During the course of this year we are focusing on Rough Ashlar Lodge. Good old Rough Ashlar isn’t a real lodge, but its real challenges are shared by many lodges. We have discussed using the “4-P’s” to build a well balanced lodge. Once again the 4-P’s are People, Planning, Programming and Proficiency.
Proficiency doesn’t just mean memorizing ritual, but it means that we should strive to do things well. This can extend to ritual but also includes running efficient meetings and communicating effectively.
Memorization is naturally an important aspect of proficiency. Being great at memorizing doesn’t necessarily make you a great Mason, but memorizing Masonic ritual has long been an important part of the fraternity. It is often said that once the ritual has been committed to memory it can truly begin to reside in your heart.
There is no need to fear memorizing. For most of us it is challenging, but not insurmountable. Everyone learns at different speeds and has different capacities for memorizing. Some of our best leaders have not been great ritualists, and likewise some of our greatest ritualists have not been good leaders. The one common thread between leadership and the ritual is the willingness to put forth the effort to learn. Learning does not just apply to memorizing but must also include digging into the ritual to unfold its meaning.
Learning how to memorize can be an important part of the Masonic journey. While there are differing abilities, there is no doubt that everyone can memorize! Not to be flippant about it, but ask a Brother his name. Does he know his name from memory? Of course he does, so he can memorize, but let’s not be silly.
Let’s take it one step further. Ask your candidate or new officer to stand in the West. Ask him to recite his name, address and phone number out loud. Ask him to recite it in a clear, firm voice that can be heard throughout the lodge. If you do this with even your best ritualists, in a room full of attentive Brothers, any Brother may fumble over his own personal information. It can be difficult to deliver even the simplest material when you are “under the gun.” Yet, this is an excellent way for a Brother to get the feel of standing up in the lodge and speaking in full voice from memory. Try it, just for fun!
As Masons, one of the first things we do is ask our new candidates to memorize the obligation. (Although he may also explain the ties and parts of the obligation in his own words.) Think about this for a second. We ask our new candidates to memorize a fairly lengthy and complicated piece of memory work right off the bat. Do we teach him how to memorize? Or do we just throw him into the deep end of the pool?
Now before we throw our brother (candidate or new officer) into the deep end of the pool let’s talk about some strategies for memorizing.
Learn it in chunks! Most folks can tackle a sentence or two at a time. Teach your brothers to learn a small chunk and then progressively a bigger chunk.
Read it out loud! Memorizing is half brain and half muscle memory. You need to move your lips and speak out loud to memorize. The sooner you begin saying it out loud, the sooner you’ll memorize it.
Read it twice, then recite it from memory. Whatever size chunk you choose to work on, make a system out of it. Read it out loud twice through – then hide the words and try it from memory. As you start getting it down pat, you’ll only need to read it through once before you try it from memory. This works great with a coach. This is also a great way to avoid memorizing your own “version” complete with a few wrong words.
Start at the end. Once you begin tackling bigger parts, start your practice session by doing the last page or paragraphs. When we always start at the beginning we have a tendency to repeat the first paragraphs many more times than the last. We get interrupted or distracted. The first page gets lots of practice. Turn this around, especially with longer parts. If you start with the “end”, you will actually practice the ending twice every time you work on the part. You’ll know the last portion better, and when you get to that section you’ll feel a sense of relief as you tell yourself “I got the rest of this!”
Practice with others. We all have the ability to deliver perfect memory work to our dogs, or to our steering wheel. Delivering that part in front of real Brothers in a live practice session is the essential final step before doing it in lodge.
Slow it down. Memory work needs to sound like it is coming from the heart. Delivering your part really fast doesn’t mean you know it better than anyone else. Reciting it with meaning, at a meaningful tempo is the goal.
Here is another thought…
How about giving our aspiring “rough ashlars” the Junior Warden part to learn for opening and closing the lodge? This is not a particularly long part but it is essential to the opening and closing of the lodge. Our new ritualists can use what they have learned twice in the same meeting and in most lodges deliver the part during at least two meetings in one month. The actual Junior Warden can sit close by in case a prompt is needed. When that new Brother (or aspiring ritualist) stands up in the south and delivers the part in a clear, firm voice, his Brothers will be tempted to applaud.
Finally, my Brothers. Don’t be afraid to tackle a new part, but always remember that the candidate and your lodge Brothers deserve a meaningful presentation. It’s not about you. It’s about each Brother hearing the ritual from your lips and having it make a difference in his life.
Donald W. Hensiak