I mentioned John Chapman’s Spiritual Letters in a previous post, since when I’ve taken delivery of my copy of the book. Some good stuff in there, though equally I haven’t fully got my head round Abbot Chapman’s concept of contemplative prayer.
One particularly helpful strand relates to Abbot Chapman’s advice to those doubting the Faith. Not in the sense of having intellectual doubts about particular doctrines, so much as the more general sense that – as I’ve written about before – “It’s all nonsense, Ted.”
Chapman’s response to this is robust:
I should advise you simply to despise temptations against the Faith, and not take them seriously. Those “flashes” mean nothing at all, as you have rightly perceived. (pp.40f.)
He expands on this in a later letter (no doubt the letter to which Rowan Williams was alluding in his lecture), where he writes:
In the 17th-18th centuries most pious souls seem to have gone through a period in which they felt sure that God had reprobated them. … This doesn’t seem to happen nowadays.
But the corresponding trial of our contemporaries seems to be the feeling of not having any faith; not temptations against any particular article (usually), but a mere feeling that religion is not true. It is an admirable purgative, just as the 18th cent. one was; it takes all pleasure out of spiritual exercises, and strips the soul naked. It is very unpleasant. …
The only remedy is to despise the whole thing, and pay no attention to it – except (of course) to assure our Lord that one is ready to suffer from it as long as He wishes, which seems an absurd paradox to say to a Person one doesn’t believe in! But then, that is the trial. Faith is really particularly strong all the time. (p.47)
(Note: the emphasis on “despise” is in the original, in both the above quotations.)
Now, clearly, that advice is not for everyone. Where someone has genuine questions about a particular teaching, that needs to be addressed seriously. But where it is just that general sense that “It’s all nonsense, Ted!”, then Chapman’s advice simply “to despise the whole thing and pay no attention to it” seems sound.