The Daily Office

Sadly, this is something about which most people who call themselves Christians are blithely ignorant. Yet the church has found it to be a very useful exercise, one that goes back to our Jewish roots and that is reflected in the daily practices of our Muslim siblings.

Structuring Daily Prayer

Growing up I was made familiar with the practice of “Morning Watch,” which was a daily practice of singing hymns, lectio divina, and mental prayer. “Can you not watch with me one hour?” Jesus asked his disciples. Usually I allotted an hour each morning for this. I devoted other times during the day to more extensive reading, Bible study, and additional prayer.

This worked most of the time, but much depended on having a reliable emotional state. However, because this practice was largely freeform, it does not work well when one is going through a long bout of depression (mine used to be chronic and would last for months or longer). When one is suffering so, not having a more structured daily prayer cycle can sometimes exasperate things.

I gave my time more structure: I went through my hymnal sequentially and kept a thorough reading schedule of the Scriptures. (For many years I read through the New Testament monthly and managed, for a much shorter spell, to read the Old Testament four times a year.)

Unstructured prayer, however, can be exhausting and can even entrench negative thoughts, which are often deceiving. I have found that the daily office is more stabilizing, and therefore more strengthening for my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. It must, however, be practiced over a long period of time for it to bear fruit.

Concerning negative thoughts: I learned that we need to bare them in conversation with a safe other, someone who can echo our thoughts back to us and help us to reflect on them more honestly than in the echo-chamber of our minds. At face-value, these thoughts lie to us; but they nevertheless come from somewhere within us. We need to learn to detach ourselves from our thoughts, not cling to them so tightly, not believe them, and then respect them and look lovingly for the hurt from which they emerge—in other words, learn they are really saying, behind their language—and have compassion for the person in us, our self, who is hurting so much. We seldom love ourselves; but we should: our Divine Lover loves us so much.

For me, the daily office is a discipline that helps ground, center, and nourish us. It is enhanced when we can do one or more of the services with another or others. The office usually consists of two or more times of reading, meditation, and prayer—lectio, meditatio, and oratio—each day. My practice, or at least the practice that I am attempting to make habitual (the services of which are described here), consists of

  1. Morning Prayer (matins or mattins, which consolidate the monastic hours of matins, lauds, and prime)
  2. Midday Prayer (diurnum)
  3. Evening Prayer or Evensong (vespers)
  4. Night Prayer or Compline (completorium).

There tends to be a cyclical reading of the Psalter along with the regular reading of the Old and New Testaments—aiming to read the entire (Western) Christian canon of Scripture—the latter punctuated by scriptural canticles or litanies, which are then followed by traditional regular and seasonal prayers. Some of us find that singing a hymn (or hymns) and chanting parts of the office help our attention and feeling. (Studies have also shown that chanting has salutary effects on the brain.)

The office is not intended to be the fulfillment of our prayer “obligations,” or rather, privileges (for such prayer is). Our aim is to pray without ceasing, to transform our daily running thoughts, perspectives, and attitudes, and to have a more deeply affective contemplation in the time which we have set aside for that. The daily office, however, helps us, as I said, to ground, center, and nourish ourselves.

One can find online offices and their apps at these two sites: The Daily Office from the Mission St. Clare (morning and evening prayer in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), and The Church of England, Daily Prayer (morning, evening, and night prayer from either the English Book of Common Prayer and the newer Common Worship).

For my daily office, I am drawing from sources such as these and from The Saint Helena Breviary, A New Zealand Prayer Book, Celebrating Common Prayer, and the Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter, and crafting my own feminist-language daily office. I am quite satisfied with the distribution of psalms in The Saint Helena Breviary (the whole psalter every two weeks) but I prefer to read larger portions of both the gospels and the apostolic writings than are allotted in the daily lectionary; so I will need to create my own schedule and follow that. Familiarity with the Scriptures of the Synagogue is more important than reading the common daily lectionary provides for, but I do not have a solution for that as of yet.

Gender Neutrality?

