My longing is for the Lord, the Blessed One incarnated in Jesus the Christ, whose coming reveals that the divinity, though one, is a Trinity of persons, the shared essence of whom is love. My longing is to know this One and to know the embodiment of the presence of this divine One in the createdness of nature, our bodies, and our personal relationships with one another. (See What I Believe.)
The great Origen once said, “I want to be a man of the church. I do not want to be called by the name of some founder of a heresy, but by the name of Christ, and to bear that name which is blessed on the earth. It is my desire, in deed as in spirit, both to be and to be called a Christian.” This is also my desire, to be such a person.
I am a Franciscan, a professed member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans since 2000. Like Francis and Clare, I desire to live according to the form of the Gospel. Besides Francis and Clare themselves and the gems we find in the Early Documents (New City Press), great luminaries of the Franciscan theological and spiritual tradition include intellectuals such as Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, and women such as Rose of Viterbo, Angela of Foligno, Margaret of Cortona, and Queen Sancia of Naples. Franciscan theology, spirituality, and ethics is an interpretation of Christianity at odds with most forms of popular American Christianity, and often antithetical to it, whether we are considering forms of civic religion (conservative, mainline and progressive), prosperity teachings, or the varieties of what is today labeled Dominion Theology. I make it a point to read a portion of the Early Documents and something on Clare and her movement every day.
My mother—whose rector when she was growing up in Bellerose, Long Island, was Jonathan G. Sherman (later Bishop of Long Island, an occasional dinner guest and long-time friend of the family, and late in life, my friend)—left the Episcopal Church on account of the Episcopal Church not recognizing the legitimacy of her second marriage. In the year of my birth, 1957, I was therefore baptized in the Lutheran Church (since my father’s parents were immigrants from Sweden). The family came back to the Episcopal Church, however, in the summer of 1965, when I was eight years old.
Confirmation and Consecration
On the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, October 4, 1970, my baptism was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by the laying on of hands of the Suffragan Bishop Richard Beamon Martin at Christ Church, Bellport, Long Island. At that time I was under the pastoral care of Father Francis Spitzer until his death on May 24, 1971. Then Father Herbert Thompson, Jr.—later Bishop of Cincinnati—became my pastor. Not long after my Confirmation and the death of Frank Spitzer, on October 8, 1971, at the Jesus People’s Coffee House in West Sayville, I consecrated my life to Christ.
Name, Offspring, Residence
My name is Petra Aleah Strand. I am a parent of one amazing daughter attending Oberlin College and another amazing daughter who is the mother of twin two-year-old girls. Currently, I live in the town of Teaneck in the state of New Jersey.
I work in retail as a sales specialist at Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) in Paramus, hired on the basis of my experience as an outdoors person (I have been a backpacker for 30 years—converting to ultralight over 20 years ago—and am an avid hiker and canoeist). I love nature, and I love wilderness and whenever I can be out where it is wild—and beautiful and vast—and where people are sparse.
Calling and Ecclesial Experience
In terms of calling I am a teacher, preacher and pastor—a teacher of divinity (historical and dogmatic theology, Christian spirituality, the Scriptures and so on), a preacher of the church, and a shepherd of souls—and was regularly involved in the “Ministry of the Word and Sacraments” from 1991 to 2015, twenty-four years.
- Most recently I labored in the town of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, where as an ordained minister of the PCUSA I was the sole pastor of the First Presbyterian Church from the summer of 2000 to the end of July 2015. Ours was the only congregation in the Presbytery that had weekly communion, and we did this for over a decade by the time I left. I served them both full- and half-time and resigned when the church could no longer pay me a half-time salary.
- Simultaneously I was the sole pastor of Christ Lutheran Church (an ELCA congregation) in the same town, serving half-time from 2000 to 2004 until it closed. Brother Clark Berge of Little Portion Friary, a member of the First Order, Society of Saint Francis, Province of the Americas (Episcopal Church), preached at my installation there.
