Chaplain’s Message for January 2020
Fast Away Turkeys, ye Lads and Lasses!
by Rick Rayfield
“Fast Away” is a strange phrase, as in “Deck the halls with boughs of holly… Fast away the old year passes. Hail the New Year Lads and Lasses!”
Fast can mean a quickly or it can mean b secure, as in fasten, or stead fast, or make fast that sail. Away can refer to c a long distance. As in “I am from away” , or “Get Away!” , or “ a getaway”. Or away can be d “a Way” or “make way to receive.”
Arranging these possible meanings four ways, we can have fast away mean 1 quickly depart, or 2 quickly find a new path, or 3 secure what has become distant, or 4 secure a new plan.
The first week of January is marked by Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi from afar to visit a joyous arrival. We also call it Twelfth Night- Twelve days after Christmas . In some Jewish traditions, that’s about when you celebrate survival and naming of a newborn. The old is blessing the new. A relationship is established with a celebration of bringing the riches of the past to the progress of the future. The blessing is not a waving of hands- it is sharing and handing over. It is handing over gifts, and wisdom, and aid, and tradition.
In December, we had a holiday dinner in at Mad River Lodge. It had its issues, most of them resolved with fraternal effort and humility. (Like a new pump for the water, and running out of propane just as the gravy was finished.) The 36 pound turkey was more than we needed, and was turned into turkey noodle stew that we distributed. The wind-like sound of my santoku knife slicing carrots and parsnips for the stew will whistle in my ears like the bell in Polar Express, like the crackle of boots in October maple leaves, or their crunch in first snowfall, the wood popping in the fire, or the rumble of the snowplow freeing us to travel safely, or the snowguns on the mountain, or the return of the hermit thrush’s warble in the spring. Living treasures. Every hurdle is an opportunity. We cling to our favorite Masonic rituals (“Geometry, the first and noblest science…”). We call our best friends or one’s we have not seen for too long. Or we just quietly do what we can to make life better for others in our family or community. In rich and quiet and wondrous ways, we are greeting the halls of holly “fast away”.
So I tracked down those three giant turkeys. (Two we cooked for the community supper last June. The Oddfellows handed over the third one and we shared it with them for our holiday dinner.) I got hold of Brother Richard Matheson from Northfield and he told me how he and our PM Brother Neil, rescued six of those giant Montana birds because the Barre food shelf had no room or use for them last spring. They brought three of them over the mountain to Mad River. Richard and Neil were delighted to hear we had put the turkeys to such good use, and enjoyed so well. They enjoyed the story as much as I enjoyed learning the source of our gift. Bye-bye birds. Fast Away. Yum. Thanks Brothers, as the seasoning passes. May your winter be richly blessed. It brings opportunity. Hail the New Year, Lads and Lasses
Chaplain’s Message for February 2020
The Religious Knot
by Rick Rayfield
Freemasonry professes to be religious, but not a religion. In other words, we share some characteristics of religion, but not enough to be a religion. Officially we are a fraternal organization, and subject to taxation. We are State not Church. We are people, not God.
You might think with over 10,000 religions in the world (yessir, 10,000), we would qualify as a religion. (85% of the world’s population is associated with five religions. Half the world is Christian (2 billion) and Islamic (1 billion) combined. Some religious groups have tried to prove Freemasonry is a religion, an inferior one of course. They have revealed our ceremonies and passwords to the public in sermons, books, and even accurate on-line videos of our practices. But we insist we are not a religion, and so we get twisted up sometimes in a knot of identity and beliefs and actions.
Many authors have explored who and what Freemasons are. Religious or religion? Their views range all over- sympathetic, historic, theological, narrative, and deprecatory. Here in a nutshell (knot-shell) is my summary.
Wikipedia’s article on religion is cobbled together by scholars, theologians, and laypeople. “Religion is social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.”
1. In general, we allow people to self-define themselves. We respect their right to choose their own name, associate with whoever they call their family and friends. Freemasons have chosen to say we are not a religion. But we are religious. We respect religions. Our members are often members of religions. We share many religious elements with religions- symbols, ceremonies, values and morals and ethics, worldviews, practices, belief in something beyond ourselves. Sometimes we call our lodge buildings “temples” from the Latin templum- an open or consecrated space. Hmmm. But…
2. We do not have a fixed theology. Our prayers vary widely.
3. We do not have a particular book, or writing, or scripture, or saintly founder than connects us with Deity. Our altars have held the Holy Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and the Tao Te Ching.