Also, I find the constant masculinizing of the Divine to be annoying and distracting, since the Divine One is not masculine: Her essence, in my view, is feminine; only economically does She take on—in part—a masculine function. (There are only particular reasons nature developed the masculine sex: at first its function was to recombine and distribute the DNA or life-essence of mothers; later was added to this the function of protecting mothers and their offspring when they are vulnerable, and to provide for them their needed protein. In other words, evolution developed the male sex only for the sake of the female.) The “masculine” can sometimes be a metaphor for the divine economy in its acts; and the Divine Word incarnated in a human body that was identified as male. That the Divine, however, is feminine and life-bearing is however more than a metaphor. It is what the Divine is.

So I am seeking to “translate” the texts, beginning with the Psalms, to feminize the Divine One and the reader (reading the psalmist’s words), and to picture a more gender-neutral community, for the sake of my imagination-at-prayer, while marking, for my cognitive awareness, the gender-bias of the original languages and cultures. Therefore I am “translating” Adon as Lady, YHWH as Eloah, and Elohim as Divine One. The result will be a more theologically correct experience of reading.

I find that, for me, the word “God” is not gender neutral; it conjures masculine associations in me which I notice at once when I substitute a feminine or gender-neutral synonym. Because of the patriarchalizing tendencies of our language, it is, in fact, difficult for our language to be gender-neutral. I am referring to something subtle: we might not, in fact, conjur an “image”—we should try not to—but even when we don’t, there is still a masculine ghost or shadow weighted with masculine associations. What is often “neutral” assumes a norm of the masculine; this is especially the case when a word can be feminized. Along with “god” we have “goddess”; it is therefore not easy to read “God” as neutral.

Is it really harmless for men to imagine the Divine in their own image, as masculine? Can men, cognitively, make masculine associations that are not loaded with patriarchal assumptions? With a great deal of self-reflection perhaps. However, testosterone has an affect on the mind. It equips the male for the hunt: with self-sufficiency, with analytical abilities, and with aggression. Do the effects of testosterone on the male reflect on the Divine nature? The common humanity that men share with women does reflect the Divine. However, the nature of the Divine we can see in the self-emptying and receiving, and the co-inhering, of the three Persons in love. The activity of the Divine issues from this movement. Testosterone equips men to act, and sometimes their action reflects the activity that issues from the Divine essence, but in order for their acts to do so, men need their actions to be governed by the female, whether internally or socially. In other words, its self-sufficiency cannot be self-serving. Masculine activity cannot fulfill itself except in service to others. (This is more innately the case for the feminine.) When “masculinity” becomes independent of the female, when it reifies itself, and makes the female subserviant to it, it always results in the idolatry of patriarchy.

So, I think there is harm for men to masculinize the Divinity, though, if they can free themselves from the tendency towards patriachalizing masculinity, they can appropriately masculinize certain divine activity.

Then what about the literal meaning of the Scriptures? Should not its patriarchal language be maintained for the sake of accuracy? Yes and no. Of course the original patriarchy has to be recognized for what it is, otherwise a critique of it becomes distorted. On the other hand, when we use Scripture, as when we use it to pray, or in our preaching, our language should reflect the theology of the canon of Scripture, which recognizes patriarchy itself as the symptom of humanity’s rupture with the Divine; the theology of Scripture has a clear and evolving anti-patriarchal tendency finally embodied in the Incarnate Word. To divide the two may not be easy for the uninitiated, but the ability can definitely be developed by practice over time.

Matins

Seated on the floor—the butt on a block or cushion and both knees on the floor (there are various positions one can take)—Matins begins with the opening versicle (Psalm 51:15) and the Gloria (the Gloria we use, modified slightly from The Saint Helena Breviary, is: “Glory to the holy and undivided Trinity—one divinity—as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Alleluia”), followed by a canticle, usually the Venite, exultemus Domina (Psalm 95:1-7). The remaining verses of Psalm 95 are added during Lent (during which the Alleluia is omitted from the Gloria). During the season of Easter the Pascha nostum (from 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:8-11; and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22) takes its place. For now, we skip the invitatory antiphon as adding too much complication. This is all chanted in plainsong, using ancient Gregorian and British tones (Lancelot Andrewes Press: Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter, 2002) with the aid of the keyboard in the iPhone’s GarageBand app.

