The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

The Bond of Friendship: Brother Nellie McCool and Brother Ursula Monroe

Friendships often are forged in Masonry but very few are as strong and long-lasting as that of Ursula Monroe and Nellie McCool, both Brothers of the 33rd Degree and members of the Supreme  Council of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry. “We met in a book store in Colorado Springs,” Monroe recalled during a recent joint interview. 

Their friendship now is in its fifth decade. The two, pictured above with McCool on the left and with Bro. Olimpia Sandoval in the center, have remained close since they regularly attend Lodge and various Masonic functions together. They also live across the hall from each other in separate apartments in the same building in Castle Rock, Colorado, very near the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur.

Ursula as a Berlin Philosophy professor before WWII

Ursula Monroe in 1943


“Friendships in Freemasonry are some of the strongest you will find,” McCool said.

Monroe was born on June 28th, 1919 in Berlin, Germany. She earned her degree in Philosophy and became a college professor. Unfortunately, she, as did many, suffered greatly during World War II.

McCool was born January 25th, 1922 in Lahunta, Oklahoma, and she grew up in Beaver, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs, Colorado with her older brother, Harry McCool.

Nellie's 1945 college yearbook photo

Nellie McCool’s 1945 college yearbook photo.

Shortly after graduating from high school, with the United State’s entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both McCool siblings became aviators.

Lt. Harry McCool was part of Doolittle’s famous raid over Tokyo and later flew missions over Europe. 

Nellie McCool received her aviation training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where she was among the Class 44-7-Trainees and became a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. 

“Our motto was ‘We live in the wind and sand…and our eyes are on the stars,” McCool recalled.

Nellie as a WASP

Nellie McCool as a WASP

Ursula’s life took a turn shortly after the war was over. “I married a G.I.,” she recalled. Her marriage to Clifford Monroe brought her to the U.S. and also gave her that first brush with Freemasonry. “My husband was a Freemason,” she said. “I supported him in that. I didn’t know much about it then. I thought it was only for men.”

Through the years, Monroe also indulged a love for travel and experiences. In 1969, she was adopted by the Sioux Red Cloud Clan tribe at Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota in honor of her translation into German a book about one of their Chiefs: Chief Eagle. She was given the name  “Pte Sanaki Napewin,” which translates into English as “She who brings out white buffalo cow.”

“I used to love to travel,” she said with a laugh. “Now I’m too lazy.” She earned her Ph.D. in English and was a professor in the department of Humanities at Colorado College until she retired.

McCool’s life also changed after World War II ended. The WASPs were disbanded, and McCool soon found herself back in school. She attended Colorado College, majoring in Psychology. She later earned her Ph.D. in the field. She became a teacher at several Colorado-area schools, including North Junior High, South Security School, and Harrison Senior High School. Later, she was supervisor of Vocational Guidance for the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education.

Ursula during one of her many travels and experiences

Ursula Monroe on one of her many travels

Monroe’s life took yet another turn in 1972 when her husband died. A few years after that, she met an associate of Manly P. Hall. That associate introduced her to Co-Freemasonry, though it was not her first understanding of the Craft. 

“I was always interested,” Monroe said. “I had to make that first contact. You have to be around Freemasons and know Freemasons before you can become a Freemason.”

She did just that in 1979, Initiated on April 14th of that year in Lodge Amor-Sapientia in Pasadena, California. She was Passed the following 12th of August and then Raised on the 3rd of August 1980. She became Master of Kiva Lodge in Colorado Springs. On November 16th, 1998, she became a member of the Supreme Council and serves with on that body today.

It was a few years after Monroe was made a Mason that she had that fateful meeting with McCool in a Colorado Springs-area book store. “It turned out we were living in the same area,” Monroe said.

The friendship blossomed from there. It wasn’t long after that Monroe introduced McCool to Co-Freemasonry. McCool was intrigued enough to go have a look at the Order’s headquarters in Larkspur, about an hour from her home then in Colorado Springs. “I drove there and had a look at the building,” she said. “It just felt right.”

She certainly was interested, McCool said. “I was very excited,” she said. “I was happy to have found a Masonry that accepted women as well as men.”

McCool was initiated soon after, and ever since, they have been Masonically together. If Monroe goes to a meeting, McCool does, too. If McCool does something related to Masonry, Monroe will be there, too. Brothers in the Order see the two as inseparable, where one turns up the other will soon follow.

Both took part in the funeral of then Grand Commander Helen Wycherly in May of 1993 at the Headquarters Temple in Larkspur. Monroe was Orator that day while McCool was Junior Deacon. Today, both serve on the Orders’ Supreme Council. McCool also became a member of the Order’s Grand Council of Administration when she succeeded John Tzaras, who passed to the Grand Lodge Eternal on October 23, 2009.

“It’s a way of life,” McCool said. “I can no longer imagine not being a Mason.”