When the level is introduced to us a working tool, in the second degree, we are told that it is an instrument used by operative masons to prove horizontals and that it reminds us as speculative masons that, “We are traveling upon the level of time, to that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.” This is not the first we have heard of it though. If we were paying attention at the close of the first degree we learned that masons should, “meet on the level.” I think the symbolisms of the level in these two instances hints that the level has something significant to teach us about both life and death.
First, anyone familiar with the works of William Shakespeare recognizes the phrase, “that undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns” from Hamlet where one of its interpretations is that it means death. From this we are reminded that we all are going to die. We all have the same destination. We are equal in this regard. Texts from ritual we use in our public ceremonies further bear this out. In our Funeral ritual we are charged to learn, “from the level, equality.” We also meditate on this passage, “What are all the externals of human dignity, the power of wealth, or the charms of beauty when nature has paid her just debt? View life stripped of its ornaments, and exposed in its natural weakness, and we see the vanity of all earthly things save those which go to the growth and perfection of individual character.
But what does the level teach us about life? Again from the Senior Warden’s installation ritual, “The level demonstrates that we are descended from the same stock, partake of the same nature, and share the same hope; and though distinctions among men are necessary to preserve subordination, yet no eminence of station should make us forget that we are brethren; for he who is placed on the lowest spoke of Fortune’s wheel may entitled to our regard.” Recognizing that we are all equal in Death, we should also recognize that we are equal in Life. This recognition should change the way we live. It should change how we treat each other.
I am reminded of a scene in lecture in the upcoming Feast of the Paschal Lamb portrayed by the Scottish Rite. On the evening of the Last Supper, Christ’s disciples argued about which among them was the greatest. Just as we often are-- as I often am—they were concerned with matters of ego and of passions that have no importance. Jesus responded by giving them a lesson in sacrifice and humility as he washed their feet. It is that kind of humility, that kind of sacrifice, that kind of selflessness that the level challenges us to strive for. These are the things I thought of as I contemplated the level this month. These are the things I tried to remember and apply to my interactions with my fellow human beings.