Chaplain’s Messages 2019
Chaplain’s Message January 2019
Hats Off to Bedlam
by Rick Rayfield
Holidays can be bedlam. The first use of the word “bedlam” was as the nickname of a famous “mental” institution in London. The aging St Mary Bethlehem Hospital got nicknamed Bethlem around 1664. Over the years, the word Bethlem became Bedlam, and gradually referred to disorganized nature or conditions of any kind, from ill-kept homes, to riots and war, to kindergarten classes. (In Hebrew, BethLehem means House of Bread.) You might have thought the London hospital was a bit of a nightmare, like a squalid debtors prison. But the 1864 Bethlem (Bedlam) was a very modern building for its time. So the lovely palatial outside contrasted with the perception of confused and distraught minds inside. Perhaps shifting the pronunciation to Bedlam was to avoid using the olde “Bethlehem” for something that seemed far from sacred.
And yet, and yet, as we look out for our brothers, for our widows and orphans, and for the stranger who needs our care, we might glance in the mirror. We should recall the connection between St Mary’s of Bethlehem and Bedlam.
When the Worship Master closes our lodge, he steps down to the floor, on the level, to approach the altar. He removes his hat- usually the only hat in the room. This may seem respect for the altar. But taking off your hat- your traditional sign of your occupation, your profession, your status in society or your military rank- is a humble way of saying we are all equal in rights, in our humanity, in our divine nature.
My church choir sang before Christmas for the old-timers at the Mayo Nursing and Residence home. Some of the audience dozed, some spoke out as we sang, some tried to sing along at times or provide drumming. I managed hello and brief chats with at least four people there from our Mad River Towns. (Walt, Rhett, Hugh and Lucille) It was more Bethlehem than bedlam. But it was both. Like my home. Like the Lodge basement. There’s a bit of bedlam everywhere. In the beauty of our Lodge opening and closing, we reach toward precision and excellence and a clear vision of our human brotherly relation to each other. From a view of clarity, we seek to understand and assist where the light is not bright, where it is not as easy to stand in the glow of the altar. We take off our hats and proclaim equality and justice as fellow humans. All people. As much a world of coping and resilience , we remind ourselves of the task of bringing light into the darker places. We take our hats off in respect to our worthy foes- who are more ourselves than we wish to acknowledge- who we tackle with faith, hope, and charity.
Chaplain’s Message February 2019
by Rick Rayfield
One of the loveliest scenes in any film I know is in Cider House Rules. The head of an orphanage in Maine (played by Michael Caine) says to the dormitory room filled with boys in their beds, “Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” Tobey Maguire plays Homer Wells, an orphan lying in bed, who becomes the focus of the film. Most reviews of the movie Cider House Rules mention this phrase. “Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.”
Homer’s life progresses. He, and we, learn the rules that govern the behavior of workers in an apple orchard and their bunk room. The rules in the cider house are a metaphor for the rules in our lives.
The cider house scenes were filmed at an apple orchard in Dummerston Vermont. I spent a day there when they were filming. The crew thought the movie was a stinker. But director Lasse Hallstrom pulled together a hit. It had seven Oscar nominations with two Oscars. We were just down the road from Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont home, Naulakha. At the prodding of a blues-singing African-American wardrobe mistress wrapped in a leopard polarfleece on a chaise lounge, my daughter had her autographed photo taken with Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron.)
Back in my youth, at St. Claret summer camp, the young fellas in my cabin thought it would be funny to put shaving cream under the pillow of our counsellor. Oops. We got a serious sit-down visit from the camp director. He told taught us that a man’s bed is his castle, and we deserve to be the king of our castle. It is as sacred as a temple. That lesson stuck with me.
Each of us has a place to be the rooster, to rule, to be safe and in charge. That place may be physical, like our bed, or our home, or our job, or our family, or in our head. Each of us can seek out a place where we are respected and respectable and clear in our thoughts and actions. On the outside Freemasons may appear to be mimicking the trappings of royalty- suits and tuxedos, gold chains, embroidered aprons, staffs and swords, and ceremonies and exalted obligations and secrets, highfalutin lingo. On the other hand, we know that the simple white apron with which were we invested after being raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason is the ultimate symbol of our kingdom.
Each of us works out the boundaries of our kingdom in our heart and soul, which we try to reflect in our daily actions and our long term goals. Brushes with other forms of royalty, like movie stars, and shaking hands with leaders, and our name in a sponsor list, help us remember that the role we play in our community, our family, and most importantly to ourselves, is a foundation seen only by the eyes of the Grand Architect. That foundation should help us enjoy and build our own personal kingdoms. In the years and decades ahead, let us pray that we are blessed as princes and kings. With the aid of the Divine and our Brothers, may we privately rule in the pursuit of better lives for all living things. May your crowns rest light upon your brows, my brothers, you princes of Vermont, you kings of New England.