- In various capacities, I also served the First Presbyterian Church of Far Rockaway, Queens, from 1991 to 2000. I began serving them as a student intern under the mentoring of the Rev. Carol Ann Miller and then as her assistant pastor. She was followed by the Rev. Dr. Gerald Johnson. When he left, I served as the Stated Supply until I became ordained in 1999. Father Masud Ibn Syedullah of the Third Order, Society of Saint Francis, Province of the Americas (Anglican Communion), preached on that occasion. I served the Far Rockaway congregation for another year as the Interim Pastor.
- Before this, I was involved in the Christian Believers Meeting in Flushing, New York, from 1975 to 1990, for fifteen years. Without any comparison, it was with them that I had my most profound experience of worship. While everyone there helped form me, the most significant tutor I had while I was among them was Margaret Chapin. She died of a brain tumor in 1990, during my first semester at Union Theological Seminary.
What is next? I am trusting in divine providence and the anointing of the Holy Spirit to lead me.
In terms of my education:
- At Empire State College (S.U.N.Y.) I majored in Religious Studies, a multidisciplinary program of my own design, and graduated in 1990.
- I then spent three years studying at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. With Dr. Phyllis Trible as my academic advisor and the Rev. Dr. James Melvin Washington as my thesis reader (my second reader being the Rev. Canon Dr. Richard Alfred Norris, Jr.), I was awarded in 1993 not only the Masters of Divinity Degree but the monetary Hitchcock Award for my masters thesis and for having done the best work in church history.
- Skipping a year, I continued postgraduate studies at the Union Theological Seminary as a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in the field of Early Church History (Patristics) until 2002, the Rev. Dr. Richard Norris, Jr., working with me as my advisor. My focus was on fifth century Alexandrian theology (seen through its Biblical hermeneutics in both sermons and commentaries and how these were shaped by the philosophical and rhetorical education of the day) and how this shaped the Chalcedonian Definition. I was and continue to be interested in the eremitic spirituality of the wilderness (men and women’s), the subsequent monastic, mendicant, and anchoritic movements of the church, and the Beguines and Beghards. During the time when I worked on my doctorate, I also tutored Medieval and Reformation Church History. After seven years, however, overcome by other demands on my time, energy and resources (both personal and professional), I withdrew.
- Since that time I continued to study religion, spirituality, philosophy and psychology independently.
- I also studied coaching at the Institute of Life Coach Training;
- and at the General Theological Seminary, I briefly studied Christian spirituality with the Rev. Dr. Clair McPherson.
- Besides this, I was trained, registered, and twice certified as a yoga instructor and I taught yoga and meditation from 2008 to 2013. I studied with Debra Lauren in Teaneck (who teaches Iyengar yoga at Yoga Vita) and was certified by both Brooke Boon of Phoenix (who teaches Holy Yoga, an adaptation of Anusara) and Paulie Zink of the Yin Yoga Institute (who teaches a form of Qigong called Yin Yoga, Yin Yang Yoga, or Taoist Yoga. Though often not credited, all forms of “Yin Yoga” originated with him; his though is probably the only one that is truly Taoist). I also studied Centering Prayer on my own and was instructed in Vipassana Meditation by Suki Park.
I am seriously considering a new library career as an archivist and preservationist. I was accepted into the graduate program at Simmons and completed one semester in the Fall of 2016. One of the Fireside Poets, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), might have spoken for me when he wrote in 1858 in The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, chapter 9, “I was born and bred … among books and those who knew what was in them,” and chapter 6, “I like books,—I was born and bred among them, and have the easy feeling, when I get into their presence, that a stable boy has among horses.” (See http://www.eldritchpress.org/owh/abt.html.) I too love books, especially old books, and the culture of books. I spent many many hours in the stacks of the Burke Library and its archives at 3041 Broadway. Whether I continue on this course depends on my discernment and wherewithal.
I plan to take more seminary courses at the Drew Theological School in Madison New Jersey and also to become certified in Clinical Pastoral Education.