After this, we say the Psalms according to the day and week (Week 1 or Week 2). These are preceded by an antiphon (which is chanted; I use the regular antiphon, the one appointed for the “Green” seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost in The Saint Helena Breviary) and they are followed by the Gloria and then the same antiphon (also chanted; we do not chant the psalms themselves). Here, the Gloria is: “Glory to Eloah—Source of all being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit—as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” The schedule of Psalms can be found in the Monastic Edition (2005) of The Saint Helena Breviary on page 890. The antiphon and Gloria are chanted in plainsong (I find the tones in The Saint Helena Breviary too difficult).

This is followed by the Lessons or scripture readings, followed by appropriate canticles, the Apostles’ Creed, and then the Prayers. A nice abbreviated form that we sometimes use (after we say the Psalter together) is the “Daily Devotions” in A New Zealand Prayer Book (1997), pages 104-137, according to the day of the week. The appointed Lessons would then have to be added later during the morning hours.

In terms of the Office, we postpone the Confession of Sin until Compline.

Diurnum

Vespers

Compline

In the Media

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, John Ensslin, who does a podcast and reporting using social media, posted this in On the Record on his interview with reporter Monsy Alvarado about the feature story she wrote about me:

Transgender minister talks about her decision to come out to her former congregation. The caption reads: “Petra Strand, a transgender minister from Teaneck, talks about her decision to reveal her gender status to her former congregation in Ridgefield Park in this episode of On the Record. We also talk with Record reporter Monsy Alvarado about her profile of Strand. Photo by Amy Newman.”

On September 28, 2017, Monsy Alvarado’s story about me was published online, with a video clip on top:

A Transgender Minister’s “Long, Painful, Joyous, Happy and Dizzying” Road to Acceptance

On Sunday, October 1, 2017, The Record (northjersey.com; part of the USA Today network) published the story: “Road to Acceptance: Transgender Minister’s Path has Her Looking to the Future.” Here is the front cover (the story continued for a full-page on 8A):

The Northern Valley Suburbanite, South edition, part of the same network, published the story on its front page on Thursday, October 5, 2017. The story continued on pages 11-13 with three photos not in the Sunday edition (they are on the online version). While the The Record paper is by subscription, the Suburbanite is distributed to every household in the towns of Alpine, Cresskill, Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, Teaneck, and Tenafly.

I am happy with the article. The reporter Monsy Alvarado and the photographer Amy Newman did an excellent job. It was well researched, and, except for two minor factual errors, accurate. I did not expect front page coverage.

What I wanted when I agreed with Monsy to do the story—and I believe the story succeeds in this regard—is to help transgender people by helping to break down the stereotypes that one finds in so much public discourse and in the attitudes that people hold. A medical condition has been politicized by an ambitious group of political leaders who have deliberately turned public ignorance into public hysteria for their own political ends. The immediate reaction of many people seems to be revulsion, if not fear. By seeing and understand transgender people better, however, I hope that this knee-jerk reaction might change to something more positive, like compassion, or empathy, or even admiration, and that people will treat transgender people better.

Generally, people I meet do not register that I am transgender, and therefore I receive no special treatment, for good or ill. Following the publication of the story in the Bergen Reccord, however, my friend Chidimma Ozor contacted me and interviewed me for her theTYPEAhippie Podcast. Here is the link. The title is: “Transitioning with Time, Expectations and Faith.” I met Chidimma on the basis of a yoga connection, but now we share in addition our passion for social justice concerns. Please explore her website.

My Waking Meditation and Prayer

The featured image is “The Kiss” (Paris: Musée Rodin, c. 1882) by the French artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).

I have a daily practice I would like to share.

When I get up in the morning, I like to (and do) pray-read this sequence:


The Ave Maria (Hail Mary)

Áve María, grátia pléna,
.    Dómina técum.
Benedícta tū in muliéribus,
.    et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus.
Sáncta María, Máter Déae,
.    óra pro nóbis peccatóribus,
.    nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen.

(I made the gender assignments of the divine One more feminine-appropriate.)


