Chaplain’s Messages 2015
Mad River Lodge #77 Free and Accepted Masons of Vemront
Chaplain’s Message January 2015 by Rick Rayfield
She-heche-ya-nu -Looking back and ahead, ALIVE!
Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and New Year are behind us, again. And millions of people have had birthdays, and anniversaries of all sorts. For many people, every Friday evening welcomes in the holiest day of the year- the Sabbath. And what can be more festive then waking up each morning, with aching muscles and joints, and too few hours of sleep, and family and financial worries, and gummy lips and owl eyes, but alive? ALIVE!
My favorite phrase from the Jewish prayer book is “she-heche-ya-nu”. It is part of a short prayer recited at the start of every festival or holiday, and every special occasion, and every time you do something you have not done yet this year- like the first fruit of the garden- and every time you meet a friend you have not seen in a month or more. It translates as basically that we are blessed to have been given life. It looks back at our blessing, but also forward as we enjoy that blessing. Yes- life can be a burden. But holidays are special reminders to pay attention. Even amongst life’s burdens- even as workmen tore their bodies, broke their bones, and burned their eyes with sweat building the Temple under Solomon’s eyes- we should look up often from our burdens and woes, and look around at the joys of being alive.
This is my first message of 2015 as a Chaplain. Me! A chaplain! I have to laugh! Has Creation sunk so low? Or has the genius of the Grand Architect twisted my tired body and worried soul into a decoration and declaration of the Sacred Beauties to be found if we only look around with love and care? The wave of a stranger, the snowflake on the fir needle, the cool water on the tongue, the voice of the checkout clerk, the smell of food to nourish our lives. She-heche-ya-nu !
Chaplain’s Message February 2015 by Rick Rayfield
Here is the first verse of a popular hymn in Great Britain since Jane Campbell translated it into English from the German (1782).
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
Who would have guessed when we shored up the foundation, and put on a new roof, and gradually installed a new kitchen, and brought the wiring up to code, tearing out a rat’s nest of old wires in the basement ceiling, and rebuilt the porch, and tuckpointed the bricks, and restored some of the windows, and put in new heaters, and water pump, and the other work on our Masonic Temple on Main Street, that the fruit to be born would be a Farmer’s Market? We did not see THAT design on the Great Architect’s trestleboard. And who knows what other plans for our building, and more important our fraternity, may blossom in the future by the firm foundation of our building, and by the regular Masonic work we do there as brothers. Keeping our building and our brothers at work has not just been a matter of nostalgia and historic preservation. It has made us more and more able to do our work as brothers in harmony, contribute to the relief of widows and orphans, and assist the brother as well as the stranger who needs our help. (Yeah- I am stealing those lines from the little black book.)
Whatever way you have helped scatter the seeds from which our future is growing, you have been part of this blessing. Money, labor, a pound of butter, a gallon of cider, words of encouragement, a shared meal, or even just a kind question, “How is the Lodge doing these days?” Leader or follower, active or inactive, near or far, you have been part of the scattered seed, from which much is being harvested. While we thank each other, it is so efficient and fitting to cover all our bases with thanks to the Grand Architect. For each and every one of us is an arm, or finger, or perhaps just a gentle touch, but truly a part of the divine design. In whom do we put our trust?
Chaplain’s Message- March 2015 By Rick Rayfield
Burnt Maple Syrup
I was an eager young Scout. On my first campout I was prepared to cook pancakes with my shiny new mess kit over an open fire. I would show those older Scouts how to be clever over the flames. I even had some maple syrup.
All set to go after a cold night in a tent. Except, oops. I forgot to bring some butter or oil, and I had no bacon. Other Scouts were still sleeping so no one to borrow from. Hmm. Well, syrup LOOKS like melted butter. So I heated up syrup in the bottom of my nice new fry pan and dropped the pancake batter in as it got hot. Or course, the syrup burned to a solid black layer in the fry pan. And the raw-topped pancake could barely be scraped from the burned substrate. How many lessons did I learn? I had time to think about them as I scoured my fry pan at home with steel wool and chisels. I learned not to forget the butter. And I learned not to brag until I have something to brag about. That was a close call- I was up early in my eagerness, so only my Scoutmaster saw my mess. I learned about what happens when syrup and sugars get too hot- something I still relearn now and then. But I learned not to be afraid to try things a different way. You may screw up, but you learn, and life gets richer. I try not be afraid of mistakes, which is good cause I make lots of them.
