Reading between the lines: Novelty

Picture c/o

During the Easter weekend, I picked up a book containing selections from the writings of CS Lewis. One of the pages I read whist flicking through concerned novelty. As I read it, I realised that what he was describing was the counter-impulse to adventure, about which I had just written.

The desire for novelty, the yearning after new thrills day after day is, according to Lewis, a corruption of God’s intention for us. In The Screwtape Letters he has his senior demon, Screwtape, write to his apprentice saying:

“We [demons] pick out [the] natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. […] Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.”

“Since they need change,” he had explained earlier in his letter,

“the Enemy [by which he means God] has made change pleasurable to them… But since He does not wish them to make change…an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.”

God has given us seasons so that just as we’re growing tired of the grey and cold of winter, spring comes along. I don’t know about you, but every year I am filled with joy to see the daffodils in bloom again. They are predictable and regular, but exciting and delightful nonetheless. The demand for novelty, Screwtape tells his reader, “diminishes pleasure while increasing desire.”

“The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.”

With weddings very much in mind this past couple of weeks, it is the ‘inconstancy in marriage’ line which most struck home to me here. The desire for novelty is of course by no means the only cause of infidelity, but it is certainly a powerful one. The world says ‘Huh, typical of God, if I get bored with the person I’m married to, he just wants me to stay in that relationship and be miserable for the rest of my life. He doesn’t really want what’s best for me after all (because of course ‘what is best for me’ equates to ‘what I feel like doing now’).’

That’s why it is important to emphasise that God isn’t just a ‘cosmic killjoy’. He does want us to find joy and fulfilment, but he knows that we find that most fully in discovering the joy of the rhythm of life, and the adventure of giving ourselves to Him and to others.

How does committing ourselves to the rhythms of life and its seasons bring us greater thrills than always seeking the next ‘high’? It’s a mystery, but it’s a mystery similar to the one the Bishop of London spoke of in his address to William and Kate yesterday:

“Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.”

Through commitment and stability once the novelty wears off, we find something richer and deeper than we will ever find by flitting from one thrill to the next, always seeking the new buzz and the fresh experience.

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