The Song of Solomon (Shir ha-Shirim)

“I will run without stopping until you lead me into the wine cellar.” —Saint Clare of Assisi’s 4th Letter to Agnes, verse 31 (translated by Sr. Frances Teresa Downing)

(The two-week arrangement works very well. However, as my appreciation and understanding increase, the divisions I delineate here are bound to change. I started with Michael D. Goulder’s division of the whole in The Song of Fourteen Songs (Department of Biblical Studies, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, supplement series 36, 1986). His thesis is that “the Song is a single poem, and not a collection of unrelated lyrics,” and “that there are fourteen Songs, two sevens: the poem divides in two neatly at 5:1 …” The chorus is often used as a device to separate the Songs from one another (pp. 71-72).

The translation I use is The Song of Songs: A New Translation by Ariel and Chana Bloch (University of California Press: 1998.))

Week One

The Lord’s Day, 1:1-8 (attracted)
Monday, 1:9—2:7 (satisfied)
Tuesday, 2:8-17 (invited)
Wednesday, 3:1-5 (awakening)
Thursday, 3:6-11 (transported)
Friday, 4:1-7 (transforming)
Sabath, 4:8—5:1 (communing)

Week Two

The Lord’s Day, 5:2-8 (challenged)
Monday, 5:9—6:3 (contemplating)
Tuesday, 6:4-12 (con-forming)
Wednesday, 6:13—7:10 (dancing)
Thursday, 7:11—8:4 (longing)
Friday, 8:5-10 (secluding)
Sabbath, 8:11-14 (crossing over)


An Anthem to the Theotókos

(This is from Celebrating Common Prayer: A Version of the Daily Office Society of Saint Francis (Mowbray, 1992), page 267. It is said there to be a Greek Orthodox Hymn (translation: West Malling). Though it renders the hymn much less poetic, my adaptation makes the words more palatable.)

Into his joy the Lord Jesus has received you,
bearer of the Divine, virgin mother of Christ.

You have beheld the King in his beauty,
Miriam, daughter of Israel—

you who made answer for the creation
to the redeeming will of the divine One.

Light, Fire and Life—divine and immortal—
joined to our nature you have brought forth

that, to the glory of our divine Mother,
heaven and earth might be restored.


An Invocation

(This prayer I took from two sources. The first half I adapted from a prayer of Richard Rolle (d. 1349) in The Fire of Love, translated by Clifton Wolters (Penguin Books, 1972), page 98. The second I adapted from Celebrating Common Prayer: A Version of the Daily Office Society of Saint Francis (Mowbray, 1992), page 15.)

My Lord Iesu, I ask you to develop in me, your lover,
.    an immeasurable urge towards you,
.         an affection that is unbounded,
.              a longing that is unrestrained,
.                   a fervor that throws discretion to the winds.

.              As I rejoice in the gift of this new day,
.         may the light of your presence, dear Love,
.    set my heart on fire with love for you—
now and forever. Amen.


No doubt what will surprise most Protestants is my invocation of blessèd Mary. It seems most natural, since in Christ she is our mother who leads us in the way of salvation toward salvation’s telos in theosis (divinization or deification). Because she already participates in glory, she can be our real companion here in the sanctorum communionem (Gk: hagíōn koinōnían).  She grounds me in the incarnation of her Son, which sets us on the proper path to theosis. Also, my identifying with her in her humanity, adds strength to the Song of Solomon when I read it as also pertaining to me. How better can I begin my day than with Ave Maria?

The choice to meditate on the Song of Solomon immediately upon awaking might also surprise some people. Following a long tradition, I use the Canticle as a metaphorical description of Christ and his individual lovers. Christ is personal and affectionate toward us, and so our relationship to Christ is likewise personal and affectionate. Christ encourages us to mature in our feelings of love for him; and these natural feelings in turn help us mature in our spirit. I perceive (or perhaps imagine) that the Song of Songs affectively takes us through these stages.

The prayer of Richard Rolle for “more love to thee,” and the request for Lady Spirit to set my heart on fire by bringing to my awareness the presence (in her) of my Beloved, are a fitting way to begin my day.

The office of Morning Prayer comes next after this “dawning” prayer with which I begin my day, after—of course—the coffee has brewed.

Our Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Backpacking Trip on August 23-26, 2017

Pharaoh (2017, 08, 25) 24
This is Celine and I on Friday in front of lean-to #2 on Pharaoh Lake.