Chaplain’s Message March 2019
The comfort and trials of a snowstorm.
by Rick Rayfield
How firm is a foundation of our faith! Sometimes.
We have doubts. We have tragedies that shake our pillars, that rattle our roof shaking dirt and drippings into our lives, cracking- even upending- our footings. Sometimes a cherished brother has an unkind word. Sometimes an untimely death, or fire or flood, or the nagging downward spiral of failing faculties weakens our faith.
Today, as I write, the schools are closed while hearty skiers with four wheel drive are reveling in a powder day. Not just a Camelot night of weather, but a snowstorm pressing right on through the day. The night-time magic that transforms our world is now visible slowly piling up all day. With years of unfinished projects piled up in the basement, bedroom, workshop, pantry, and kitchen, I should be glad and eager for a day to be snowbound. I find myself instead staring out the window at my woods in slow-motion evolution.
I am cooped up with three feet of snow threatening my roof, my white sheeted driveway hiding a dangerous sheet of ice, trees cracking, and cobwebs from last summer waving in the windows with shades pulled back. Sigh. My snowshoes, like fairy wings, hang in the shed. Do fairies have to sweat to wade through the air like I do to empty the compost, clear off the car, and start the snowblower? What angel invented YakTraks to give me safe footing? My life is a swirl. I have a beautiful pile of work.
As I walk into the lodge room, month after month, year after year, sometimes unlocking the door for a private minute of meditation there, I find a place of safety, of comfort, or friendship. Like a snowstorm. Even in the swirl of budgets, mispronounced ritual, guests who deserve hospitality, missing reports, and missing brothers, I find comfort and renewal of faith in the Lodge room. The floor that used to tremble now has wooden pillars that extend down to the basement. The altar with its three great lights to guide us does not bounce. Let it snow. I feel secure in my foundations and in my doubts March on, oh ye of faith and doubts.
Chaplain’s Message April 2019
The Cement of Brotherly Love and Affection
by Rick Rayfield
Some Masonic lodges are adorned with a huge poster or a framed print depicting many Masonic symbols and tools. As a “craft” we would of course have a variety of tools, specialized for the variety of work we do. Our three degrees instruct the candidate in some of “working tools”. The Entered Apprentice learns of the twenty-four inch ruler to divide the day into work, refreshment, and rest, and the common gavel to smooth out our imperfections. The Fellowcraft learns of the square, level, and plumb and their symbolic uses in our lives. The Master Mason learns of that he should be aware of “all the tools in masonry, but most especially the trowel” which is used to “spread the cement of brotherly love and affection”. Some Masonic jurisdictions have different symbolic tools in the three degrees with different interpretations, but they are remarkably similar. My personal view is that like the rough and precision tools in an operative toolchest, we see in the three degrees a progression from simple to complex tools, from a few to many.
Several brothers in Mad River Lodge had a commitment to present the Four Chaplains degree at a statewide Scottish Rite Reunion last weekend. The meeting often attracts brothers from surrounding states. Alas, the funeral of Brother Everett Maynard suddenly appeared on the calendar in frustrating time conflict with the story of four chaplains, including Brother George Fox from Vermont, who went down with the torpedo sinking of the SS Dorchester in 1943, with 675 soldiers lost of 904 on board. With deep regret, those brothers stuck to their commitment and missed Brother Everett’s funeral .
But we (yes, me included) learned that the few brothers present at the funeral did more than just a good job with the usual Masonic service. The pastor asked the children to come forward to plant seeds in a flower box which would bloom when the spring thaw would allow interment at the cemetery. The few children were too shy to step up. So Brother Everett’s’ Masonic brothers came forward. The pastor handed them the trowels to plant the seeds, which WE know, were used simultaneously to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection which “unites us into one sacred band of friends and brothers”. Perhaps to the audience this appeared like men taking the place of children. To us, it was brothers caring for each other, reflecting on the strength of our faith and bonds beyond this life.
We do not sit guarding a gate. We march forward, with paths often divided, and regrets that we cannot attend at all times to all our duties and joys. Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers are found to divide our labors and still dwell in unity. So mote it be.
