Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mosaic Pavement

Author & Date unknown

In the traditional Masters Lecture of the Entered Apprentice Degree, we learn that the ornaments of a Lodge are the Mosaic Pavement, the Indented Tessel, and the Blazing Star. In examining this motif, we must first explain why these features are called the "ornaments" of a Lodge. An ornament is a decoration that beautifies and adorns the object or structure on which it is placed. So it is that the Mosaic Pavement, the Indented Tessel and the Blazing Star in the center of the pavement beautify and adorn not only our Masonic Lodge rooms, but also Freemasonry as a universal institution.

The Mosaic Pavement and the Indented Tessel may be considered together. The Mosaic Pavement is said to be "a representation of the ground floor of King Solomons Temple, and is emblematic of human life, checkered with good and evil. The Indented Tessel is a representation of the beautiful tessellated border or skirting which surrounded the pavement, and is emblematic of the manifold blessings and comforts which surround us."

Mosaics are works of art of surface decoration, composed of variously colored small pieces of glass, stone, ceramics, and other materials formed into patterns ranging from simple geometric designs to detailed realistic renditions of naturalistic scenes with human figures, animals, plants, and landscapes. Mosaics made with water-polished pebbles were created in Bronze Age Greece and the Middle East (1600 1000 BCE). Before the end of the 3rd Century BCE, the pebbles were replaced with cut or shaped pieces of marble, hard stone, glass, mother-of-pearl and enamels. The shaped pieces, cut in the form of small cubes, are called tesserae or tesselaehence, the conception of the Tessellated Border surrounding the Mosaic Pavement.

The floors of many Lodge Rooms today purport to reproduce the Mosaic Pavement and the Tessellated Border, as they appeared in King Solomons Temple. The Mosaic Pavement is laid out as black and white squares or tiles like a checkerboard, and indeed is surrounded by a border of smaller shapes in a contrasting and distinctive pattern. Such flooring is much more in the style of a 19th century English or American clubroom or entry hall, than it is of the ground floor of King Solomons Temple. King Solomon constructed the Temple in Jerusalem sometime after 1000 BCE, when the materials and techniques for creating a Mosaic Pavement would not have lent themselves to creating the design we see in todays Lodge rooms.

On another level, the Mosaic Pavement and the Indented Tessel, whether actually part of King Solomons Temple or not, do convey a philosophical, moral and ethical view of the world. The late 18th century redactors of our ritual viewed human life as starkly white and black, "checkered with good and evil." They worked during a time whose thought was influenced by the two Great Awakenings in the United States, and immediately following the American and French Revolutions. Moral and religious fervor was high in peoples minds, and it was politically important "to chose sides" in the great debates of the day. And human life was precarious; life expectancy was half what it is today, infant mortality was high, and the concept of leisure time did not exist for the ordinary citizen.

I would suggest that for 21st century Freemasonry, that we re-cast the appearance of Mosaic Pavement and the Indented Tessel. Because of advances in artistic skill and technology, contemporary mosaics can be made of many small bits of an almost unlimited range of materials. I recently saw a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, which on close examination had been computer-generated from the artists photographic collection, miniaturized and arranged to create a larger impression of light and shadow. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts, yet each part was important because it was the photograph of one human being.

This is the meaning of the Mosaic Pavement and the Indented Tessel for Freemasonry in the 21st century. In its true and noblest form, Freemasonry is the only mens institution in the world based on universal eligibility for membership. There are no tests for political affiliation, religious belief, race, nationality, ethnic origin, or language. We ask only that the prospective members profess a belief in a supreme being and a future existence beyond physical death, and we respect the individuals own conceptions of the substance of those beliefs. Freemasonry therefore has for its fundamental basis the great Mosaic Pavement of humankind, with all its glories, noble ideas, passions, prejudices, adversities, and tragedies, each tile in the Mosaic representing an individual brother whose very life is a contribution to the richness of the Fraternity. Masonry teaches not tolerance for individual differences, nor does it teach tolerationFreemasonry rightfully conceived teaches us to accept and respect the unique character and role of each member in creating the living Mosaic Pavement.

While the "manifold blessings and comforts which surround us" (represented by the Indented Tessel) have grown exponentially since the 18th century, we face now not so much human lives checkered with good and evil, but rather textured with the availability of many good things on the one hand, which should be tempered on the other by the knowledge that unforgiving adversity can still enter our lives at a moments notice. Time has not expanded, yet the number of careers, interests, and entertainments which we and our families can or might wish to enjoy has increased, and in our desire to "have it all," there is the danger of seeing only the light and shadow and not the details of our lives and the lives of our fellowmen and women in the great Mosaic of human life. As Masons we are under the moral imperative to "aid, support and protect each other," and duty-bound "to relieve the distressed." We must not forget, in the living of our 21st century lives, to soothe the troubled minds of the unhappy and actively sympathize and ameliorate their misfortunes. In the last six months, how many times have you visited a sick Brother, spoken to a Masonic widow or driven her to the store, or spoken kind words to a troubled friend?

The Masters Lecture states that we hope to enjoy the blessings and comforts which surround us by a faithful reliance on Divine Providence, represented by the Blazing Star in the center of the Mosaic Pavement. Each Mason conceives of Divine Providence in his own way. Acknowledging the existence of Divine Providence is Freemasonrys way of recognizing and reminding us that we still do live in a world of "blessings and adversities," no matter how intellectually, morally, or technologically sophisticated we think we are on the threshold of the 21st century.

The Mosaic Pavement, the Indented Tessel, and the Blazing Star beautify and adorn our Lodges, and they grace the Fraternity. Think of the power to create positive change in one person at a time, held by an institution ornamented with these universal and compassionate symbols, whose members by their actions live these ideas in their everyday lives

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