Food For Thought
Discovery of Purpose
by Canon Richard Tydeman
Having spent five years as a boy chorister in a cathedral choir and sixty-four years as a clergyman, I suppose I must have heard more sermons than most people have. I say ‘heard’ rather than ‘listened to’ because there are very few that I remember now. I don’t think this in any way an uncommon experience and I have no doubt that people have said similar things about the many sermons that I have preached myself.
Occasionally, however, one hears a note of appreciation: the other day I met, after fifty years, a man who had been a choir-boy in the parish where I was the Vicar. ‘I always listened to your sermons’, he said, ‘they were the only ones I could ever understand.’ I felt very comforted by this! Going back to the many sermons that I have heard myself, one of the very few that I do remember was given by the late Martin Luther King. No, it wasn’t the ‘I have a dream’ address, it was a sermon given in St. Paul’s Cathedral when he was visiting this country and I particularly remember it because it developed the teaching of masonry. I don’t know if King was a Freemason himself but he certainly used similar language.
Briefly, the theme of his sermon was the building of life and character. This, he said, was a matter of ‘dimensions’. Many people live in only one dimension: life, for them, is just a straight line with self-gratification as its sole objective. It has no depth or breadth but ploughs on to the end without achieving anything.
Other people live in two dimensions, moving forward but also spreading outward from side to side, having some consideration for the needs of other people and attempting to do good. If life in one dimension can be called bare existence, then two dimensional life might be described as ‘square’. This is obviously better but it cannot be considered complete.
Length then, and breadth are two dimensions but the third and most important one is height. Life must move forward; it must broaden out into ‘square measurement’ and it must also reach upwards in order to give solidity to one’s character and purpose to one’s existence.
Of course, Martin Luther King was preaching a sermon and not just writing a ‘Reflection’ but the message is the same in either case: man needs to be working in his own interests, he needs to be aware of other people and their interests too but man is only capable of doing these things by seeking assistance from above. This is why Freemasonry holds, as the first and most important landmark of the Order, that every candidate must have - and declare - his belief in God.
No, this is not ‘making masonry a religion’ any more than prayers at the opening of each session of Parliament makes politics a religion. Freemasonry is one of the very few organisations which still maintains rules made in the eighteenth century; it doesn’t ask what a man’s religion is but it does insist that he believes in a ‘Supreme Being’ and to avoid offending any religion by referring to that Supreme Being by one name or another; masons talk of ‘The Great Architect of the Universe’ and members of all religions can agree that this sums up what we all want to say.
Now the three dimensions could be said to correspond to the three degrees of Craft masonry; the First Degree representing the entrance to our mortal existence and the making of a just and upright mason. The Second Degree prompts us to ‘extend our researches’ while the Third deals with the most exalted qualities as well as the deepest.
Let me finish by repeating a story which I have told many times in orations and sermons. It may or may not be true but its message certainly is and I make no apology for telling it again.
The story is told that Sir Christopher Wren, while building St. Paul’s, was anxious to find out what his workmen really felt about what they were doing so, disguising himself as a casual visitor he entered one of the workshops where the three men, each with a gavel and chisel, were working on three blocks of stone.
Wren approached the first man and asked what he was doing. ‘I’m knocking bits off this stone until it’s two feet by one foot by one foot six’, said the man, ‘and a very boring job it is too.’
Wren moved to the second man and asked the same question. ‘Doing?’ said the second man, ‘I’m earning eighteen pence a day and that isn’t much when you’ve got a wife and children to support, is it.’
So Wren went on to the third man who looked up with a smile. ‘Yes sir’, he said, ‘I can tell you what I am doing; I’m helping a fellow called Christopher Wren to build a cathedral.’
They were all three doing exactly the same job but the last one had achieved the ability to understand the purpose of his life and work. It is this third dimension that transforms the square of regularity into the cube of perfection.