Chaplain’s Message May 2019
Masonry Marches In
by Rick Rayfield
Here we are on the eve of the centennial of moving into Mad River River Lodge’s current home in 1920, the former Green and Boyce general stores. We think the building had two fires before its current triple layer brick walls were erected in 1845. Our lodge history traces to 1817 in Moretown, and in 1920 we moved from the back of the building two doors south to our current prime location at the corner of Main Street and Bridge Street. 4376 Main Street. In 1912 the bandstand gazebo on the opposite corner was torn down, and the grand (and just renovated in 2019) Joslin Memorial Library was built. That’s right. We chose to move from a hidden spot to the center of town.
There was one controversy mentioned in the Lodge minutes. Buying the building was recommended by a committee and approved unanimously. But there was considerable debate about replacing the old piano with a new one. We got a new one, and had it tuned down a half-step in order to sing “the rockets’ red glare” without so much strain. It is still in tune, without any tune-ups in over thirty years. We may be the only Vermont lodge that sings the Star Spangled Banner after every Pledge of Allegiance.
I recently visited the Masonic Lodge and Museum in Bath, England. In 1750 it was built as a Royal Theatre, with much acclaim. From 1805 to 1863 it was the Roman Catholic Bishop’s Chapel (in Anglican England). Then in 1865, it became one of the most beautiful Masonic Lodges in the world. For the best photos, go to https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/baths-original-theatre-royal-masonic-hall-museum/. (Click on the main photo left and right for five photos!) The website for the Masonic lodges there is https://bathfreemasons.org.uk/ Eight lodges (I think) share the building, and tours are one source of income. Their website has an excellent history of freemasonry in England as a whole, and especially Bath (site of the famous 2000 year old Roman hot springs spa).
What was striking to me was the persistence of Freemasonry despite moves to different locations. Like a church, it is the people and their community together, not the building, that defines a Masonic Lodge. The Masons in Bath embrace both the history of their building, and their history as Freemasons. We missed the tour. Just a lovely double door frame and the words “Masonic Hall” carved in the pediment. My family was curious if I could see any secrets from the outside. I walked them back up the street 40 feet to an unmarked single door, painted blue. Nuff said? The secret is in the brotherhood. Come on in Brothers!
Chaplain’s Message June 2019
Loving the Supreme Fascist
by Rick Rayfield
In Boston last month, I stood up at the bar mitzvah for my 13 year cousin Ben to recite a poem. The bar mitzvah service would take about an hour and forty-five minutes. I was invited to keep the poem short. The poem I had selected, Abou Ben Adhem, written in 1814, has been studied (and memorized) by many of our parents and grandparents when they were school children. The author, Leigh Hunt, was not a great poet himself. But he was famous for promoting great poets in the early 19th century.
As I stood up in the middle of this deeply religious service, with scripture and prayers and music and candles and bread and wine, and Torah, and family and friends, I suddenly had an entirely different idea about a key to the poem. We are told the Lord loves us. But WHO loves the Lord? I recalled the First Commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord Your God with all you heart, and all your soul, and all your might”. Love! – not Believe, Fear, Obey, Revere. Love!
I reminded the audience, and my cousin Ben, of the First Commandment. It fit the Bar Mitzvah, and enlightened the poem- Abou Ben Adhem. (Get that? My cousin’s name is Ben.)
I gave the poem my best inflections, in about a minute and a half. (An angel, with a golden list of those who love the Lord, tells Ben Adhem his name is not on the list. Abou asks to be inscribed as one who loves his fellow men. The next night, his name tops the angel’s list.)
I sat down quivering with the excitement that I had gleaned a deeper meaning just before reciting it in the context of a Bar Mitzvah- a child coming to adulthood.
So how about our Masonic Great Architect of the Universe? How about Jefferson’s “their Creator”, and “divine Providence”, and “Nature’s God” – a few names used interchangeably in our Declaration of Independence? Do we Freemason’s love the Great Architect of the Universe? Great or Grand, the name has Christian roots. Or are we too awestruck or chicken?
This is not romantic love, or love of our parents or children. This is not love of chocolate, or early morning light on the mountains, or the forested song of a hermit thrush. It is sometimes called agape, Greek for the love of God for Man and the love of Man for God, a kind of human-divine love. We are so squishy tolerant about “One True and Everlasting God”, that I think we often forget to be appreciative of how much we can love the “G” in our own ways, and how wonderful that we share that love with others, and also have our own individual definition or relationship with the Great Spirit. The famous mathematician (including geometry) Paul Erdos used the affectionate nickname “SF” for Supreme Fascist, his irritating sense that the Universe is determined and controlled by its Creator. I used to think the term “personal God” meant that someone believed God is a person- a divine supernatural being. Polls indicate that 55-70% of American think of God that way. 30-45% have a different concept of God. Who knows what they think of Geometry. I now recognize that each of us has our own personal experience of the Great Architect, similar to, but likely differing from others. Either way, loving our fellow human beings, and other living creatures, is similar to loving the Great Architect. Wallowing in uncertainty, confusion, and doubt, I can still nurture that love.