Celine and I are friends who met when we both worked at the REI store in Paramus. The Pharaoh Lake Wilderness is in the southeastern Adirondack Park in New York State.

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

pharaoh-2017-08-25-21-e1503938229390.jpg
The “REI 3,” September of 2015. Thus Brittney carefully left our mark on the back wall of the Pharaoh Lake lean-to #2.

Two years ago we came to the same wilderness area in September, but we starting from Crane Pond. There were three of us then, for we were joined by another friend, Brittney, who also worked at REI. (Last year Celine and Karen and I also backpacked in the West Canada Lake Wilderness together.)

Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, starting out at 8 am, Celine and I arrived at the Putnam Pond Campground a little after 12:30, and after paying a three-day day-use fee of $18 to the two women at the front gate, we left my car in the almost empty lot by the boat launch. It was midweek so the campground was not busy. By 2:20 we were on the trail..

We took the Grizzle-Ocean-Trail to the Clear-Pond-Trail and followed that to Clear Pond—a beautiful site—where we met a lovely couple out on a day hike. We continued on the Clear-Pond-Trail until we came to the Rock-Pond-Trail and took that to Rock Pond where we found an empty and clean lean-to. We arrived around 3:30. The lean-to looked immaculate; the roof had been redone a week earlier. And there were loons in the lake.

We were in good spirits, having managed not to tire ourselves out. We gathered firewood and ate. At night we had a good fire going (this was Celine’s specialty, with a little help from me), although, on account of some of the wood being damp, it was a little smokey. The stars shone brightly in the night sky.

Thursday

On Thursday morning I woke at 6:30 and had coffee as listened to the ruckus of the loons and observed, as I sat and strolled, the rocks and foliage, the moss and rotting trees, the clear sky and the little islands. I wrote in  my journal and thought of those I missed.

After Celine got up and we both had had our breakfast (I had half-a-bag of Bakery on Main gluten-free granola with Meyenberg whole-powdered goat-milk), we headed out along the Rock-Pond-Trail and the Rock-Pond-to-Lilypad-Pond-Trail to the lean-to at Lilypad Pond. There, around noon, we shed our packs and took a break. I was winded more than Celine.

Then we got on the Short-Swing-Trail and hiked to the Oxshoe Pond lean-to. Just before we arrived, we came across the first person we saw this day, a lone college student looking for her group. She walked with us most of the way the lean-to where we stayed the night. On the We arrived at 2:30. (For those who might look, the Crab Pond lean-to on older maps never existed.)

About an hour-and-a-half earlier a group of twelve Green Mountain College students (as Pharaoh (2017, 08, 24) 406part of freshmen orientation) had arrived at the lean-to. When we arrived, their gear filled the lean-to but they were in the wood a short distance away setting up a camp. Soon they arrived one by one. Their leaders invited us to stay at the lean-to; they only asked that they could use the space in front of the lean-to to organize and have lessons (on water-filtration, how to use backpacking stoves, etc.).

An older man who had come down the Short-Swing-Trail with his well-trained and happy dog, who had his own pack, soon arrived and upon seeing us decided to set up his basecamp a few hundred feet north, at a campsite near the shore.Pharaoh (2017, 08, 24) 411

When things quieted down and the light began to fade (between 7:30 and 8:00) Celine got another campfire going, this time needing a little more of my help to get it going. We decided to go to Pharaoh Lake the next day, knowing that there was a chance we might spend Friday night under my tarp.

Friday

There was a red sky in the morning and not much mist on the pond when I awoke. The college students who camped somewhere behind us and the gentleman and his dog got on the trail about the same time, around 9:30. The college students were getting ready to take the trail to the peak of Pharaoh Mountain and on down the other side to Pharaoh Lake lean-to #5. The man and his dog headed on a day-trip up Treadway Mountain.

Celine and I left Oshoe Pond continuing on the Short-Swing-Trail toward Glidden Marsh. At Glidden Marsh we turned left and followed the Glidden-Marsh-to-Pharaoh-Lake-Trail until we reached Pharaoh Lake. Then we turned left and took the Pharaoh-Lake-Trail to the first lean-to (lean-to #1).

