So, your patient is going through one of those troughs that the man from Belfast described in his scurrilous, indecent, and, I need hardly add, inaccurate scrawl concerning the tactics we employ for the cause of Our Father Below? I hope she does not know about the troughs, Wumpick? that she has not read that book? Or at least, if she had read it (I seem to recall your predecessor mentioning it in his dossier) I hope that it was some time ago. Of course, she has heard of the book; but you will have taken care to associate it in her mind with what the humans call “interpersonal relations,” and managed to keep the more spiritual chapters out of, or at any rate, in the back of, her head. This is all well and good, especially if you can keep helping her see the faults of the fictitious patient, his fiancé, his mother, as well as the faults of the real, living people around her, but not those in herself. See that she applies the book’s lessons very well, very personally; and she will—apply them, well, personally—to every person but herself! See that it never enters her mind to do that.
And see also that it never enters her mind to consider (for example) the chapters on prayer, or on humility. I do not know whether the Enemy would altogether approve of everything said in them; but He can afford to be greedy when we cannot. He can afford to demand perfect love and perfect truth because He can supply the means to both; we cannot afford to demand perfect sin, for there is no such thing—though not, of course, for the reasons the Fat Doctor claimed. One can always sink deeper into the arms of Our Father Below. His is a genuine depth, a genuine infinity … But, as I was saying: the things that man from Belfast writes on prayer may not always be accurate, but they have been damaging to us, and would be especially damaging to our case with the patient at this time. Keep those parts of the book out of her mind; if they do crop up anyhow (the Enemy can always find a way when He wants it), be sure to deflect her to the parts of the book which we have rendered relatively harmless by dint of her imagination. As the man says somewhere in his libelous scribbles, most of our best work is done not by putting things into their heads but by keeping things out.
As for the trough itself—there are a number of ways we can use it. The best and simplest is the old standby of getting the patient to give up prayer, and acts of mortification and virtue, altogether. You might think this would be easy—human beings are intensely lazy in spiritual matters—but in point of fact, with a patient like yours it can be a difficult proposition. She has had the habit of doing those things for so long that even now, when they have ceased to offer her any real consolation or intellectual lift, she feels guilt when she omits any one of them. Guilt, my dear Wumpick! Guilt in a trough! It is almost unthinkable; the very nature of the trough, the definition of it provides that it involves a drought of emotions; but such is the slavery of these human animals to habit, that even under such dry conditions habit will take its toll. (I loath, with an eternal loathing the anonymous spiritual master who first discovered this truth. I hope he turned Origen and died a heretic. I hope he did.)
So you can try, Wumpick, to chip away at the patient's good habits, but I doubt very seriously whether you will have much luck. The better course, just as easy and more likely to succeed in the present case, is to fill her mind with doubts about the trough itself.
For example, you have no doubt considered the classic temptations to despair. I doubt whether one of the more extreme forms will do us good here—though one never knows! I have seen strange things done between one and two in the morning on a sleepless night. Still, simply introducing right out the notion that the enemy has abandoned her is not likely to carry much weight with the patient who has been a Christian this long.
There is, however, a more subtle form that has been wildly effective in a great many sensitive and religious souls. It is particularly funny when you can get men to believe it—men who are not really suffering are such aggrieved sufferers!—but it is easier to get a woman to believe, because it requires a certain amount of spiritual or at least psychological passivity.
The method is this. Without using the language of the Christian tradition, you are to suggest to the patient that the Enemy intends for her to suffer—not as a punishment (though that would be amusing too; see method 1: despair above) but as a gift. Since your patient, like most of the unsanctified humans, has a genuine horror of suffering, the results of this suggestion can be most entertaining.
For one thing, it will allow the patient to build up a reservoir of resentment against the Enemy. Never mind the fact that she (theoretically) promised Him her loyalty under any and all circumstances; never mind that she has insisted (to herself—but of course the Enemy was listening; He always is) that she would be prepared to suffer martyrdom for the Cause of the True Faith, or some such nonsense: such grand gestures mean nothing when a patient comes face-to-face with the drudgery of dry unmitigated spiritual thirst that is the Trough. Let her suppose that the Enemy has accepted her offer, her resignation to His will, and is imposing this period gratuitously, without connection to her spiritual well-being or the natural laws of the human spirit. Let her suppose, also, that this period is indefinite in length—that it will continue until she does something to end it—until she “cries uncle” as they say, or breaks the bargain with the Enemy by some perfidious act of betrayal. Any kind of sin will do there, Wumpick … any sin, as long as it is a grave one. And in the trough state, such a sin would have the advantage of being the product of pure spite on the patient’s part, without owing a fig to her human weakness! But perhaps that is asking a bit much of our patient at the present time, expecting her to do something? especially something big? Then you must just keep up the suggestion that this trough is an imposition from on high, a spiritual discipline with no other purpose than to let her suffer for suffering’s sake. Keep on that, and use the patient’s impatience and resentment. With any luck—or rather, with good solid work on your part—her resentment towards the Enemy will be so great that by the time when the trough would (naturally or supernaturally) end, she will be in no condition to notice that she is coming out of it, because she will have entered into a newer, and a deeper, and a more dangerous one, of her own making and Our Father’s design.
Your affectionate uncle,