A view from the pulpit: Two kinds of new

cathedral

By Rev. Corin Child

22nd September 2014

We’re three days into term, and I guess for most of us it’s still feeling fairly new. If you were here last term, the people and the places that were regular parts of your life before will be different, and I wonder if you’ve done the thing yet where you walk somewhere out of habit, and then you realise: hang on, it’s a new term. Things have changed; I’m supposed to be over there.

If you weren’t here last term, then everything will seem even new. There’s a fair number of people here (and I’m one of them) who won’t be walking to the wrong place out of habit, because we don’t even have those habits yet.

Today I want to talk about new things. First of all, there are two different kinds of new. If you have a bit of French, you may know that across the channel there is a distinction that we don’t make in English. There’s the word ‘neuf’, which means brand new, something shiny that’s just come out of the packet. If you describe a car as being ‘neuf’, then it’s just come out of the showroom. The other word for new is ‘nouveau’, which means that something is new to you.  ‘Nouveau’ doesn’t mean that the thing itself is new. You could buy a 25-year-old Vauxhall Nova with a crack in the windscreen and no rear bumper – but if it’s your first car, then it’s still nouveau, it’s a fresh experience for you.

I want to consider a couple of things that I hope demonstrate the difference between the two types of new. The first thing, I’ve brought with me.

This is a ZX81 personal home computer. It first came out in 1981, and when it did I wanted one immediately. This computer has one Kilobyte of memory. If I’ve got my maths right, a modern computer has several million times the memory of this rather feeble thing. To load a program onto this computer took several minutes with a tape recorder; although there weren’t many programs worth loading, because you can’t do much with 1K of memory. But when I first got this I was very excited, because home computers hadn’t really been available before. Suddenly you could buy this shiny new thing, and there was a whole shelf in WH Smith where you could buy programs that weren’t worth loading.

It was one of the newest things out there. 30 years later it looks a bit ridiculous. Because the novelty of things like this soon wears off. Something that is neuf today will not be neuf tomorrow – it won’t be shiny any more.

Then there’s the other kind of new – nouveau. To understand this kind of new, a good thing to look at is a cathedral. So look around you. This building is certainly not brand new. It’s a bit crumbly here and there. It’s tricky to heat. So why is it that people visit Norwich Cathedral every day and stop at the entrance, looking up, as if they’ve never seen anything like it before? Watch them sometime. I think that, for lots of people, there’s something here that is fresh every time you come in. I’m not sure what it is – maybe it’s the architecture, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the silence. Whatever it is, there’s something here that gets you every time.

I think it’s worth noticing the things that get us every time. Maybe it’s cathedrals; maybe it’s a song; maybe it’s the sunrise from your bedroom window. Find out what it is for you. There are so many things that have the whiff of obsolescence about them; so discover the things that have the whisper of eternity within them.

In today’s reading (Lamentations 3:19-23) we had these words: ‘God’s compassions never fail. They are new (nouveau) every morning.’ God is ready to start afresh with us every day. It doesn’t matter if yesterday went wrong. Today is a new day. God has given me a new day. That’s something you can say every time you come in here.

It’s a wonderful thing to feel refreshed like that. So, welcome to this new day, and I hope you find things in it that are nouveau.