Chaplain 2014

Chaplain’s Messages 2014

Chaplain’s Message January 2014  By Rick Rayfield

Silk Purses

The opinion that you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear is an old one. You will not find silk purses or sow’s ears on Masonic symbol charts or diplomas. Ninety two years ago an MIT chemist, Arthur Little,  actually made two silk purses from sow’s ears.  One is at MIT and the other at the Smithsonian. His point was that in fact one can indeed often, through ingenuity and expertise,  create something brilliant from seemingly profane material.    From ground-up tree fibers and burned carbon we learned to make paper and print books.  From sun-starved trees Stradivarius made violins, and from catgut we make violin strings, and from horses’ tails we make bows to play those violins.   Who’d have guessed?  And who would have guessed that putting on an apron and submitting to freemasonry, we could become better friends, better husbands, better citizens?  As we begin each year humbly, with the future stretched before us, and ambition to accomplish much,  let us be confident that we have within our grasp to again disprove the false adage about sow’s ears.

Chaplain’s Message February 2014    By Rick Rayfield

The Seventh Letter- G

The letter G was invented and inserted into our Latin alphabet before 230 BCE, perhaps to replace the letter Z which was sent to the end.  The history of the letter, derived partially from the Greek gamma (often identified with wisdom), is more complicated and debated than we can survey here.  It was added to symbolize a sound found in spoken Latin.  In similar manner, the month of February has been inserted variously to fix deficiencies in the Roman calendar- part of why the last four months of the year are numbered seven to ten (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.).

What we can see clearly is that G is the seventh letter, and it substitutes for the magical and mysterious number seven in many codes.  Nowhere in the ancient books of religion is God’s name God.  Compared to God’s many ancient names (like Jahwe, Jehovah, I am), “God” is a relatively recent one (about 600 CE in Old English; so Jesus never said “God’). The freshly minted letter G leads the way.

Actually the name God is the same root as the word “good”, just as Bible is simply a glorification of the word “biblio” for book.  What is clear is often mysterious, and what is mysterious often has simplicity on its face.  When we see the letter G as a Masonic symbol, we can see it as the sign of one true and everlasting God, or as a sign of Geometry- as explicated in one of our deepest lectures, or as Good, even,- with a twinkle in the eye – as Goat.  Why not gnosis- Greek for “knowledge”? Among its rich meanings (as in Gnostic Gospels), gnosis refers both to the totality and depth.

The Masonic letter G refers to many possibilities, and yet the unity in our devotion to seeking what is good. Golly! “Golly” dates from 1775, and refers to the oath we often hear as “By God…”. Which makes “Golly gee” a double…..well, you see the point.  However you take it, G is everywhere.

Chaplain’s Message  March 2014   by Rick Rayfield

 Aspiration in the Lord’s Prayer

We begin every important endeavor and every lodge meeting with prayer.  Not because we are religious.  It’s the other way around.  Because Masons pray, we are called religious, even accused of being a religion.

We say quite clearly in our ritual that we pray to invoke and invite in that which is greater than ourselves as we begin our pursuits. We aspire to improve ourselves, to do a better job than expected. The Latin root is ad-spirare, or to breathe toward.  If living is breathing, and it is, then “aspiration” is to live toward something.

Together we often say the Lord’s Prayer at our opening.  Jesus took the phrases in the Lord’s Prayer from Old Testament texts and Jewish oral tradition.  The two versions,  Matthew and Luke, were amended, hundreds of years later, with a last phrase- called the doxology (For thine is the kingdom….).  Some Christians (e.g. Mormons) refuse to recite the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that it has become merely recited words rather than genuine prayer from the heart to God.

If you listen to the Lord’s Prayer, with the time-honored doxology, its two main sentences both end with the statement that God’s kingdom should prevail for us. “ Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  and “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

By improving ourselves, we can better improve the world of our families, our friends, our communities, and our nations.  With prayer we focus on our efforts to improve ourselves.  We bring about earth “as it is in heaven”. Some theologians say that prayer is simply good thinking.  Not just recitation.  Our Lord’s Prayer stands as a symbol and statement of our joint determination to work together, with roots that extend back generations before the Great Teacher recommended them.

Chaplain’s Message April 2014 by Rick Rayfield

Masonic Bodies and Masonic Families

 In Brandon, Vermont last month the Order of the Eastern Star cooked a great corned beef and cabbage lunch for the Scottish Rite right before St. Patrick’s Day.  The Rainbow Girls served it, and we left tips on the table to help them pay their way to their annual gathering in Washington DC in June.    The Deputy Grand Master for Vermont George Deblon was there.  We had asked the Sojourners, who attended, if they could lend us some Civil War costumes for a drama, but they had only US flags, not graycoat costumes.  Mad River Lodge’s own late Charlie Foster’s widow, Joan Foster, played the piano for the musical drama we performed; fourteen songs sung by the workmen in the “woods”.  We had to use a recording of Joan’s playing, because “Masons only” tradition kept her out.

