An Operative Problem
Charles A. Sankey
10 April 1968

Throughout my official visits I have been attempting to challenge the "brethren to make their Masonry a living entity "by showing that many of its symbols, concepts and teachings were truly Masonic-things-to-live-by. Tonight I am continuing to do so but with an especial pertinence as this past week has been marked by an event of great tragedy and of deep significance. Tonight our candidate walked on the mosaic pavement. This week we have seen clearly that the mosaic pavement is not just an ornament in a Masonic lodge but that it blankets the whole earth and that we all walk on it, for the mosaic pavement is the ground of the human situation.

The significance of the mosaic pavement has, in some Masonic traditions, been expressed thus:

The Lodge is furnished with mosaic work to remind us of the precariousness of our state on earth. ¨ While this emblem is before us we are instructed to boast of nothing; to have compassion and to give aid to those in adversity; to walk uprightly and with humility; for such is this existence that there is no station in which pride can be stabley founded; all men in birth and in the grave are on a level.

The human situation does indeed call for humility. But the events of this week have also brought into focus the immense potential in certain human beings. Arnold Toynbee has written:-

A human society is inherently incapable of playing an active creative role in human affairs. The society is not, and cannot be, anything more than a medium of communication through which the individual human beings interact with each other. It is human individuals and not human societies that 'make1 human history.

Then he quotes from Henri Bergsen:

It is useless to maintain that social progress takes place of itself, bit by bit, in virtue of the special condition of the society at a certain period of its history. It is really a leap forward which is only taken when society has made up its mind to try an experiment; this means that society must have allowed itself to be convinced, or at any rate to allow itself to be shaken; and the shake is always given by somebody.

The politics and methods of Martin Luther King are, as matters of some political controversy, not for consideration here. I submit, however, with respect, and in the strongest terms of which I am capable, that when a man demonstrates his greatness by living and dying in the cause of human brotherhood and according to the dictates of his own conscience, no one who is a member of our Order and who has the slightest conception of its teachings can remain unaffected, can remain unmoved.

Such careers are rare, but form a glorious company as diverse ethnically as the human race. Each such career is unique. More often than not it ends in violence or in great physical suffering. Let me name six such lives in the last twenty-five years in reverse order of their passing: Martin Luther King, Albert Schweitzer, John XXIII, Dag Hammerskjold, Gandhi, and Elizabeth Pilenko. All will be familiar to you except perhaps the last. She was a Russian lady from a well-to-do family who had a career remarkable for its humanitarian socialism during the Russian revolution. She became a nun and, as Mother Maria, founded her own Russian Orthodox convent in Paris devoted to the refugee poor. During the German occupation all her energies were directed to helping the Jews. She was instrumental in saving hundreds of lives. She died on Good Friday 19^5 in the Ravensbruk concentration camp, voluntarily replacing a young girl who had been selected for the gas chambers. A tree is planted in her name and honour in Tel Aviv at the head of a street called the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles.

Each such example brings to mind Traherne's words:

Strange is the vigour in a brave man's soul. The strength of his spirit and his irresistible power, the greatness of his heart and the height of his condition, his mighty confidence and contempt of dangers, his true security and repose in himself, his liberty to dare and do what he pleaseth, his alacrity in the midst of fears, his invincible temper, are advantages which make him master of fortune. His courage fits him for all attempts, makes him serviceable to God and man, ---

It is one of the greatest glories of the human race that there are such men and women. I use the present tense deliberately.

When we, as candidates, first came to the Mosaic Pavement we had started at the Junior Warden's Station. We had recognized the form of our lodge and its vast extent. Đe had been told that our lodge stood on holy ground, properly situated and supported by three great pillars. We had been shown the celestial canopy above us and a ladder by which the summit might be reached. Then, having dealt with the externals, our attention was directed to the interior of the lodge including the mosaic pavement.k 054

The key, then, to walking on the mosaic pavement is interior, that is, it is within ourselves. It is our problem. It is our free will. It is our responsibility. We cannot avoid the issue and in our better moments, when we are our better selves, alas all too seldom, we would not avoid it.

It is not just the Poet,- each one of us who would discover, who would create, who would build, who would improve, who would serve, becomes by conscious choice, a music-maker and, like Martin Luther King, a dreamer of dreams.

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
 
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

The challenge has been a continuing one all through human history back to Masonry's earliest roots. The challenge which I present tonight is not symbolic. It is not speculative. It is operative. There is a wonderful ancient Jewish legend to the effect that when Moses threw the wand into the Red Sea, the Sea, quite contrary to the expected miracle, did not divide itself to leave a dry passage for the Jews. Not until the first man had jumped into the sea did the promised miracle happen and the waves recede.

Dare we then accept the challenge of Martin Luther King's words:

The question is not whether we will be extremist "but what kind of extremist we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?

Dare we deny,today, two days before Good Friday, his affirmation:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.