruction to guide our footsteps and actions to a meaningful and rewarding life. Good counsel indeed from our brethren on the occasion of our raising.

It was in the spirit of this instruction the other day that I re-read one of the great stories of the Bible and was impressed with its application to our conduct and activity as Masons. I have reported this to you years earlier in another such article for the Journal. Might I recall the story for just a moment?

It’s found in the early part of the Old Testament book of Numbers. As we join the narrative, we remember that Moses has lead the Hebrews, forerunners of the Old Testament nation known as Israel, from slavery in Egypt. They have escaped the bondage of Pharaoh through many signs and wonders, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and made their way to Mt. Sinai where they have received the Ten Commandments and other law written by the finger of God. Wandering as nomads through the desert, often in deprivation and without any apparent direction, they finally are on the precipice of entering the Promised Land—Canaan.

As we take up the action, we see Moses sending out a scouting party, twelve “spies” to go ahead and bring back a report of what difficulty or promise would await them. Now I wouldn’t know how to go about selecting a bunch of spies for anything, but chapter 13 of the book of Numbers tells us all of these guys were good, not a slacker in the group. Every one is a leader among their respective tribe.

Off they go and within forty days they are back with a detailed report of all they have seen and heard. Can’t you just see them there, with Moses, presenting yet another PowerPoint presentation? Slide by slide they detail that the land promised to them was everything they were hoping it to be but great difficulties would confront them if they were to receive their promise. The consensus? It’s too hard, the obstacles too great and we would probably fail in our attempt. Let’s turn back. So said ten of their number—good men all. And the whole congregation wept and sought another leader to take them backward.

But the heroes of our story come forward—Joshua and Caleb effectively calling the people to remembrance. This struggling nomadic people were reminded that God remained with them and if they, in turn, were faithful to the promises they had made, then success would surely be theirs and that difficulties would be met and conquered. As the curtain falls we see Caleb noted by God as a faithful servant and as having a “different spirit.”

I often turn to these pages as I perceive what often seem to be insurmountable problems in our Fraternity. You could name them as well as I: A membership that continues to decline despite our best efforts; buildings that are old and in need of substantial repair; those within our society that continue to brand Masonry as a secretive or an occult society with hidden agendas; in some quarters Masons against Masons sowing seeds of discord and contention within the Craft and so goes the list, page upon page. It’s times such as this that we seem much like the nomads in the wilderness, straying far from our Masonic initiatory experiences where we knelt at an altar, surrounded by good men, and pledged ourselves to good things and right ways of living.

And like the ten men reporting back on life in Canaan we are tempted to conclude that it’s not worth the effort, the cost too great and the promise uncertain. It’s so easy to focus on the problems, the difficulties and our setbacks. In doing so, however, we are apt to miss the goal. At these moments, I pray that each of us, whatever our role, may have the different spirit of Caleb and Joshua and know that if God is indeed with us and blesses our effort in Masonry, then we will thrive and eventually succeed. For above all else, we are dispensers of Light commending our votaries to the Holy Word of God and admonishing each to live according to the Light he shall there find.

Canaan awaits—let us be on our way.