During a recent episode (“Building Better Builders – The Working Tools of Entered Apprentice“) on the Craftsmen Online Podcast, my guest Bro. John Nagy and I discussed the Working Tools of Entered Apprentice. One of Bro. Nagy’s comments that stayed with me after our program was that Entered Apprentices are TOLD the meaning of the Working Tools; they don’t ask. His point instantly reminded me of how it wasn’t until after I was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason did I look back on the lessons of the First Degree and start contemplating their deeper meanings.
How can I divide my time to meet my obligation?
Within each degree, the instruction on the Working Tools is one of the most beautifully written parts of Masonic ritual. In the first degree, the use of the 24-inch gauge continues to fascinate me. Every time I hear the breakdown of the twenty-four inches into 24 hours, further divided into three equal parts of eight hours, which are to be allocated for serving God and our Brothers, our work, and refreshment and sleep — I always think, “How is that literally possible?”
At some point in the history of our Craft there must have been a time when men had time in their day to live like this, right?
Those words were created back when we didn’t sleep in one eight-hour chunk but in two shorter periods, overnight. Dating back to medieval times two-piece sleeping as it was called, was standard practice. Chaucer tells of a character in the Canterbury Tales that goes to bed following her “firste sleep.” And what did people do between their first and second sleep? Everything from reading a book (most likely their Bible), talk, or go for a walk in the countryside to visit with their neighbors.
Keep in mind this is back when time was still kept by burning a candle. Your day began, literally, at daybreak and you were in bed by sundown. Dividing your time into three equal parts wasn’t hard when your day was made up of eat, sleep, work, and repeat. Church wasn’t just something you did on Sunday morning: it was your Sunday. Take away weekend Netflix binging when I finally get to watch TV for a few uninterrupted hours, and instead, give me a few hours every night between Midnight at 2 am for reading and I would have that service to God box checked!
Fast forward to 2018
As a Modern Freemason, if I was to compare dividing my time to the Activity Rings on my Apple Watch. The large ring would definitely be my work hours, the medium ring my sleep, and the smaller ring the time invested in the service to God or my Brothers. I’m being very generous here with my math. I pulled up a random day on my calendar this month… Thursday, February 18th. Workday for job #1 started at 8 am (up for work by 6:45 am). Work schedule has a couple of conference calls, a meeting, lunch, and time at my desk to work on my daily task list. The end of the workday for job #1 is at 4:30 pm. My part-time job starts at 6 pm and goes until 8 pm. Add some study time for Graduate School from 9 to 10 pm and in bed (hopefully) before 11 pm.
My “Work” ring is dominating my life
And this isn’t just happening because I am working from home, I am constantly searching for time management methods that create a work/life balance. This is easier said than done when my phone dings with an email at 10:30 pm. The more I investigate the breakdown of my time, the only time I really dedicate my attention to “Masonic” service are my nights at Lodge. Hmm and that has been a stretch in a year dominated by a pandemic. I would generously estimate my Lodge time to two hours a month.
I’m being literal on purpose because it’s impossible to divide your time into 8-hour parts every day. It is also important to remember that the working tools of an EA are the 24-inch gauge AND the Common Gavel. As Bro. Nagy and I discussed one tool is used to divide your time, the other to clear your life of distractions. That’s the important part of the Working Tools lesson: do you examine how you spend your time? If your time is not prioritized, how can you fix the areas that are lacking?
There is an advantage to living in 2021 versus 1518
Besides a warm shower to start my day or the fresh, brewed cup of coffee that is set to go off at 7:15 am, I also have this little blue book that was given to me when I was raised as a Master Mason that contains ALL of the standard work and lectures from the degrees I took. I carry this little blue book to work to read during my lunch break or downtime. On my drive to and from work, I listen to my favorite Masonic podcasts to get my weekly dose of Masonic education and discussion. I also have a cell phone in my pocket that allows me to text or call my Brothers throughout the day. It might seem trivial but when I ask them how their day is going or converse with them about their daily dilemma, isn’t that service to a distressed worthy Brother?
When I re-evaluate my day through the lens of present-day, yes, work still dominates my life (for now) but I can “steal” a few hours here and there to meet my Masonic obligations. Instead of literally dividing my time into three “start/stop” parts, I use a combined/running clock. What depresses me now is the fact that my sleep circle is pretty much non-existent. Until I start taking naps under my desk or retire, I don’t see how I’m going to catch up in that area.
Perhaps that’s why we call them the “Working Tools.”
Mt. Vernon Lodge #3, Albany, New York
Editor-in-chief of Craftsmen Online
Host of the Craftsmen Online Podcast