There we came upon a family of four camping there with their great dane. We also saw another family in a canoe in the bay exploring Split Rock. The familly at the lean-to hospitably invited us to shed our packs and relax. We did so and engaged in friendly conversation for a little while. They were from Long Island (Dix Hills) and had spent the previous night and intended to stay another. Then we got back on the trail to see if lean-to #2 was available.

The trail betwen the two lean-tos was the most rugged and steep—parts of it were near treacherous—that we encountered on this trip. We arrived, however, at the second lean-to at 1:00 and it was empty. This lean-to faced the lake a few stories above the shore and Pharaoh (2017, 08, 25) 22directly across the lake facing the lean-to was Pharaoh Mountain. Celine and Brittney and I stayed here in September in 2015. Brittney’s carving was there on the back wall of the lean-to as proof (see above). I checked out the ledge where we had gone swimming that year, and also a bank further down that was easier to get to, where we could collect water for filtration.

Two men arrived from the south hoping the lean-to would be free. They had stayed at a lean-to further down (either lean-to #3 or 4) and were hoping to relocate. They expected to rondevous at our site with someone else who was coming by canoe. The third man was nowhere to be seen. They waited down by the shore for him to arrive. In the meanwhile Celine settled in for a nap. I kept an eye on them, limiting my explorations of the area accordingly. After a while the canoeist arrived. He had found a campsite for them on the other side. After assertaining that we would be vacating the lean-to the next day, they left.

I sat under a pine tree a few feet from the shore and pondered the divine One as the Mother who births all creation, her grandeur and the peacefulness of the scene before me: the sound of the waves lapping the rocks, the burbling of the water as it gets caught under the ledges; the moss growing out from the crevices of the rocks, and the little pines with their roots reaching into the fissures; the everlasting rocks and the everchanging trees, the inlets and bays and marshes and beaver lodges, the wide sky and drifting clouds. I changed places to a ledge above the lake. Next to me was a jackpine and beside that was an eastern hemlock, and below me was a blueberry bush growing boldly on a rock shelf.

The divine One, our Mother: her love for her creation is not always reflected in the violence of nature, but taking a longer view, life nevertheless springs forth and evolves. All life matters to her—from the salamander to the eagle to the human. And all life, it seemed to me, sees creation as an extension of their mother who birthed and nourishes them. I didn’t know what wild animals think of the predator who threatens them. Perhaps it reminds them of the violence of their births, of their coming into the world before their mother succored them.

When we were alone, the ranger came by and we chatted. He was asking everyone to be conservative on the use of firewood.

We still made a fire. It was more difficult this time reguiring more tinder and kindling. I spent more time on it, I think, this time than Celine did. We went to bed early; it might have been 8:30, half-hour past dark.

Saturday

I finally got up at 6:15. I hardly slept at all during the night, and now I was achy, especially my neck. It was frigid. There was a thermometer nailed to the post of the lean-to, and its mercury hovered just above forty degrees. My fingers would become numb whenever I took off my gloves. At 8:00 it still read only 44 degrees. I relished my coffee and the calories from my cereal. Celine stayed in her sleeping bag a while longer than I did. The lake was completely misted over. After a while, only the top of Pharaoh Lake showed.

We left Pharaoh Lake a little after nine, hiking back north half-a-mile the way we had come, on the Pharaoh-Lake-Trail, until we came to the Grizzle-Ocean-Trail. We took this away from Pharaoh Lake all the way back to the car at the Putnam Pond Campground.  We arrived about 1:30, packed the car, and used the campground toilets before we headed out at 2:20. Then I drove us home, stopping a few times to stretch my back and once for a nap.

Mushrooms

On this trip, Celine took up quite an interest in the variety of mushrooms we saw. Here is a sampling of a few of them:

Introductory Blog Post

This site gives readers a window into my life.

I have three blogs:

This site, in other words, is intended as a resource to help readers (like yourself) get to know me more as a person, who I am. It is selective, as are all our personas; nonetheless it is a window into my life, and, I hope—to the discerning and loving eye—my soul.

A person can learn more about me by reading the link at the top of the page. We each are a wonderful gift of the divine Creatrix to each other. May I be such to you.