The Write Idea


An Advent Sermon

Filed under: living rituals,Sermon — ljcollins @ 8:33 pm
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I’m not in the habit of posting my sermons as blog posts, but maybe that will change. Here goes. If you are not familiar with the scripture reading, it will help to read it first.

Advent 4, December 23, 2012

Luke 1:39-56 

The story begins with two women: one old and presumed barren; one young and unmarried. Both now pregnant. One graced, one dis-graced. Two women bearing boys. Two women bearing the weight of the future in their wombs.

Mary and Elizabeth, each surprised by pregnancy, greet each other full of the Holy Spirit, full of humility – “Who am I that this should happen to me?” – and filled with amazement. God has chosen each of them from their places standing at the back of theater and pulled them onto center stage, into the middle of the drama of ongoing story of God’s presence in the world.

The story begins with Mary and Elizabeth, alive with possibilities they could not have imagined.

Years ago, when I wanted to be pregnant and was not, it seemed that everywhere I looked women were pregnant, glowing and joyous. When I saw mothers yelling at their toddlers I wanted to shake them, tell them what a priceless gift they had in front of them, tell them never to take for granted their ability to bring a precious soul into the world.

And then I became a mother and I understood the frustration of dealing with an obstinate toddler and perhaps became a bit less judgmental.

The joy, the glow, the happiness of bearing a child into this world is a precious gift, no doubt.

And it is also an invitation to a grief almost too difficult to bear.

This year we read the story of these two mothers preparing to bring their sons into the world –sons who would both come to brutally violent ends – and we can’t help but think of the mothers of Newtown, the mothers of those babies, only 6 and 7 years old.

This year those images are all too fresh, all too raw, but every year it is the same. Mothers watch their babies die. Of violence, of hunger, of disease. Months ago, I mentioned a 7 year old girl who had lived more than half of her life with cancer. This month she died.

To be a mother is to know the possibility of losing what is most precious in the world to you, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. Perhaps this is why, for me, one of the most wrenching images from Scripture is that of God groaning in labor, preparing to give birth to a new earth.

God – like Elizabeth, like Mary – bears the whole creation. God has gestated and labored us into being and now watches us, with the utter joy and unavoidable grief of a mother who loves her children beyond description.

And so it is fitting that the voice of a young mother sings these ancient words of hope:  “You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

On this last Sunday before Christmas, we are reminded that this Song of Mary, resplendent with the language of the prophets before her, is at the heart of the incarnation. That the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, into the world is a message of hope to all who are without hope, a promise of restoration to those who have lost much, an assurance  of encouragement for all who have been pressed down, an announcement of change to us all, powerful or powerless, full or hungry.

We don’t have to be mothers – or fathers – to understand the power of Mary’s song. We simply have to be awake.

Awake to the beauty that is around us, given into our care.

And awake to the pain.

On the Friday of the massacre, I was only vaguely aware of what was happening because my colleagues at Asheville Habitat for Humanity and I were focused on a different event. That day we celebrated a wall-raising for the 18th annual Warren Haynes Habitat House. Haynes is a rock star, best known for his years playing guitar with The Allman Brothers Band; he’s also traveled with the remaining members of The Grateful Dead, as well as leading his own band, Gov’t Mule.

Haynes is from Asheville and back in 1989, when he was home for Christmas, he decided to hold a charity benefit Jam with some of the other famous musicians from Western North Carolina that he knew would be in town for the holidays. That jam began an annual event that has grown into one of the premier music benefit events in the Southeast. Haynes now gives the money raised each year to Habitat for Humanity to sponsor a new home. He’s raised over $1 million for Asheville’s Habitat and helped 18 working-class families be able to buy safe and affordable homes. His fans gather on the days before the concert and volunteer for Habitat and at the end of the second day, together we raise the first wall to the new house.

That’s what I was focused on while most of the country was hearing the non-stop news out of Newtown. The Warren Haynes event was such a powerful coming together of community for mutual good that I didn’t take in the ugliness of Newtown until the next day. Then, I was sitting in a funeral for a friend’s husband and the grief hit me like a hurricane. I listened to the eulogies of the man who had died, also too young, and heard stories of his life-long work on behalf of the environment, his graciousness to all this co-workers, his gentle spirit, and I thought: those babies will never have the chance to grow up to share their gifts.

And, oh, this fragile world so needs every gift.

“You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Every year Christmas arrives in the midst of a world fraught with despair. And every year the gift we are given to face this despair is a baby: more helpless and vulnerable than even we.

And so, every year, we are Mary, bearing the Christ into the world – a vulnerable Christ, in need of our care if we are to see the gifts that God intends.

