Laborare est Orare
This past weekend, my local valley of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite had their biannual reunion, which I always look forward to. While I was watching some of our degrees be communicated, one struck me that I hadn’t really put much thought into before. In it was contained a lesson that was exceptionally apropos at the time.
The 22nd degree is one that most Scottish Rite brethren will never see – and, truly, I’ve never seen it performed. From my research, it seems to be a very short degree. In Albert Pike’s Morals & Dogma, it is a very short chapter. However, the lessons of this degree spoke to me more this weekend than they did at any time in the past.
A phrase that I say fairly often, is that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It has been that way for most of my Masonic life. In fact, for most of my natural life, I’ve found it to be a constant truth – that the human mind tends to gloss over lessons when they do not directly impact your life. But, this weekend, I was at a point in my life where I needed some motivation to commence my labor.
I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but I will admit (although with some shame) that as I get older, it gets increasingly easier to find reasons not to work. I’m not talking about my day job, but rather of other labors. I spend 8 hours a day at my job, and 2 hours driving back and forth each day. After these 10 hours, it is sadly far too easy to find a reason not to go work out, or work in the yard, or work on a project. It is so much easier to say, “I’ve worked hard today already, I deserve to sit on the couch and watch TV.” One finds it incredibly simple to debate himself into a baser way of thinking. But never forget, that no worthy task ever came about through ease.
The degree I’m referring to in this article is the 22nd degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite – Knight of the Royal Axe, or Prince Libanus. Though the degree is short, its lessons provide much to ponder. Allow me to let Albert Pike speak for me in this instance:
There is a perennial nobleness and even sacredness in work. Be he never so benighted and forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man who actually and earnestly works: in Idleness alone is there perpetual Despair. Man perfects himself by working. Jungles are cleared away. Fair seed-fields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal, the man himself first ceases to be a foul unwholesome jungle and desert thereby. Even in the meanest sort of labor, the whole soul of man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the moment he begins to work. Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, and even Despair shrink murmuring far off into their caves, whenever the man bends himself resolutely against his task. Labor is life. From the inmost heart of the worker rises his God-given Force, the Sacred Celestial Life-essence, breathed into him by Almighty God; and awakens him to all nobleness, as soon as work fitly begins. By it man learns Patience, Courage, Perseverance, Openness to light, readiness to own himself mistaken, resolution to do better and improve. Only by labor will man continually learn the virtues. There is no Religion in stagnation and inaction; but only in activity and exertion. There was the deepest truth in that saying of the old monks, “laborare est orare.” “He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small;” and can man love except by working earnestly to benefit that being whom he loves?
The great Masonic author is a much better wordsmith than I am, but I would add that we perhaps have more trouble with this in our modern day, than Pike and his contemporaries had in the nineteenth century. In the modern day, our labors are of the mind. So much of our time is spent behind a computer screen, in front of a TV screen, or in a car. On top of any personal predisposition against manual labor, our society itself has come to have a predisposition against manual labor.
We are taught, as Entered Apprentices, certain ways to divide our time. However, the time we are to set aside for our “usual avocations” seems to be shrinking more and more as the work days get longer. But, my Brothers, there is an ultimate truth in Pike’s writing – labor itself is not only its own reward, but is a far greater reward than any television show or website can provide. The analogies that Pike makes in the passage above are the same sorts of analogies that we make in all of Masonry – our beings are rough stones, and we must chip away at them with the tools we’re given, in order to fit them properly and fulfill the plan of our Master Builder.
Though I find some shame in saying it, I don’t feel like I’m alone in saying that this is a lesson I really needed to be reminded of this past weekend. With the weather heating up, the time for labor has come. How beautiful it is indeed to create and produce with the hands, to see the fruitful product of ones labors, and learn about oneself in the process.