All of these different “Masonic bodies” makes me wonder if a Masonic body is an organization, or people. In some broad sense, our wives and kids and friends often become “Masonic bodies”- baking our pies, cleaning up after meals, stitching our collars, hanging our curtains and Christmas lights, stamping out biscuits, and so much more.

The next time someone points out that Masonry is for men only, I think I might not start with the various formal Masonic bodies, like OES.  I might start my answer with a description of how broad our Masonic family is, with wider participation out into a circle of friends. Then, and only then, I might point out the other named Masonic bodies, like DeMolay and Job’s daughters.  Masonry is not just about us “Masons” any more than God’s children are just the ones in church on Sunday.  Rather we have a wide range of “Masonic bodies” to appreciate and we welcome as a part of us.

Chaplain’s Message  May 2014 by Rick Rayfield

Oops I Did It Again !


Do you remember the old Xerox ads depicting the monk confronting a copy machine to replace his hand-copying?  It was sort of like the Maytag repairman with no repairs.  Who needs me anymore?

People named Thatcher and Decker were replaced by roofers. Coopers and Wheelers were replaced by injection molders.  Mrs. Baker and Mr. Shoemaker saw their work done in factories with robotic machinery under computer control.  So Mrs. Baker teaches school, and Mr. Shoemaker writes books, after his career as a horse jockey.  If God spoke English, she might be regularly saying, “Oops, I did it again. This Creation keeps changing.  My lovely humans- my most excellent creation for adapting- are complaining. They think change is new and wrong and they resist adapting.”

  We humans scream “Oops all the time.”  Adam and Eve made a big apple oops. Later all mankind needed to be doused except Noah’s family.  Kings David and Solomon made big boo-boos. The list goes on and on. We must balance the oops against the progress of civilization. It is not pretty. But many glorious triumphs of invention, science, art, and human cooperation are on the scales.  Perhaps we should better tune ourselves to the successes, and let our lives resonate with the blessings, and even appreciate the oops as an integral part of our beloved world.

No book has had a great impact on Western Civilization than the New Testament.  It emerged from the wisdom of Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, and Greco-Roman cultures.   It has about 140,000 words.  And yet scholars studying the various original manuscripts have found over 150,000 variations in the words. Some are misspellings- but which are correct?  Some are missing or extra phrases- but which are original? The various “original” Christian New Testaments have more “mistakes” than words.  Talk about a lot of oops.  And yet, and yet despite the errors, it has been a major force – guiding kings, and nations, and churches, and billions of people on their paths in a changing world.   We got globalization, global warming, technorevolution, genetic engineering, 3D printing, and babelfish.   Don’t shake your brain, smile at “oops”.   “Oops” is natural.  We’re still good.

 Chaplain’s Message  June 2014   by Rick Rayfield

Living Stone

Several religions and our Masonic traditions talk about living stone,
metaphorically. We think of stone as solid and permanent, like
mountains, cathedrals and pyramids. And we aspire to building
our lives as temples fit for God’s habitation.
We symbolize converting ourselves from rough to smooth stone blocks.
Here in Vermont we live on the sides of old mountains. Those of
us who go west for Rocky Mountain skiing or hunting are familiar
with “new “ mountains. So we know permanence is relative.
The most common element on Earth is iron, mostly down in
the molten core. The second most common element is oxygen.
Oxygen is about two thirds of the weight of the minerals we call
the rocks and stone that make up the Earth’s crust. Like SiO4.
And oxygen is 80% of the weight of water. Oxygen in the air and in the
H2O of ocean water is small compared to the amount in the earth’s stone
crust. Oxygen being a large part of rocks sounds like living stone”.
Let mineral-laden water percolate slowly through layers of dead
plants and animals on the ocean floor, bones, shells, corals, leaves,
and we end up with fossils that are easy to call “living stone”. If
you look at the curved layers of stone where the roads cut through
the mountains, or canyons where the stone has been shaped by
water, you know the stone is changeable, malleable, carvable,
stainable, and in many ways as much liquid as solid.
Is my life “living stone”? Are there ways I resist change that are
good and not so good? Am I more permanent than I think? Less
permanent? Am I dead stone? Am I so lively that I could use some
more solidity in my life?

Chaplain’s Message  September 2014  By Rick Rayfield

Old Porch Testament 

We might think generally of a Testament as something that speaks to us.  The Holy Bible on our Lodge altar has the Old Testament, translated from the Hebrew language, and the New Testament whose books were originally written in Greek.  Often they speak to us.  When we recite together the Lord’s Prayer as we open our meetings, we may think we are tapping the Christian New Testament. In fact both versions of that prayer, in Greek, are pieced together from traditional Hebrew phrases in the Old Testament.

