November 6, 2006
A hymn, familiar to many of you, begins, “Breathe on me breath of God, / Fill me with life anew.” As we gather beneath the wind turbine on this misty November morning to celebrate the founding of our college, this hymn verse takes on a particular resonance. Founder’s day sounds like an occasion for retrospection, and indeed it is. A great strength of St. Olaf is the unobstructed view we have of our past and, indeed, our origins. Our clear understanding and appreciation of who we are as a college, of where we came from, of who brought us thus far along the way, empowers us as we seek to live our identity today.
But at the same time, we don’t want our vision on Founder’s Day directed only at the past. We want both to be reminded where we came from and to reflect on where we are headed. We want to be thinking about how, in light of our past, we should craft our future: in short, we want to be thinking about “life anew.”
This beautiful, sculptural machine looms above us as a tangible marker on the road ahead. Generating one-third of the electricity we need to run the college, it reduces our dependency on other sources for energy, reduces our energy costs, and–most importantly– lightens the footprint of St. Olaf College on the land that we steward for future generations. It represents a new model for energy production. It exemplifies our College living out its ideals. It is the future. It is Life Anew.
This turbine is powered by the breath of God, just as our college and we who live and work, who teach and learn, here are sustained in our daily lives and in our service to the college by our good and powerful Creator. Christian vocabulary, the history of Christian theology, the symbols of the church, and indeed the Old and New Testament all return over and over again to the metaphor of the wind to describe the human experience of the Divine, and the figurative language that we use to depict the wind leads us directly back to God. When we think of God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind or of the apostles receiving divine inspiration on Pentecost we associate wind with the presence of our Creator.
So it is in Northfield today. As we look heavenward and see the wind turbine, as we hear the whooshing sound created by the sweep of its blades, we are mindful of the presence of God among us, sustaining our work, inspiring our lives, and creating in us the sense of common purpose that gives meaning to our vocations and propels our college forward. It is fitting that on Founder’s Day we dedicate this wind turbine, that we feel the Breath of God, and that we celebrate not only our past, but our Life Anew.
David R. Anderson ’74