Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021
Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse
Holland, Michigan

Architects and builders shape stone, metal, and wood around air.  Put more simply, they shape space -- the air we too often deem as “empty.”  We are amazed at musicians that have the ability to surround silence with glissandos, “runs,” hot beats or rhymes, and arpeggios played as 32nd notes.  Without the silence, the empty, these feats would be deemed by most here in the Western hemisphere as just “noise” -- not music.  Great writers and orators understand the power of punctuation -- utilizing the absence of words (space) to create energy and passion via the syntax.  In the short time I will speak with you today, I hope that you will have a deeper appreciation for the silence: understanding that pauses indeed can be pregnant and that “the empty” ripples with cosmic, divine energy.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the deep.  And the Spirit of God moved upon the waters.” -Genesis 1:1-2.  Without form -- darkness; moreover, darkness that went into the deep.  By limited human perspectives: nothingness.  But oh, we as Christ Believers know better.  There was the omnipresent, omnipotent God.  In nothingness, He is.  Fully imagine being a witness to the power of God in those moments: God moving electrons through the void; God birthing light OUT OF DARKNESS; God forming the layers of the earth (core, mantle, and crust) from the empty.  The first two verses of Genesis demonstrate the awesome power of God -- a God that literally took a void and out of the void created a world full of land, sea, and sky.  The power: God works with the void; God is there in the empty; His energy reverberates in the empty.

Well, you may be asking yourself why Dr. Griffin is talking about this at the Opening Convocation.  After days of moving in, meeting new people during orientation, and preparing for advising tomorrow and the start of classes on Tuesday -- life probably feels anything but empty.  My connection is life will be quite full here -- over a thousand classes to choose from each semester, nearly 300 instructors that could teach you, approximately 80 student co-curricular activities to think about being a part of (a recommendation I give to all of my advisees: join/commit to 1 or 2 activities your first year, grab as much free food and snacks from as many as your schedule will allow), and numerous community organizations and off-campus study programs to learn about it.  Your load could become quite full.  

Knowing that God’s majesty is perfected in the empty, I’d like to give you a piece of advice: carve out time to be with God in the quiet.  Have time where you can be still and come to God empty (no agenda, no prayer requests) -- waiting for Him to fill you as perfectly, uniquely, divinely as only God can.  In a sense, be the architect and musician -- create the space for the silence, for the empty.

One way you encounter the empty is through your courses.  Your instructors will craft and give you assignments in which you may not know all the answers.  Sometimes, they may even call on you in class (I know!).  Too often, we run away from things that make us uncomfortable; we flee from subjects that we deem we “aren’t good at.”  Have a growth mindset -- recognize those subjects or disciplines that we may feel are our weakest, can be sources of strengths -- canvases waiting for God’s powerful, majestic artwork.  Your professors know this to be true: they have devoted their lives to studying questions they don’t know the answers to.  They search and search (research) striving to understand a bit more about God’s handiwork -- His world and His people.  Your professors, as witnesses here today, run to the unknown -- the unknown is the source of publications, grants, and presentations that help them and their colleagues understand a bit more about how the social, physical, artistic, and natural worlds work (and how these worlds work together).  It is my hope that you experience the transformative power of the unknown before you leave us.

Put simply, I am asserting that there is much more power and potential in the unknown, the empty, than the known.  The “empty” is the space where you will more fully develop -- recognizing what you do not know, embracing what you do not know, and collaborating with your peers, faculty, and staff as you sit in the empty.  While in this space, know that the energy is there: neurons are firing (quickly!).  Connections are being formed and strengthened, habits of mind are embodied, and your being, yes your very essence, will begin to dictate your actions and decisions.  In the silence, you hear your Godly call -- it is a whisper that pierces your heart, convicts your body, and transforms your mind.  In these quiet spaces over time, visions are revealed, plans are perfected, servant scholars are developed.  Listen to the empty: God speaks life and provides energy to craft you. 

Newest Hope family members, you are entering a time when conflict, derision, and division are high -- in fact, celebrated.  Simultaneously, harmony, and empathy are quite low and often scorned as weak or non-committal.  Commit to listening to the empty -- commit to seek God’s understanding (not leaning on your own) -- commit to learning about as much of God’s world and God’s people as you can.  

Hear these words by Dom Helder Camara, Servant of God:

Hope without risk

is not hope,

which is believing

in risky loving,

trusting others

in the dark, 

the blind leap

letting God take over.

Seek the unknown -- rest in the space -- listen to the empty: God’s transformative energy is there.