This summer I have been stripping paint off the Lodge porch rails.  They seem to me a kind of testament, speaking to me of the Lodge’s past, and suggesting a future path.  No two spindles are exactly the same, each shows unique grain, and signs of handcraft in the making.  The wood dating back to 1845 has tighter grain than today’s wood. Will future wood continue to change its character? Square-cut nails, five of them in every two-inch cube, have expanded as they rusted, breaking the wood open.  Many Greek temples suffered when their surviving pieces were rebuilt by 19th century archaeologists. The iron pins they used were stronger than the old Greek lead pins. But lead does not rust and expand. Iron does. Iron can be stronger but destructive.  I thought much about the dangers of the lead in the paint I was stripping, but wondered if there is unknown danger in my new stainless steel screws, my wood filler, my primer.  Preserving the past requires not just respect, but understanding and judgment, always in limited supply.  Wonder mixes with worry.

At least some of our porch rails were painted bright yellow for a time. Pizzazz!  If we look carefully at those old rails they testify to an interesting history, and urge a bright future.

Chaplain’s Message October 2014  by Rick Rayfield

Rainbow coat or white shirt?

Did you know that the world’s one billion Muslims read the same Hebrew Old
Testament that we do? Like Jews and Christians, they revere Abraham as a father- Patriarch- of our heritage. But Muslims read the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis
22) as a story of Abraham and Ishmael– the son of Hagar, the maid who was sent away
after Sarah bore Isaac.  For Muslims, the descendants of Ishmael- the Arabs- are God’s chosen people, revealed later according to the Prophet Mohamed. The world’s two billion
Christians and Jews read Genesis as the familiar tale of Abraham obediently and
faithfully almost sacrificing his son Isaac, born of Sarah, on the mountain. In both
versions, whether Ishmael or Isaac, the Angel of the Lord directs Abraham to sacrifice
the ram caught in the thicket instead. (That’s Angel #2. The first angel in Genesis
consoles and inspires Hagar when she has given up hope for Ishmael in the desert.)
Years later (Genesis 42), Jacob- the grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac- has a
favored son Joseph who is sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph’s many colored coat
is a key symbol in that story, as symbol of favoritism and jealousy. At least that’s the
Judeo-Christian version. The Islamic tradition has Joseph, named Yusef in Arabic, as the
“best story” in the Bible. He has a white shirt which plays a triple primordial role. White,
not technicolor. The white shirt shows the blood of deception vividly to Joseph’s father.
The white shirt is critical in proving his innocence when falsely accused of raping one of
his master’s wives in Egypt. And, by the scent on the shirt, his blind father Isaac
recognizes the smell of his lost son.
Who has the “true” story in these two examples? Are we really so proud that we think
we can discern what happened, and was written down centuries ago? Is not the
wisdom and truth in these stories found not in their factuality, but in how they help us
to see our own humanity and see the design on the Great Trestleboard? Don’t these
stories reveal our own ironic and puzzling relations to our brothers and to the Great
Architect, or Geometry, or however we name that we barely know.

November 2014  No Chaplain’s Message
My stepfather Oliver passed away at age 95 on Oct 14, so I did not have a Chaplain’s message ready for the November Trestleboard.

Chaplain’s Message  December 2014  by Rick Rayfield

What’s a Manger?

Do you know the movie where Kevin Kline’s wife Mary McDonnell is out jogging and hears a baby abandoned in the woods? It’s Grand Canyon. She brings the baby home. She feeds it and brings out the baby clothes she has stored from her now-teenaged kid. You can see her experiencing again the outpouring of love and tenderness for a child, a child of undetermined ethnicity. When her husband gets home, she admits they need to call the police and social workers, and they do. But for a few hours she has lived the fantasy of being that loving mother again, a role and skill she may never repeat. But it is deep inside her, the joy and ability to love. We approach the many images of a newborn babe. We hear again of Jesus in a manger. We giggle over the New Year baby draped in a ribbon. We speak of the rebirth of the life at the winter solstice. We enjoy the excitement of kids all aglow over being found nice and not naughty. Maybe we even have a brush with a baby’s “first Christmas”. Even in the face of the darkest day, even in the cold, we know that good things are in the cycle. And we recall the best of them, and the call for them to appear again.
What’s a manger? The root is “to eat”. It’s a food trough for animals. How many times does an animal come to the trough, hoping there is food there? Dogs and cats, even my goldfish, are constantly coming to the “manger”. I bet they- like we- are hoping. Hoping for the very best most wonderful signs from the Great Architect, as simple as food, as precious as the opportunity to love and be loved. When someone offers you food, do you feel the love? In freemasonry, we revere the corn of plenty, the wine of refreshment, and the oil of joy. I hope in December, we can all find symbolic corn, wine, and oil in our mangers, or perhaps even the miracle of a child. Maybe that goodness is inside us, not from above, or from outside us. We are the temple we seek.  SO mote it be!