Chaplain’s Message September 2019
The Leverage of Visitations
by Rick Rayfield
For a 50-year pin, or the visit of the Deputy or the Grand Master we often put on a better dinner and wear our better clothes. And I will never forget Brother Joe Jacobs visiting me daily in the hospital, as we chatted up a storm and strengthened our friendship- and that’s the tip of the iceberg of family and brothers and friends who buoyed up my spirits and encouraged my recovery 14 years ago. I can recall some visits: on a clear day out of the blue, by phone call, “Hi Rick, this is Josh Day, do you remember me?” I did. Sometimes I do not remember clearly and need refreshing. But the old friend calling remembers, and I am refreshed.
One of my favorite visitations was when the Supreme Council ordered us to perform the 32nd degree across the country on the same day and time. Kinda cool. Except it was opening day of deer season in Vermont. We tried to entice the members with venison and elk stew for lunch, and we welcomed hunting clothes in place of tuxedos. The Grand Master showed up, as did a pile of brothers. They ate all the stew. But what I recall best was that Grand Master Tom was wearing Carhartt work pants, plaid shirt, and suspenders. We all felt like brothers in work clothes rather than officers in suits and ties. And we acted like it.
Last week my mother asked me why a Catholic Church in Kansas would be called “Visitation RC Church”. The Biblical story of Mary being visited by an angel sent by the Lord to announce to her (The Annunciation) is the main core. But the power of visitations is told in the Old Testament (Abraham and Sarah, Eli and Samuel, etc. etc.) and our mythology and our personal stories. A short phone call, a chat at the grocery store, a stop by the front yard, a trip to the hospital, a walk across the room at coffee hour to shake hands, going to a lodge meeting once a year whether at home or another place, dropping by the hospital or nursing home. The small cost of making a visit usually is repaid many times over by its effect.
Brothers- never underestimate the leverage of visiting a brother or anyone else for that matter. Archimedes said that if you gave him a long enough lever and a place to stand, he could move the whole Earth. We too have that power. Even if only to move a continent, or make someone’s day, or help them heal life’s troubles. Someone famous said,
“This I command you, love one another.”
His words might have been translated,
“ Here’s my great idea- visit with each other!”
Chaplain’s Message October 2019
Our Trusty Square and Beloved Compasses
by Rick Rayfield
Heraclitus, in about 500 BCE, famously said (in Greek, but’s here’s the English)
“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
In this autumnal season, I’d like to increase our familiarity with Heraclitus, who also said (from Greek to English)
“Character is for man his daemon.”
Note that unlike “demon”, daemon refers to a divine spirit in us. That spirit is sometimes an inner voice, that tells us what we should not do, as we decide for ourselves what we should do. I take this to mean that part of our divine nature is to recognize where our boundaries are. I say this because the root word of daemon is the Greek word, daimonion, which refers to making divisions or boundaries. Hundreds of years later the word demon got invented to refer to the evil side of boundaries, dividing good and bad.
Hmm. Boundaries. Recall the phrases- “the compasses remind us to circumscribe and keep us within bounds with all mankind.” Or the compasses teach us to “”circumscribe our desires and keep our passions within due bounds”
Heraclitus was onto a simple idea. If the world we live in is an ever-changing river, how do we make decisions (de-cis means to cut in two) between right and wrong. His answer- “Character is for man his daemon.” The daemon is our inner still voice that warns us from crossing boundaries into bad territory, to keep our bound promises. Our character as men and Masons- that’s our understanding of our boundaries.
The square is a geometrically right and perfect way of designing and building our lives, a method we apply as carefully as practically possible. The compasses recognize that we have a moral compass inside, pointing to right and wrong, drawing the lines between good and bad, setting boundaries amongst our many passions and many desires. In the real and changing world, our compasses may slightly off at times, and need resetting. What a folly though to travel without the best compasses available. After all, used wisely they adjust to allow changing boundaries. Praise the square and the compasses.
Chaplain’s Message November 2019|
“We few, we lucky few.”
by Rick Rayfield
H istory has many turning points. Leaders rise to conquer. Battles fought. Wars won. Tidal changes in cultures. Ice ages. Asteroid impacts. Discoveries of new worlds, around us, above us, within us.