My Scoutmaster urged me to bake a cake on our next campout- for a cooking contest between troops. I baked a five layer chocolate cake by improvising my mother’s stew pot into a “dutch oven”. That turned out fine. And I learned that judges love to eat up the winning cake. Surprising lessons when we succeed too. I got one small piece for myself.
When the master builders constructed Solomon’s Temple to the Grand Architect, I wonder how many things they tried were boo-boos. And how often their innovations led to further surprising results. We have to forgive ourselves and others if we wish to reap the benefits of learning from our burnt maple syrup.
Chaplain’s Message April 2015 by Rick Rayfield
The Moon is one of the “lesser lights” in Freemasonry. The Moon never turns its back on the Earth. The dark side of the moon is lit up by the sun just as much as the side we see. If we look carefully at the moon, especially when it is a crescent, we can see the unlit part of the side that is facing us. It is barely lit by Earthshine. As the Earth turns, we sometimes are looking at the moon more from one side or the other. This “wobble” of the moon is called diurnal libration. We actually can see 59% of the moon’s surface from Earth.
The moon’s phases repeat about once a month- crescent, waxing, half moon, waning, and new moon- probably best described as “No Moon”. Our calendar year- the time it takes the Earth to go around the sun with the seasonal changes- is roughly 365 ¼ days , which we divide into 12 months, not lunar months. Our months are 28 to 31 days. The moon is a slow but steady clock, ticking off every 27.32 days. So a calendar year is between 12 and 13 lunar months. Hence the Spring Moon has no fixed date, neither the Harvest Moon or the Hunters’ Moon. Easter hops.
Isn’t it funny that despite the regularity of the Moon, we organize our lives by less regular and more confusing months- January to December? This is also true in many native tribes. They too struggle with the fact the year- so important for seasons of hunting, migration, and planting- is not evenly divisible by days, weeks, or months. The greater and lesser lights- Sun and Moon- are not synchronized. Much in our human lives is regular and traditional, but not always synchronized. We must cope with complicated schedules.
Sometimes we throw in an extra day, or an extra month (as the Jews and many North American tribes do). We add a day so as not to outrun the sun. We add moons so as to not outrun the seasons. April used to have 29 days, and was the second month. April in Latin means “opening” referring to plants growing in the northern hemisphere. In Australia, “April” means winter is coming. Tick tock. Tide in, tide out. Fascinating rhythms. Welcome spring- you deserve to be capitalized.
Chaplain’s Message by Rick Rayfield May 2015
Skeletons spring from the Closet
Many groups use skeletons and skulls and crossbones as symbols, often as an emblem of human mortality. The deeper suggestion is that the confrontation of mortality raises the issue of immortality. Remember the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, when Yorick’s skull is unearthed, and pleasant memories of him are recited?
I recently knelt before the skeleton of a stranger. I pointed out to the Masonic brothers present how wondrous are the curves of the bones, and how intricate the joints. We were the recreating an old Masonic ritual. The multitudes fashioned in this miraculous godlike form bear witness to the glory of creation. And yet we should not confuse similarity with identity. Our mortal lives are finite, and the divine is infinite. Our skeletons- wondrous as they be- are but a small closet in a spiritual palace, a temple not made of man’s hands. We perceive but a shadow of the complexity and beauty of creation. At least that is the view of scientists and many religious leaders.
