I continued to investigate the problem of discernment. I looked for something more recent and found it in The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer, by Romano Guardini. According to Monsignor Guardini, “It may happen in contemplation that we have a strange experience. We may have been reflecting on God in faith alone. Suddenly, God is present … a wall which was there before is there no more.” Okay, this spoke directly to my situation.
According to Guardini, there follows a period of divided reactions: “Our intuition tells us that this is God or at any rate connected with Him. The intimation may frighten us. [‘Yes,’ I thought.] We do not know whether we dare presume that this intuition is true and we are uncertain what to do. [‘Yes, exactly.’] However, the intuition becomes a certainty, even an absolute certainty which leaves no room for doubt. [‘That is true also.’]”
However, Guardini says, doubts may return “when we discover that other people have no knowledge of these things.” Yes, the problem of what will other people think. This, he says, can lead to total unbelief. “It may also happen that one doubts whether the whole experience had not merely been a delusion or temptation.” Well, I never went that far. But all is not lost, he says, if one follows this advice. “In the face of these difficulties and doubts one should remain calm and trust in God. One should submit to His will and pray for enlightenment.” “Thus,” he concludes, “faith is fortified and love becomes pure.”
In short, there is a problem in believing every voice you hear. But there is also a problem if, having sensed the divine presence, you give in to doubt.
“Lord, I am skeptical by nature and that worries me.”
Don’t worry about doubting unless it interferes with faith. Doubting is a natural response of a thinking mind to conflicting evidence. You may doubt—you might always doubt—but faith must transcend doubt as it transcends knowledge.
I determined to follow that path, maintaining a critical distance on my experience of God while, at the same time, yielding to divine guidance. It is not an easy balance to strike, but it seems to be a challenge at the heart of the life of faith. Would I be up to the challenge?