|Courtesy of Unizar Lodge No. 347|
I've been thinking about the constant tug-of-war between tradition and modernity in our Craft. It's an interesting issue that continues to arise as the modern world outside the lodge and the traditions within the lodge either clash, merge, become accepted practice, or exist yet are ignored. Case in point, candles.
At the beginning of speculative masonry, lodges used candles as the lesser lights. This was obviously out of necessity. The only way one could light a room effectively was using candles as the long lasting and practical Edison incandescent light bulbs would not be invented until the late 1870's. Candles were the thing to use, it was just that simple.
As with all modern advances, the light bulb began to be adopted en masse as Edison and several competing inventors changed the way we viewed light, the night, and time. Of course, this modern advance finally found its way into Masonic lodges.
I haven't found any source material on when most Masonic lodges in my state switched from candles to incandescent bulbs but it must have been very nearly after when the incandescent bulb was invented and mass produced from age of the lamps I have seen. I can't be sure why bulbs were chosen but I wish to speculate. I believe the reason was to save time.
If you've ever seen a lodge with candles and not bulbs, you have probably noticed the biggest difference when lighting the lesser lights. The candle route takes time, at least two minutes for the Senior Deacon to go from candelabrum to candelabrum while a lamp takes, well, a second. Flick. Now the lesser lights are on.
In this case, switching from our old way to light the lesser lights to this new way has not improved the lodge experience. In fact, I'm going to go further and say that the bulbs have done nothing but to remove an important symbol from our lodge.
The lodge visits I have attended that employ candles change me somehow. Both methods of light come from the energy of the sun but only with candles do I sense kinetic energy. Candles, with their dancing flames, placing light in seemingly random sections of the Lodge Hall, changes my experience. The candles encourage action, sharpening my mind in a way a light bulb never could. In fact, I would say, I put no thought into the lesser lights when a lamp is used. None. They are just a perfunctory step to opening and closing.
Tradition and modernity can work together. Lodges can and should have lodge websites. If a lodge wants an organist but can't find one, using a prerecorded track may be okay. These tools allow lodges to accept a changing world without losing everything that Masonry should keep.
Modernity should not force its way in, disrupting what is strictly not its purpose. I can imagine that at some point, a lodge will attempt to use a Kindle, its screen set to "Always On", as a representation of the Holy Bible. I suspect, that some brothers will attempt to record the ritual and have candidates watch a screen, thus, losing that important connection of ritual to self-transformation.
As with all things, we must take care not to lose our traditions. We must always balance why we do things with what we can do after advances in technology take hold. I do believe that we can create a balance, we need only be cognizant and vigilant at every meeting.
What are your thoughts? How do we effectively protect our traditions and accept helpful technological advances into our lodges? Leave a comment below.