Besides spending time in the wild, which nourishes my imagination, and reading, I love to write long fiction (though I have not yet attempted to publish).
I am transsexual, a trans woman. I have occupied the world of both genders: for most of my life I tried my best to live in the role of a man; in 2014 I finally transitioned to who I have always been—a woman. This is who I am before God, who I have always been, the actual one whom God created and redeemed. In a way, this is not a big deal because I have never been anyone else; it is just that no one else knew my actual gender and I spent my life confused about it. That confusion and my coming out of it, of course, was a big deal (though not everyone was surprised when they found out). On my 58th birthday, I wrote a short reflection on my life, a snapshot, not a memoir or autobiography. You may read it by tapping the link.
Life Purpose Statement
The following is a statement of my Life Purpose which I wrote to go with the statement of What I Believe and my Rule of Life.
In the “key” of Franciscan spirituality and its intellectual tradition,
I want to continually [re]turn to become my true self
(the self known to and created and loved by God) by
- seeking to contemplate the Divine One in created-ness
(pursuing an affective life and intellectual conversion) which entails
- regular prayer
- and meditative speculatio
- while loving, exploring and sharing myself autonomously, creatively and helpfully
(in convivial, personalist and caring communities)
- being loved and loving others
- practicing minimalism and parrhesia
- and engaging in writing and physical work
- and becoming close to nature — natural things, their haecceity and collective integrity
(aware of nature as reality and, in harmony with her, reflecting her as part of her) — for which I would like to
- keep in good physical condition
- spend time outdoors
- and live in as natural a manner in as natural a setting as I can
while not only respecting and caring for nature but enhancing her well-being
until “Sister Bodily Death” returns me to the Beloved One, the Creatrix who wombed and wooed me.
Purpose of This Website
The purpose of this website is to share myself and my reflections, to chronicle how some of my thinking has changed and developed, and to publish my views on the meaningful life. It includes extensive Biblical expositions and has serious theological content. I hope you enjoy reading at my website.
I originally planned to use the following categories when I posted my blogs. What happened did not work out this way. Most of my posts are expositions of the four gospels, my constant meditation for many years.
- The first category would contain my reflections on the subject of the Christian revelation (God’s revelation within Christianity). Originally I thought it would have covered the Gospel and apostolic age, the New Testament, and the theology of revelation and spirituality. I included here Bible expositions in the form of sermon notes.
- The second category on Personalism has to do with the heart. It should cover topics like friendship and love, family and home.
- The third category is Creativity and has to do with the soul. I thought it would cover psychoanalysis and dream-work, creative writing, writing fiction, and arts and crafts.
- The fourth category concerns Contemplation and has to do with body and spirit. It was going to cover what is called “yoga” and Qigong: postures, movement and breathing (chi, and balancing the yin and yang aspects of the five elemental expressions); lectio divina and meditatio; vipassana and contemplatio (Christian contemplative prayer); and the training, practice, and teaching of them. Over the years, however, my understand and practice, enriched by all this, has developed in a decidedly more Franciscan (and less specifically Eastern) direction.
- The fifth category is Nature or creation. It was my intention to cover (my) being a contemplative woodswoman and naturalist; hiking, backpacking and canoeing; and the importance of wilderness for ecological balance and planetary sanity.
- The sixth category is Relocalization, which is about community. I wanted it to cover green living, environmentalism and deep ecology; the realization of permaculture principles in the transitional community; and relocalization and reskilling after the “age of energy.” In other words, this would be about the creation of sustainable community environments hospitable to personalism.
- The seventh category on Apostolic Labor has to do with the churches. It was going to be about the revelation of Christ, through the Scriptures, in the church, and the apostolic labor to establish local churches (the outcome of revelation being the churches). This has been a lifelong interest, and I always felt, and still feel, that my “vision” was (and is) antithetical to and in spite of what is created by large institutional organizations, which are necessarily governed by very different principles.
I recommend that for now, instead of following these categories, which are laid out at the bottom of the heading, the reader follow the pages I created and laid out across the top.