Every year, we are Mary, pregnant with the possibility of transformative love.

Every year, we are Mary, called to sing against the despair: “My soul magnifies my God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

This is our calling, this and every year: to magnify – to enlarge, to make visible – the saving grace that is yearning to be born into this world.

This is our challenge: to trust in the hope of revolutionary love that can turn the world upside-down, with those on the bottom lifted up and those too high for their own safety, brought down to the ground.

And not just to trust that this hope will arise magically in our midst, but to know that his hope will emerge miraculously from us, when we, like Mary, agree to be the bearers of Christ into a grief-stricken world.

The story begins with two women: one old and presumed barren; one young and unmarried. Both now pregnant. One graced, one dis-graced. Two women bearing boys. Two women bearing the weight of the future in their wombs.

The story begins with two outsiders, two nobodies, two brave and generous souls.

The story continues with us, when we greet each other with amazement and humility, awed by the task we’re given, amazed to feel the prophetic spirit leap within us.

The story continues with us, when we stand together, willing to be bearers of hope, agents of encouragement, announcers of change, givers of love.

The story continues with us when we dare to sing a song of light in the darkness.

“My soul magnifies my God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Not only in the days of joy, in the hours of peace, in the times of wonder, but here, now, always: in the midst of violence, in the shadow of despair, let us magnify our God, let us make God visible, let us allow ourselves to be enlarged with the love longing to be born.

And, like Mary, let us sing.

No matter what. Let us sing.



Magazine Month

Apparently, March is a good magazine month for me. I’m grateful to the beautiful Laurel of Asheville Magazine for featuring my new book, Sacred Separations: The Divorce Ritual Workbook.

In addition, I have another article in WNC Woman, a lovely magazine where I’ve been privileged to write about several of WNC’s amazing women over the past few years.

The Laurel also listed my upcoming retreat with the fabulous Barrie Barton in the calendar, so that any of you facing the possibility of change (and who isn’t?), might come and find a way to move more smoothly across those choppy waters. Check it out and pass it along.




Filed under: family,living rituals — ljcollins @ 2:43 pm

I first began to blog after my marriage broke up. I was alone and in a new city and, frankly, scared. I started a semi-anonymous blog, not using my real name, but letting some of my friends know where to find me. Through this strange web of words, I discovered a universe of cyber connections. Not virtual relationships, but real ones. In many cases I never met the people on the other end of the inner-toobs, but their honesty and mine forged genuine friendships. Our palpable human interactions created community. This surprised me: the intimacy, the sharing, the love I felt for so many people I met through the blogosphere. And when I got to meet some of them in the flesh, oh how rich and dear that was.

Life evolves. My cyber-community started drifting apart. Facebook grabbed our attention. And after two years, I was tired of keeping up the posts. I also didn’t want to be anonymous any more. I left behind my blog about the same time that I left behind my last regular paycheck. I needed to try something new. I needed to branch out. So I started my own business. I was clueless, but proud of myself for figuring out how to create my own website. Not a great website, mind you, but I did it myself. After a break from my old blog it seemed appropriate to start this new one reflecting this new life as a self-employed editor and writer.

And life evolved again. In 2010 I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my ordination to ministry. I knew I no longer wanted to be a pastor as I once was, but I recognized and chose to honor that ministry is still part of who I am. And thus was born my second business, even as I kept up the first. And my second website, slightly better than the first. But I couldn’t manage another blog!

Now comes a new year and a new business. I am so grateful that an old friend visited recently and told me his story. When I sheepishly admitted I was starting my 3rd business in 3 years, he noted that most entrepreneurs (himself included) don’t really get going until their 4th or 5th business, but few ever make it that far, giving up after the 2nd or 3rd failure. That made me feel a bit better. Because I don’t see any of these ventures as failures. Fascinating experiments. Deep-end learning experiences. Ongoing possibilities, as I keep them alive, though not my current focus.

My writing about writing has slowed to a crawl here, on this blog, as I turned toward bringing to birth the two books I’ve been writing this past year. Now I am getting ready to publish one and to begin a major rewrite of the other. Whew. So, dear ones, thank you for being on this journey with me. Once my book babies are both launched into the world, I want to get back to helping other people bring their words to life. I’ve learned far too much not to share.

But in the meantime, look for an announcement … very, very soon. A book–and yes, a new blog–is coming your way!


Living Rituals

Filed under: living rituals — ljcollins @ 1:53 pm
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On a note of more personal news, my absence here this past month can be explained in part (I know, excuses, excuses) by another venture I’ve been in the process of launching.  Feel free to take a gander.

Blog at