Interfaith Breakfast Homily

{I was on deck a couple of years ago to fill in as the speaker at a Masonic Interfaith breakfast, and although the speaker didn’t show, they called off the sermon and invocation altogether. This unused passage is compiled from the notes intended for use that day.}

I’d like to share with you a puzzle. This is not the kind you hope all the pieces came with the box and have to protect from the cats, but something much larger — something that encompasses all of human experience throughout the ages. This puzzle is the question of the Holy versus the Profane.

All cultures have some notion of sacredness, or that which is “holy”, meaning, in its most basic form, “set apart”. Ritual of all sorts are used to create sacred space. We use ceremony to sanctify a building, or a room, or a vessel, for a particular meaningful purpose, or use ritual to make special a place for a gathering to set it apart not only from the outside, in space, but from the rest of the day, in time.

The mezuzah on my home’s door frame contains the passage of Exodus 25:8. “[H]ave them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” I bring this up because even if there were not religion, we would still have the first sacred space of a human being, Home. It becomes a place separate from the rest of the world, and as such it becomes a special act of trust and generosity to invite someone into it.

But there’s another side to the coin. By making our space special, it must be shielded from the outside world, other people. We build walls between us physically and risk building them spiritually as well. This is the puzzle: How do we find holiness in our own lives and hearts without marking everything — and everyone else — profane?

There is another conflict at work here. Wisdom is the ability to make meaningful distinctions, to not become confused with similitude or resemblances. But Love is the choice to NOT make distinctions, to be unconditional, to not compare or contrast others as more or less deserving of life and dignity. Distinctions can detract from our ability to Love, and the most dangerous distinction of all is THEM versus US.

But tribalism is natural. It is how we create the “sacred” in human societies. It gives an identity to a people as opposed to others we may not trust. We find it wise to distinguish between those binding themselves to certain values, rules, and traditions, and those who don’t, at least by our own estimations and assumptions. Those others go by many names: Foreigners, Gentiles, Heathens, Outsiders, Profanes.

The part of the puzzle Freemasons work at is to have the benefits of Sacred Fraternity without its pitfalls, as “Every human being has a claim upon our kind offices.” From one angle, we are always drawing a line between what is good and true and what is not. But is it to pretend we are different or better than others? Do we puff out chests, claiming the higher moral ground, being more civilized than others?

Or is it made in principle? Perhaps the line we draw is only supposed to be the “due bounds” of basic ethics, showing us that which we ought not do. Will we give in to fear and hate and say we must stoop to be evil to fight evil? Will we say our noble ends can justify any means? Or do we draw that line?

I ask a further question, more to the point: Can we protect the sacred by keeping others out? Any Temple we make can be knocked down, and someone eventually always does. But we, as Masons, are taught to construct a Temple that can’t be touched or even made by human hands — something worthy of the Eternity of the Soul, a Sacred space that transcends the need for “Us” and “Them”. We seek a circle without limits.

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
(Edwin Markham)

Poetry is not unknown among Masons — Goethe, Kipling, Bobby Burns, Rob Morris, even George Washington has written a verse or two. But are flowery words forceful arguments? Or are they among other ridiculous sentiments, such as “Love your enemies” or “Pray for those who hate you.” In real life such notions are ridiculous — not because they are ridiculous in principle, but that they are ridiculously difficult to live by.

Consider a recent event — a school shooting where the killer was a child himself. We can’t help but see our own children when we look at the victims’ faces. But we refuse to even look at the face of the disturbed or tormented child who pulled the trigger as anything more than an animal. We cannot accept them as one of us; they may as well be an alien or demon.

On a larger scale, humanity has always used ethnic and ideological pretexts to wage so-called “Holy Wars”. Even atheistic Stalinism played upon this social psychology, and the death toll was mind-boggling. Perceived differences that break down trust and empathy become the very basis for identifying others as something less than human, consciously or subconsciously. After all, that is the only way to make calls to war seem palatable, and the atrocities that stem from them excusable.

Freemasonry was borne in part as a response to this continuing tragedy. The Reformation and Counter-reformation gave us hundreds of years of massacres, both politically executed and by unorganized mobs, based on denominational allegiances. In our Lodge rooms we forbade sectarian discussion, and created a sacred space in which we could all sit, and pray, together without fear. And we went a step further, borrowing the attitude of Rosicrucianism — a philosophy that prioritized those things of faith on which all men agree, rather than continue to denounce each other over theological details.

The puzzle is how to make the whole world sacred without losing the sacred. Perhaps the answer can be found within another question, another plight of human existence. Why are we missing so many pieces in our world, and in each of our own hearts?

Maybe we are supposed to have something missing, so we have to be dependent upon one another, not just physically, but spiritually and at every other level of our being. Maybe we need the answers to questions only others can ask, coming from places we cannot be, with knowledge we do not have, and understanding we cannot find alone. I believe God has entrusted each of us, however noble or broken a vessel we may be, with a unique spark necessary to light some part of the path for the rest of us.

And maybe it will take all the languages of the world to fill in our crossword. Maybe we must reunite the myriad tribes who split at the fall of the Tower of Babel, and finally hear each other again. And if will finally share those letters and syllables in our hearts, we might just form the Lost Word, recovering the true Law of Love and discovering it anew.

There’s only one time this can ever begin, for ourselves and the World.
The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It is among us.
We can choose our fate together by choosing it within ourselves.
Never cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in.
Embrace and enfold others without limit or prejudice, and all will be Sacred.

Grand Architect of the Universe, we ask for the strength to do what is right, rather than what is easy. Subdue our passions against one another, and may we always strive to Love one another as you have Loved us. Amen.

Ken posted at 2019-12-29 Category: Prayers & Pulpit