The cold of winter is pushed aside by the renewed sunlight of our tilted vernal passage around the Sun. April is often cruel. “May, she will stay, resting in our arms again.” In our pleasure of birth and rebirth on farm and in forest, how can we not feel the tangled emotions of joy in the resurrection of living organisms we cherish. Yet we sense acutely the pull of envy that many of us do not feel a renewal of energy and health and regeneration in our selves. Jealousy, the green monster, is a frequent guest in our skeletal closet, wishing we ourselves were budding, and pushing to new light through the dirt, and finding new social connections, and looking forward to the labors of the season. We envy youth and those who seem to have kept theirs. As you stretch out your hand, think how your years of experience have enriched your awe in what those thin bones have endured and accomplished. Marvel at your skeleton. Sure the hands ache, and they heal slowly now. Living has stretched and thinned and wrinkled the skin. When you wiggle your fingers you can clearly see the muscles moving in your wrist, and the tendons dancing on the back of your hand. Remember that every youth is jealous of you- wants your experience and wants to grow old. Revel in the skeleton in your closet. It’s springtime and you can be springy in your own way. Cast aside jealousy. Boing a boing. “Dem bones gonna rise again…. I know it brother.”
I laid a budding rose on that skeleton’s ribs. He planted that rose. And the ones I plant……….well Who knows.
Chaplain’s Message May 2015 by Rick Rayfield
Skeletons Spring from the Closet
Lots of groups use skeletons and skulls and crossbones as symbols, often as an emblem of human mortality. The deeper suggestion is that the confrontation of mortality raises the issue of immortality. Remember the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, when Yorick’s skull is unearthed, and pleasant memories of him are recited?
I recently knelt before the skeleton of a stranger, and pointed out to the Masonic brothers present how wondrous are the curves of the bones , and how intricate the joints. This was the recreation of an old Masonic ritual. The multitudes created in this miraculous godlike form bear witness to the glory of creation. And yet we should not confuse similarity with identity. Our mortal lives are finite, and the divine is infinite. Our skeletons- wondrous as they be- are but a small closet in a spiritual palace, a temple not made of man’s hands. We perceive but a shadow of the complexity and beauty of creation. At least that is the view of scientists and many religious leaders.
The cold of winter is pushed aside by the renewed sunlight of our tilted vernal passage around the Sun. April is often cruel. “May, she will stay, resting in our arms again.” In our pleasure of birth and rebirth on farm and in forest, how can we not feel the tangled emotions of joy in the resurrection of living organisms we cherish. Yet we sense acutely the pull of envy that many of us do not feel a renewal of energy and health and regeneration in our selves. Jealousy, the green monster, is a frequent guest in our skeletal closet, wishing we ourselves were budding, and pushing to new light through the dirt, and finding new social connections, and looking forward to the labors of the season. We envy youth and those who seem to have kept theirs. As you stretch out your hand, think how your years of experience have enriched your awe in what those thin bones have endured and accomplished. Sure they ache, and they heal slowly now. Living has stretched and thinned and wrinkled the skin. When you wiggle your fingers you can clearly see the muscles moving in your wrist, and the tendons dancing on the back of your hand. Remember that every youth is jealous of you, wants your experience and wants to grow old. Revel in the skeleton in your closet. It’s springtime and you can be springy in your own way. Cast aside jealousy. Boing a boing. “Dem bones gonna rise again…. I know it brother.”
I laid a budding rose on that skeleton’s ribs.
Chaplain’s Message June 2015 by Rick Rayfield
We Masons pride ourselves on our openness to brothers of all faiths, using the metaphoric name “Grand Architect of the Universe” in many of our prayers, blessings, and lectures. We hear in the Enter Apprentice degree that our beloved letter G can stand for Geometry. Masons are faithful. We are diverse in our faith, welcoming brothers of many creeds and traditions. Sometimes we are even diverse in our own personal faith, picking and choosing among our favorite scriptures, or stories, or names for Deity.
Doubt is ever balanced against faith, even in the most fundamentalist believers. If you do not doubt your religious theology, perhaps you doubt your fellow man, or perhaps you doubt your own goodness in the face of your own shortcomings.
Faith is not a thing. Faith is an ability. It is the ability to believe without proof. Faith is trusting something of which you cannot be sure, but of which you are willing to be sure. Faith is your foundation for walking the walk.
