Eternal Reality

This week I was able to sit at the feet of Jesus, in His presence in the Eucharist. Our parish just started offering Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for 12 hours every Tuesday, and I jumped on it. I stepped out after dinner dishes and got back in time to help with brushing teeth and bedtime; it was perfect. I had been wanting to establish the habit of regular Adoration for a while—not just experience it here and there at special events or retreats. I had sensed God drawing me into His presence in the Sacrament; and when I knelt facing the Eucharist in the quiet chapel I knew why. 

He knew that I regularly need my vision to eternal reality restored. He knows that I get repeatedly sucked into the world’s version of what is “real.” It can so quickly consume, take over, and distract my heart from living for heaven; and when that happens, I—we all—lose our peace.

In our journey through this life there are endless sources constantly pulling us out of the eternal reality. Numerous siren calls lure us off our heavenly course with compelling whispers: “Maintain your pride, flatter your vanity, shower yourself with comforts.” Slowly we drift from the safe currents of Eternal Truth, sailing for a time among falsely calm waters of what the world assures us is most real. We are suddenly alarmed when we find our ships dashed against perilous rocks. We have lost our anchor in true reality; we’ve become untethered from the eternal.

In the silent power of His presence, I was immersed in the eternal reality. It was as if I had stepped through a veil into another world. I could still see the physical world around me; I knew well what waited for me outside those church doors. But the presence of God and the promise of what will never change—a hope for here and a home being prepared for me—was overwhelmingly present and real to me. I was able to see truly the lies that I let in; I was able to right my course, because I was making myself available to God and cooperating with His grace. When we run to Him, He draws us into His harbor, which always restores our eyes of faith to a supernatural view. 

But that ethereal view isn’t visible from every stance. In fact, when we step out into the world away from His presence, there are many vantage points that angle out the eternal perspective. We can’t commune with eternal souls through glowing screens; we are unable to minister to Christ himself when we turn away from the faces that bear His image, faces of poverty and pain that make us uncomfortable. The endless compulsion to acquire more leaves us with less and less assurance of spiritual wealth. The over-extended and margin-less lives we live leave no room for contemplating eternal realities. 

Yet…when we find ourselves at such hopeless vantage points, we may always accept God’s gracious invitation of re-entry into true reality. He is there for us when we choose to step into those moments of grace and locations of His presence. Whether an hour in silent Adoration, a Sabbath Sunday’s inactivity and rest, or the quiet of early (or late) moments in the personal prayer of our “interior castles,” the Father is waiting to change our hearts, right our course, and renew our view of what is eternally real for our human souls. 

We go back into our physical reality with fresh life and clear vision. We live our vocations and look on the people in our lives with eyes of faith: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…” (Philippians 1:6). 

I came home from Adoration with the image of that heavenly glow radiating from around the Eucharist; and as I tucked little people into beds, I was aware of that veil of re-entry and the grace extended to see with heavenward vision. 

Copyright 2020 Jessica Ptomey

Christ Has Come to Be with You

Wonderful things often happen when few know they are taking place at that moment. That night in the Bethlehem stable was certainly the greatest of these. Quietly, in the solitary presence of Mary and Joseph, our savior came into our world.

Inns at max capacity and homes full of people slept on obliviously. Kings and rulers in palaces were none the wiser. Only a select few were given the gift of knowing the good news soon after. Humble, ordinary shepherds on a hill heard the angelic announcement that the Shepherd of Souls, from the line of the shepherd-king David, was born. Three kings followed a star that would lead them to the One who sits on the eternal throne.

But at first it was just the Holy Family. Christ’s birth came silently and privately. The great joy of the coming of the Promised One was realized first by this chosen couple. It was intimate and personal, the opposite of the birth of any earthly king. 

I had been meditating through Advent this year, and now through this joyous Christmas week, on how the coming of Christ in our hearts, daily, is meant to be the same quiet, intimate, personal experience. He comes to us in our humility. It is not a fanfare on display to the world around us; it is the precious, private stillness of His presence in the mangers of our souls. 

What is of course miraculous is that this is accomplished simultaneously in every heart. His coming to each of us is so personal; it is always our own quiet moment, like a mother’s singular embrace of her baby right after birth. The crowds don’t know what happens here; no loud announcements have yet been made. He just comes to us individually, lighting our darkness, filling us with joy. And then, it is our lives that become the proclamation. We become the angels on the hills; we become the star that shines the way. But it is humble beginnings; it is an intimate initial encounter.

During this Christmas week, seek the quiet, humble stable. Look for His birth in your hearts with new eyes and new appreciation for the intimate and personal way that your savior comes to you. It’s a manger of hay; it’s a cross of wood; it’s through simple bread and wine. It’s in the broken human heart. He comes and transforms us, and once transformed we transmit His glory and radiance to the world around us. 

This truly is the wonder of Christmas: Emmanuel, “God has come to be with us.” He has come individually, personally, to each of us. Embrace the quiet coming of your king. Delight in it. He has come to be with you. 

