Lebanon has turned out to be more extraordinary in every aspect than I could have imagined.
We were met at the gate by security, who said in a Arabic meets Aramaic accent, "Timothy Hogan and Mr. Porter." We said a collective, "Yes?" and looked at one another with equal curiosity. Ushered to the Diplomatic Line at the passport stand and ushered into Lebanon with great speed we met Brothers Peter and Rabi with their driver and were underway on the adventurous highways of Beirut before we really understood what that means. Lanes are only a suggestion in Beirut and for Peter's driver...they are not taken as recommended.
Lebanon is a contradiction as plain and beautiful as humanity. Lush trees and countryside, next to rocky hills stripped bare of cedar from the push of human destiny. Rich next to poor, old and new, bombed and remodeled all huddled together under the canopy of a sky that has shined on these cities which have bustled in similar fashion with similar people for millennia.
Byblos, or Giblum (stone squarer) is the longest and most continuously occupied city in the planet. Home to one of our passwords and the center of the "The Book"...literally taken from the city that would change history...over and over and over again.
Taken to lodge we met native Arabic speakers, English speakers, French speakers, and I am sure something else speakers....truly and international lodge whose charter is from the Grand Lodge of New York...America helping unite...it was nice to be reminded of America's potential to bring men together as Tim and I began our presentations on 4th of July.
Several Brothers would wish us a happy Independence Day. And happy, thus far it had been.
We had begun the day in search of ancient ruins. We found them and they did not disappoint. Once again the symbols of our philosophies poured out in stone, but this stone as old as 10,000 years. Symbols of the Entered Apprentice due guard, the six pointed star, the five pointed star, network, lilies, and pomegranates. The desire to unite and to understand ones self clearly a part of the most ancient of mystical initiatic traditions.
Standing in the old Baptismal pools of Jupiter more than 4,500 years dry...but a BAPTISMAL POOL none the less.
A mosaic coming to us from a thousand years before Christ of a Shepard hold ing a crook and grapes and wreathed in garland that look a lot like thorns...a familiar look to Christians...but much older than the story of our Christ.
Dinner with men from several Continents would follow a day of temples, lodges and fellowship. The food was a feast and was enjoyed with Lion's Milk, Mezzo and friends. Tim and I shared a Hookah of light mint and lounged in couches in an open air restaurant where the waiters wore tuxedo type jackets and the guest lounged for hours dressed in everything from formal dress, the gowns of a Sheik, to jeans.
More lodge visits would follow in the wonderful mix of Masonry called Lebanon. Grand Lodges from all over the world meeting in Lebanon and I was able to hear the opening of lodges in the constitutions of Scotland, England, and America.
The second lodge visit was much different than the first. The building bigger. The Brothers dressed mostly in tuxedos, and a visit from the Grand Master. There was a little more tension in the air for me.
Lodge opened and Tim and I were received to the East and then the Grand Master took the Gavel and presided over lodge.
Tim would open and I could tell from the outside that there were some Brothers who didn’t appreciate alchemy as a topic. The majority of these brothers were Christian and in Lebanon this is both a religious and political statement and they took it with seriousness.
“I read the Bible” one Brother said in broken but understandable English, and if the Bible says the flood is the flood, then it is about faith and not alchemy. The Bible, faith, this is what it means.”
It was fitting that the next discussion would be about perceptions and words.
The question was posed, “If one man reads the Bible and finds love of God, proof of the Divine, and an outpouring of desire to know God by his Brothers that came before him, what do we call it?”
No takers, the question to charged with emotion for a place where the last war is still heavily evidenced in bombed out buildings and unpatched bullet holes.
We continued, “If one man calls it faith and another calls it alchemy, are they really talking about different things? Or are these expressions from the same God?”
The same man who challenged Tim came to me later and kissed me (common in Lebanon), hugged me, and called me friends. Later he sat with me at dinner and we learned much from another.