Doubting is also an ability. Knowing when and how much to doubt is something that even divine characters are said to do. And like any ability, practice enhances our skill. We can improve our faith, and our doubting, and our balance of the two. We can coach people who are floundering in “crises” of faith. They may be suffering from questions of faith in God and goodness, or uncertain about humanity, their brothers, and their neighbors, or doubting their own value, their own talents, and their own place in “the temple”. We can build up our faith in the Grand Architect, our brothers, and ourselves by working together. This also provides a forum for healthy doubting. Even seasoned Broadway master George M Cowan, a brother Mason and author of “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, is said to have sweated nervously before every stage entrance. Great faith comes from great doubting. We question, and we place our trust where it belongs. The door to the temple is open. Trust G. Trust your fellow man. Trust yourself. Be sceptical. Have faith. Tis human.
Chaplain’s Message September 2015 by Rick Rayfield
Jachin and Boaz- Our Pillars
Every Masonic lodge has two pillars in the west, Jachin (or Jakin) and Boaz. We learn this at the start of the Middle Chamber lecture in the Fellowcraft Degree. After that 17 minute lecture crammed with symbolism, perhaps we do not recall Jachin and Boaz. I think only the letter G over the Master’s chair is a clearer symbol that the room is a Masonic lodge room.
The lecture tells us the pillars represent the pillars at the front corners of King Solomon’s Temple, gigantic pillars cast of bronze by the cunning worker in metal, that son of a widow, Hiram Abif (not our other Temple benefactor, King Hiram of Tyre). The pillars symbolize the genius of partnership, and their names denote establishment (or source, or founding) and strength. The molten metal was cast in clay, two diverse elements in harmony of purpose.
Two famous pillars, two famous men? Jachin? Boaz? Masonry reveres two kings who cooperated- Solomon and Hiram. And the two pillars are named for two less famous, but important players in civilization. The wise and gentle Boaz (strength) married the foreign women Ruth in the Holy Bible. A few generations later their offspring are Jesse, David and Solomon, and hmm, much later, Jesus of Nazareth.
And who is Jachin- the beginning, the establishment, the starter? There are several Jachins in the sacred books- offspring of Moses, Jacob, and others. But notably, as important as his pillar appears in our lodge rooms, Jachin is in some ways not famous. He is not connected to royalty. He brings into being what is good, and that goodness is his legacy. Each of us may be a Jachin, a quiet and common contributor to establishing a better and more peaceful world, holding up a corner of the porch of the Kingdom.
The tops of the two pillars are graced with globes of the Earth and the Heavens, and with lilies to denote peace, pomegranates to denote plenty, and a network to denote harmony. Be you a King or a commoner, go in your strength- of body or belief- and establish bits of peace, plenty, and harmony. Perhaps more than inspiring columns of symbols, the pillars represent us as upstanding examples of the power of civilization- of God, of Architecture, of Geometry, of Natural Man. When you face the Master, Jachin and Boaz have your back.
Chaplain’s Message October 2015 by Rick Rayfield
Spirit of ’76: Dead or alive?
Old Ben Franklin, age 71, said the draft of the US Constitution under consideration in 1787 was still not acceptable after months of arguing. But he urged the Convention to approve it.
You think it was petty stuff? No. Slavery. Suffrage. States rights. Freedom of speech. Most of all, the way States are represented in Congress. A lot of it ended up as “Amendments” tacked on later, like an afterthought. We call those ten little old amendments the Bill of Rights. But the Constitution had other controversies. Old Ben’s solution was to stop the arguing and say we have work to do. He signed it, and invited the other Founding Fathers to sign. They signed.
Is the Spirit of ’76 still alive, or is it history? Is the Spirit of ’76 only for our Founding Fathers, or should we seek that same Spirit in our own lives? A Spirit of self-destiny and freedom. A Spirit of brave adventure. A Spirit of toleration and even appreciation of our differences. A Spirit of virtuous living that promotes life, liberty, and the common good. ? Is it the idea, the feeling, the faith that what unites us is far more important than what divides us? Was the Spirit of ‘76 alive when the Constitution was signed in all its imperfection in 1887? Is it alive today, even in our Lodge? Despite the disagreements that capture our attention and energy, will we band together to promote our own virtue and freedom and the welfare of our families and community?