On October 25, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt was one of the greatest British victories in the 100 Years War. The English were vastly outnumbered, but their archers were superior. Shakespeare’s 1599 play Henry V largely concerns the events around this battle. As I write this, the Battle was 504 years ago, and 72 years before Columbus headed west toward the edge of the world. The 25th of October is “celebrated“ as St Crispin’s Day, in honor of twin(we hear) brothers martyred in 284, in France or England, as cobblers by night and missionaries by day (goes one legend). Saint(s) Crispin is a story muddled in time, and put aside by the Roman Catholic Church in 1963. But Shakespeare’s speech given by King Henry V in the play is famous as the “Crispin’s Day speech”. The English faced likely defeat by overwhelming legions of French foes. King Henry describes how by facing their enemy with courage and serving their country even unto death, the soldiers in his earshot will be envied by those countrymen who will have wished to have been there. To Shakespeare’s audiences this is ironically powerful because the audience knows that in fact those soldiers were not martyred, but prevailed as heroes.
Facing likely annihilation, Henry most famous phrase in this speech is, “We few, we lucky few.”
In many situations I find myself shorthanded or in a minority. I take solace in the spirit of the speech. School enrollments, church membership, customers, Scouts, and white guys are declining in my life. But I say to myself, “We few, We lucky few.”
Freemasons in general have become fewer. From a peak of four million in the USA in 1959, we stand at one million today, even as the US population has nearly doubled. In some ways we have become less numerous. In other ways we more strongly than ever display the virtues of Charity, Faith, and Hope. We are a brotherhood because we have chosen this path, and stayed with it, not just because it was the thing to do. We have struggled with finances, with the need to practice our degrees, with filling positions, and with the ever-disappointing loss of brothers to disputes and graveyards. Jesus said where two are gathered in his name, He is in their midst. How many compose a lodge of Master Masons? Three or more. Precious few are sufficient. Robert Frost asked how the world shall end, “ in fire or in ice?” He said as one acquainted with both, “Ice would suffice.” We survived the 19th century fiery turmoil of the Anti-Masonry Movement. So while our world may end in many ways, I step out each morning reminding myself of King Henry’s view which I hold deep and dear.
We few. We lucky few.
Chaplain’s Message December 2019
Change Your Socks
by Rick Rayfield
As a youngster I combed through my Children’s Encyclopedia. I was amused to see Sir Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of England, and leader of the Allies in World War II, pictured with trowel full of mortar laying bricks at his home Chartwell. Then on another page he was shown with a palette and easel, painting a landscape. He was a talented and complicated man, Winston Churchill. I liked thinking of him as an amateur mason, a trade practiced at the highest levels by my great grandfather. Later I saw the largest collection of his oil paintings at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton New Brunswick. (Lord Beaverbrook, a Rupert Murdoch of that era, was a valuable supporter and patron of Churchill.) I use his tiny book Painting as a Pastime when I teach “Psychology of Art” . The book explains that refreshment is more than food and drink. But only recently, looking at Brother Churchill’s classic six-volume history of World War II, did I find he was not only an amateur brick mason, but a Freemason as well. Duh. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I should have guessed.
On 24 May, 1901, in London, Churchill (age 26) took his first degree at Studholme Lodge No.1591, founded in 1876, two years after Churchill was born, and raised to the Third Degree on 25 March, 1902. (Arthur Sullivan- as in Gilbert and Sullivan- had joined Studholme Lodge in 1896. Like universities and small towns and families, Lodges are proud of their notable members.
Wow. My Brother Winston Churchill. We often say “all men are brothers”. You can learn more about Churchill’s connections to Freemasonry and similar organizations, and his relative inactivity in all of them at http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/beresiner7.html
We stand on the shoulders of giants, even if the giants are in a different room, at a different time and place. In searching for where my toes dig into Churchill’s broad shoulders, I discovered his definition of the difference between socialism and liberalism. I found that he switched back and forth between the liberal to conservative parties several times. He believed in capitalism, but not monopolies. He had difficulties with his children. He believed in the Empire, but had to negotiate its transformation. He was wide-ranging and wise, and highly imperfect.
December is a good month to reach out to friends and families, living and dead, when we are not so busy and tired from the long days and short nights of summer. It is a good season to each gather our selves together, to take stock of our lives, as well as gathering socially with the cheer and hospitality and kindness of the season. Brother Churchill spoke of how to enjoy a life of failures to achieve perfection, a theme of Freemasonry, “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.”
You can start with your socks. Hang them by the chimney, with care.