Bridges and tears I thought. Religion, faith, hope, love, and Freemasonry; building bridges over rivers of tears. Where once was misunderstanding and argument, was complete Brotherhood and tolerance. Freemasonry, powerful medicine. Its good to be an architect and builder in a world of destroyers. We have hard work, but glorious labor in front us my Brothers.
We met many during out trip and heard one say, “Freemasonry is the religion of the Druze” and he laughed. The Druze, a secret society that requires lineage to be accepted. Stricter than Masonry, you must be born into it. You have grips, hollow columns, reverence of Pythagoras, reverence of Hebraic mystical traditions, circumabulation, etc. It is so similar to Masonry that one its own members calls Freemasonry the religion of the Druze! It is interesting that the Druze degree was removed by the Scottish Rite for the Sufi degree because it was determined Pike was mistaken. I wonder if someone didn’t jump the gun. Because the Druze themselves would claim him correct. This I heard from the mouth of Druze, not from the mouth of experts who claim to know them.
Dinner in Byblos is worth noting. A vibrant and undying city. We sat in an open air restaurant with a view of an Ottoman ruins and at a giant tray of deep friend fish, heads and all with a light sesame and dill sauce. The meal itself would look scary, but tasted out of this world.
Christians, Druze, Muslims, Gnostics and an Agnostic man of science sat around this table of fish frozen in death throws by boiling oil, there little eyes creeping me out just a bit as the discussion grew deeper.
Strange to have such a diverse conversation, running from transmigration of souls to radical Islam in the shadow of a war ruin, in a country torn by war, but utterly alive. They use an old bomb shelter as a dance club now, but flags of Hezbollah fly in castles of old as a reminder that the threat has not left.
It almost seems surreal that a people as open, loving, and desirous of simply enjoying life could turn to war. Wars that seems driven by those who are far away. It is almost as if the powers of outside nations ravage the beauty of a people that is so deep the country has been a lighthouse and a flashpoint for millennia.
Open only two days and a large line to get in, it was too behold. Built as a coliseum, but couches, tables, and chairs taking the place of bleachers. A three story stage lighting set up surround a 360 degree bar that must of had a 25 meter diameter it seemed, the music booming from rock concert level speakers draped three stories above.
We walked right in. Things go like this with Peter around. He, being one of our host. It would seem that we could go nowhere where smiles, hugs, and kisses did not meet this man.
Wives, friends, Brothers, cousins, sisters, all passed by, sat with us for a minute, and headed off again. The booming music, the lighted tunnel to get in, the friendly but charged atmosphere inside seemed to highlight the dichotomy that is Lebanon. Farmland to cities, ruins to nightclubs, and the most deadly traffic I have ever closed my eyes and prayed in, to the most loving people on earth. Lebanon. Lighthouse and flashpoint for another million years I would guess.
My return. It was wonderful to see old friends. The hotel was an old Ottoman prison, now a 5 star. The air condition broke in my room and the mattress seemed extra hard. I laughed thinking maybe the spirits had gleaned my employment and thought “finally” we have one of the “them.”
The schedule would be the one for which we had kept in Lebanon and the one for which I had grown accustomed in Istanbul. Go, go, go and sleep little. We averaged three hours a night I believe and it seems the current of powerful energy that runs deep in this ancient place charges you completely until you leave it, then slump exhausted and trying to recoup and reclaim your lost hours of sleep.
Mr. Oktar would say on air that Islam would be the religion of the whole world and would talk of the end times.
I smiled to myself knowing how this would be received in a very different Western culture that is my home.
It is important to understand words. Islam means to give oneself completely and utterly over to God. In the Gospel of Mark we read, “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
So it is that the idea of submission to God is also a Christian ideal, but the fear that the terrorist and Islamic fundamentalist have driven into the minds of the American psyche will cause a visceral reaction. This is normal and proper I imagine, but the idealist in me still hopes for a world where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and all of God’s children can embrace with the same love and respect for one another that is found Masonic lodges around the world.
Lodges, microcosms of hope.