4. We do not have any sacraments required for theological righteousness. Our practices are human-made, not commanded by divine orders.
5. We do not have ordained sacred leaders. We have no reverends, no priests, no theology professors or divinity schools. We have only chaplains to lead prayer. My chaplain messages in this Trestleboard are strictly personal, not prophetic or sanctified.
6. Many, maybe most, Freemasons belong to one of the major religions.
7. Our symbols are many, and do not relate to the supernatural, but to our daily lives. Remember the letter G for us can be a name for Deity or for Geometry.
8. What we DO have, are a couple names, like King Solomon and Great Architect of the Universe, to keep us humble and inspired. We admire but do not worship them. Like our friends the Boy Scouts, we revere and are reverent without dictating or demanding the wide range of human religious experience. Rather we appreciate and enjoy our diversity of experiences and beliefs in our multitude of connections to the Divine.
This knot of religiosity is something to explore and enjoy. So mote it be.
Chaplain’s Message for March 2020
Enemies of the Craft
by Rick Rayfield
This poem titled ‘No Enemies’ was printed by Upton Sinclair in his 1915 anthology of protest writing Cry for Justice. It is by Scottish poet Charles MacKay (1814-1889). I loved it as a young student, finding its hard-knocking sentiment worth memorizing for speech contests.
You have no enemies you say?
Alas! My friend, the boast is poor;
He who has mingled in the fray
of duty that the brave endure
MUST have made foes? If you have none
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’re never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
Certainly Freemasonry has competitors- similar bodies with equally loftily and worthy goals. And Freemasonry has been attacked as ”Deist” and accused of world domination conspiracy. Jesus of Nazareth suffered similar allegations. But are our detractors truly enemies? Or do they misunderstand us? Do we fight back? Or simply rise up with our principles, and deeds, in honor? Is our fight only FOR Brotherhood and Justice? Or are we engaged in a battle AGAINST Injustice and Ignorance? Personally I find it difficult to shed Light on Darkness. Illuminating what is already prone to glowing with wonder and wisdom seems more fruitful. But that’s a teacher’s perspective. I’d show a bull a Power-point and give him a book to read rather than grabbing his horns. Mackay’s poem keeps nagging me though.
Mackay, by the way, was named Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, Edinburgh, in 1887, which had also been Robert Burns’ title. Another famous poem by Mackay is titled Tubal Cain. Makes me want more light in Masonry.
Chaplain’s Message April 2020
April Come She Will
by Rick Rayfield
On their second album in 1964, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel gave us the song “April Come She Will”. My mother weeps when I sing it. It is usually viewed as the short tale of a sad love story. But I offer the lyrics by Paul Simon as a reminder that if something as powerful as love can grow old, so can a pandemic.
April, come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June, she’ll change her tune
In restless walks, she’ll prowl the night
July, she will fly
And give no warning of her flight
August, die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I’ll remember
A love once new has now grown old
Last month, a brother presented me- a known singer- with a book of Masonic songs from 1858. It was compiled by George Wingate Chase under the title The Masonic Harp . It is precious, but sadly in very good condition. That is to say, this lovely book of songs and hymns is not worn. That’s sad. It was kept in a box, preciously. It is unused, faded outside but pristine inside.
This hymnal had a paperclip- a modern yellow one- on a song titled “We Missed You Brother in Lodge Tonight” Even 150 years ago the idea of singing often occurred more often than actually singing. But even recently, the lyrics rang true and earned a paperclip.
Tonight we ended a Masonic meeting with nine brothers impromptly singing Happy Birthday to a Brother, together , over the internet, from our homes spread around Vermont, on-line and virtual, out of sync, laughing at ourselves hysterically. It takes only one meeting to make up for a hundred missed meetings in a lodge of brothers. Don’t you ever, ever, think you are not welcome at a lodge meeting.
Chaplain’s Message for May 2020
Chaplain’s Message for June 2020
Chaplain’s Message for September 2020
Chaplain’s Message for Ocober 2020
Chaplain’s Message for November 2020
Chaplain’s Message for December 2020