A blank canvas


A blank canvas

Students return to the Wartburg College campus.

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…" (Genesis 1)

Early fall is probably my favorite time of the year. Toward the end of August you can feel it approaching. Campus springs back to life after the summer hiatus. Athletes begin to arrive, colleagues reappear and plans for the new year are finalized.

By the end of the month this slow trickle has become a torrent as the first-year students arrive for orientation and finally the upper-class students arrive. There are opening convocations, dinners and excited conversations about what this year may bring. But it’s really the return of the students that gives us new life because it reminds us of our mission and why we do what we do.

Experimenting with the lectionary

This year has been especially poignant for me because of a new experiment that is shaping the life of our community. We’re participating in something called "The Narrative Lectionary" which was developed by Rolf Jacobsen and Craig Koester, faculty members at Luther Seminary.

In a nutshell the Narrative Lectionary is an effort to immerse the people of God in the great biblical story, from Genesis to Revelation. Starting with the creation story we move through Scripture looking at a different text each week. The lectionary changes from year to year so that each time we hear the story in a slightly different way.

There are many reasons why the Narrative Lectionary is a great tool, but the one that stands out to me at the beginning of the school year is the correspondence between the biblical story and the rhythms of our lives. The new year may begin in January, but in actual practice it is in the month of September with the start of school and a return to routine that the year really begins.

So we started several weeks ago "In the Beginning" with Genesis 1 as our text for worship and Bible study. With the first-year students we focused on that pregnant moment of possibility before God began to create, when the earth was a "formless void" or a "blank canvas" so to speak.

Without form and void

Our visual focal point for the week was a blank canvas, representing both the Genesis account and the new lives these students were beginning at Wartburg. Through this metaphor the power of God’s story helped us see where God is at work in our own new beginnings, connecting the operative biblical and cultural narratives.

As this new year begins I invite you to read Genesis 1 again, paying particular attention to the moment just before God created the heavens and the earth, when the world was a dark and formless void, a blank canvas waiting to be painted. As you consider this moment and the beginning of this year, resist the temptation to immediately put something down on the canvas.

Take a moment to sit next to God as God looks upon the dark and formless void and consider the question: What might God be up to in my life this new year? How will God’s creative work inspire my creativity, and the picture that I paint on this blank canvas?

May God bless your work as this new year begins.


Brian Beckstrom is campus pastor at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

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