Our Founding Fathers and the Spirit of ’76 had roots in freemasonry- both membership and philosophy. Likewise, the Founding Fathers of France (1789), Bolivia and Venezuela (1825), and Cuba (1895) were top-heavy with freemasons. (Cuba still has 341 Masonic lodges and over 30,000 freemasons, ignored as brothers due to politics!) How shall we renew and reinforce this Spirit, in the lodge as well in the world outside it? Are we the mere descendants of the Spirit of ’76, or are we its living bodies? Where do I sign?
Chaplain’s Message November 2015 by Rick Rayfield
What’s a Chaplain: All can serve and be served.
No Masonic work should be attempted without first invoking the blessings of Deity, we are told.Prayer is also recommended in times of personal struggle with conscience or difficulty decisions. The basic proceedings whether in Lodge or abroad in the world. We do not need a Chaplain to pray or ask for divine guidance. He just helps. It refers to the small collars worn by those who guarded the medieval cloak of St Anthony. The terms chaplain that these are at the lower end of the sacred scale. A chapel is often viewed as the worship place of a minority or less devoted group than the established Church. When the Puritan churches in Massachusetts were the established Church in that part of New England, the loyal Episcopalians had Just the opposite held sway in merry olde England, where the Episcopalian Church of England was Church, whilst Catholics and other Protestants had chapels. Huge interdenominational buildings are often ironically called “chapels”. I was once an usher and tour guide in one. Chaplains tend to be open-minded. Freemasons are religious, but we are not a religion. One of the historic and potent arguments against Freemasonry is that we are Deists. We allow members to name (or not name) and understand God (Deo), to wit, Grand Architect of the Universe, Heavenly Father, Divine Providence, Geometry (1 st degree lecture) , Jahwe, or Mother Earth as we see fit. We believe there is an overbearing unity of belief in the Divine, a unity that outweighs human differences in belief and practices. Many Churches cannot abide this freedom in belief, and so tell their members not to be freemasons. Within masonry, the military, college campus, Scouts, and other groups, the chaplains often have lesser qualifications to minister in our prayers, and remind us of our faith. God, as Jefferson sometimes put the name, or Creator of the Universe as our Brother Ben Franklin said six weeks before he died. The often untrained but sincere and active chaplain may not be called, or trained, or ordained to holy orders. Our humble chaplains remind us that we all can serve and aid our brothers and fellow humans. Our broader faith may not be as deep as the pastors who have devoted their whole lives and theological training to spiritual life. Chaplains and every mason helps brothers float on the wide sea of faith rather than drowning in depths of confusion. Freemasonry is one case where wide acceptance and encouragement for many personal spiritual views is rampant. symbolic metaphor of building our lives using principles as universal and effective as constructing Truth has many faces, but one soul.
Chaplain’s Message December 2015 by Rick Rayfield
Why did poet T S Eliot write that April is the cruelest month, when December is so dark and cold? Perhaps we have white-washed December with snow and Christmas and family vacations. Gifts and parties.
Or perhaps the cruelty of April is complex. Springtime brings its huge buds, and flowers peeking up through snow, birds chirping, and other tell-tale signs of renewed life. But then Spring is also the season of revealed death, of sudden snow storms and punishing wind. Mud and flood. April tempts us, but then turns its back on us. Cruel.
December honestly promises us months of snow and ice and cold ahead. No false starts, unless you notice the buds, set last summer, already on the tree branch tapping at your window. The world can be cruel at times. Life can be miserable and hateful. We can fear those challenges before us, apparent , threatening, or likely. Or we can push fear aside in favor of caution, preparing for the downside, but living in the upside.
December’s challenge is to face the bitter dark winter with smiles of warmth and camaraderie. “Cold enough for ya?” We celebrate the birth of a child, the days which start to lengthen, the yule log in the fireplace, the candle in the window however small. In winter, I get up before dawn in order to be awake for all the daylight.
Pick up the phone and tell a friend how many chickadees are on your feeder. Stop someone in the grocery store and ask for a recipe, or what they got for Christmas, or if they are going to the community supper. Don’t just make it through the winter. Make the most of winter. Stay in touch. Go to meetings. Drop something off at the neighbor’s house. Call and ask for a ride to Lodge or Senior breakfast. Or offer one. What are you afraid of? A little caution, instead of fear, and maybe December will be “warmth enough for ya.”