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

My Advent Plans

It’s that time. The liturgical year of the Church is drawing to a close, and we start again. Advent. This is perhaps the most difficult season in which to live intentionally, at least at first. But I find, being a convert to Catholicism, that as the years go by and liturgical habits take deeper root, the resting/waiting/reorienting becomes second-nature. I thought I would share some of my (*planned*) habits for this Advent season, and perhaps they will spark ideas for your life and family rhythms.

What I’m reading/contemplating/praying…

Here’s what’s in my book stack:

  • The Liturgy of the Hours — I don’t think that we can pick better for ourselves than what the Church has already selected for us to be praying and reading together. I’m excited about the Psalms, prayers and antiphons that await me during Morning Prayer and the selections from the Office Of Readings that I will be reading and praying with my husband.
  • Grounded in Hope Bible study — I lead a Walking With Purpose (WWP) study in my home (I’m also the co-ordinator for the program at my parish if you are local and want to join a study!), and this year my group is working through Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews. As always, the topic for the lesson we are currently on seems perfectly timed: REST! There is so much good Scripture and truth on this topic to apply during my Advent journey.
  • Be Still — Lisa Brenninkmeyer, the founder of WWP, just released a beautiful devotional for women that is full of reflections on Scripture and catechism passages. My husband surprise-gifted it to me (just ’cause he’s awesome), and I’m excited to have it in my reading stack. And yes…God’s clearly echoing this theme of “resting” in Him.
  • Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany — I’m so excited to jump into this one! This year I resolved to always be in a book of poetry, reading at least one poem a day. At the beginning of the year I discovered Malcolm Guite’s poetry compilations. He has a book for Lent as well, which was my Lenten poetry, and it was wonderful. If poetry isn’t part of your life, I encourage you to adopt the practice of “a poem a day”. This book during the season of Advent would be a great way to start this habit…and kick off the new liturgical year!

What I’m listening to…

Last year I revamped and shared my Spotify Advent playlists — traditional and contemporary — that I play aloud in our house throughout the days of Advent. So I have those; but our friend Fr. Matt Fish has shared his curated Advent playlist on Twitter, and it is fantastic. It will be on repeat around here! I think that intentional music selections are such a wonderful way to set the liturgical tone in the home, helping us to all enter into the message and waiting of Advent and then into the message and celebration of Christmas. The thing is, there is more amazing Advent-themed music out there than you have time to listen to through all of Advent; you just need to have it ready to go. So just click, “follow,” and you are all set!

What I’m doing with my family…

We continue our meaningful family traditions from years past:

  • Dinner Table Advent Candles — We have a tradition of rolling our own beeswax Advent candles with the kids (who love it!). It sounds fancier and more time consuming than it is. We usually get this kit (which makes three sets) and invite friends to make them with us. Throughout the Advent season we light the candle(s) and sing the first verse of “O Come Emmanuel” before we say the blessing for our dinner meal.
  • Jesse Tree — When my oldest was a baby, I made this quilted/felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. I decoupaged ornaments that correspond to passages in the Jesus Story Book Bible (there are lots of options on Etsy for these ornaments). The selected stories with corresponding ornament symbols unfold the story of salvation history. We read one story each morning from December 1 to 24. This is definitely my kids favorite part of Advent…and mine too. I’ve been know to get choked up at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s beautiful diction.
  • St. Nicholas Day — The kids “put out their shoes” before bed on December 5th, and when they wake up on the Feast of St. Nicholas they have been filled with clementines and chocolate coins. And each child gets a Christmas book to add to our collection.
  • O Antiphons — I have shared here about how we incorporate O Antiphons in evening family prayer time from December 17-23.
  • Distinct Decor — We like to wait on Christmas decorations so that they are fresh for the Christmas season, and we like to let Advent have it’s own progression of decor to usher in Christmas. Decorations in the home are great signifiers of the liturgical season for the whole family. In our home, there’s usually a purple cloth on the prayer table, the Advent wreath on the kitchen table, and a gradual nativity scene (baby Jesus gets hidden somewhere in the house until Christmas morning!). Around the final week of Advent, we put up our Christmas tree with a simple purple ribbon around it and most of the other more time-consuming decorations for the house. But we wait to put all the ornaments on the tree until December 24th.

Why Advent is significant for me…

When we first became Catholic (about six years ago), I didn’t really understand the distinctness of the Advent season. I have a chapter on the liturgical seasons in my forthcoming book, and in it I describe my journey to understanding the significance of Advent, particularly as an antidote to our commercialized inculturation of Christmas. Living fully in the Advent season, as with living fully in any season of the life of the Church, ultimately focuses us on the meaning and consequence of the Incarnation. Living the liturgical year with intention helps us to conceive of our own lives in the story of salvation history, to meditate on the life of Christ, and to contemplate and live expectantly for our final home with Him in heaven.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey