Lying Awake
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Lying Awake

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,818 ratings  ·  298 reviews
Sister John of the Cross has spent years in the service of God. She experiences visions, which are accompanied by powerful headaches, and the doctor fears she may be in danger. Now Sister John faces a dilemma: does she cure her pain and risk losing the visions or does she continue to suffer?
Unknown Binding, 192 pages
Published by Not Avail (first published 2000)
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Sister John is a Carmelite nun who, after years of dedicated service, begins to experience visions of the divine in ecstatic, crystalline clarity. But these visions are accompanied by terrible headaches, and Sister John is encouraged to seek medical attention. When told by a neurologist that her experiences are likely the result of (curable) epileptic seizures, Sister John is forced to rethink everything she knows about spiritual life.

On the surface, this seems like a(nother) religion vs. scienc...more
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What a beautifully written book, written with such respect and curiosity for the monastic experience!

Basically, it is about a Carmelite Sister who learns that her religious visions (and migraines) might come from a small benign braintumor, and will she take it out, and risk loosing these visions?

I was afraid that it might be one of those science vs religion, easy-answers books, but it wasn't. It is a beautiful story about faith, doubt and everything in between.

My life couldn't be farther away f...more
Beautifully written, sensitive. Don't be misled by the setting, this story is not about the monastery, a nun's habit, or migraines. I won't spoil it for you, I'll let you discover the story for yourself. Half way through tears ran down my cheeks, were they for a fictitious character in a novel? pg. 170, "If I serve Thee in hopes of Paradise, deny me Paradise. If I serve Thee in fear of hell, condemn me to hell. But if I love Thee for love of Thyself, then grant me Thyself." I believe this was bo...more
A wise, gentle book with a very different feel from Salzman's earlier book, The Soloist. It is unashamedly filled with religious language, rendered faithfully and sympathetically. We really feel like we get inside the religious struggle of a longtime nun--and do so, miraculously, without psychologizing. This nun, who struggles for 25 years to know God, finally has a spiritual breakthrough just as she develops severe headaches that turn out to be caused by mild epileptic seizures. Does this mean...more
[Mark Salzman's Lying Awake is a finely wrought gem that plumbs the depths of one woman's soul, and in so doing raises salient questions about the power-and price-of faith.] - Goodreads

This book languished on my bookshelf for several years before I finally got around to reading it. It's a thought-provoking story about a nun in a very small cloister of Carmelite nuns in Los Angeles. Nearly all of the story takes place within these walls. Sister John has been here as a nun for many years, and yet...more
Salzman's writing is quiet and precise, as unobtrusive as a nun's rustling skirts. It went a little slow at first, but gradually I grew accustomed to the slow and meditative pace, and became entirely engaged in the cloistered life of his characters. Sister John of the Cross faces a stark predicament involving a health condition, a form of epilepsy that produces rapturous mental states--a phenomenon shared by Dostoevsky, who described it in 3rd person in The Idiot:

"He remembered that he always ha...more
Mar 14, 2008 Happyreader rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Happyreader by: Celia Pastoriza
Shelves: fiction, spirituality
A humane portrayal of the struggle to connect to something beyond oneself. A central question posed by this book is what makes a spiritual life worthwhile. Are positive religous states beneficial or addictive? As the priest says in response to Sister John's fears about losing her mystical experiences: "The problem is, you're still looking out for number one." Contrast that to the doctor's confession about almost quitting medicine during his first year of residency because he realized he had gott...more
A quiet, reflective book. Sister John of the Cross, a Carmelite nun in a small, closed order in Los Angeles is an inspiration to her fellow nuns for the depth of her devotion. Her debilitating headaches become worse, and in seeking treatent, it becomes clear that the epilepsy which causes her pain may also be the source of her visions. How should she then proceed? Should she seek treatment or not? Salzman treats the women of the convent with delicacy and respect. Nothing could be more alien to m...more
Elliot Ratzman
The appeal of the monastic life is evident to those attracted to martial arts and romantic versions of Buddhism. Salzman, whose previous books entailed his concern with things Eastern and Wise, has written a fantastic account of life in a Californian Carmelite convent. Salzman worked in a youth prison while he was struggling with writing this novel. In contrast to the chatter of teen felons in True Notebooks, this novel walks softly through the austere settings and stark schedules of the nuns; y...more
Sherry (sethurner)
"Sister John of the Cross pushed her blanket aside, dropped to her knees on the floor of the cell, and offered the day to God."

I'm not sure why, being raised Protestant, I wanted to read this slim novel, but I did. Perhaps I was curious about the daily life of a cloistered Catholic nun, or perhaps it was simply that I enjoyed Salzman's other books. I enjoyed this one too. Sister John is an interesting person, not at all certain of either her faith or her vocational choice. After years in the con...more
What happens to your faith and your closeness to God when you find out that this closeness might be a result of a brain tumor? Do you go ahead and have the operation thinking that this rapture might end? These are the questions one finds portrayed in Lying Awake.

Although quite a short book, this novel packed quite a few things that people have wondered about for ages. Does God exist in our minds and hearts and if so is that enough to get one totally devoted to him? Sister St John of the Cross, i...more
Stephen Gallup
This was a good one to read on the heels of The Power and The Glory , which I finished a couple weeks ago. Both novels concern hypervigilant, self-critical souls questing for God and unable to take comfort in potential signs of having made progress.

Salzman's character is a cloistered nun who for almost 30 years has devoted herself to chanting liturgies, meditating, and writing poetry about the soul's aspiration. She has now begun having severe headaches, which she almost welcomes as a small port...more
A gorgeous prose poem, a companion piece to the devotional/passionate/erotic poetry of the Beguines, St. John of the Cross, the testaments of all the mystics, medieval to modern, who have balanced sense and ecstasy and tried to make it a narrative and a life, put it into words, make it a daily experience you could live with. I found Sister John believable, human, and hard to pinpoint - traumatized girl, fat girl, mystic, middle aged woman, epilepsy victim, aging nun. For me, Salzman's narrative...more
This is a small, simply written book about a current-day Carmelite nun who has passed years in her monastery feeling disconnected from her faith. She begins to have intense spiritual visions and experiences which she believes is the connection to God she has been working towards her whole life. At the same time these hyper-religious experiences are accompanied by severely debilitating pain, headaches and blackouts. She is forced to seek medical treatment and it is revealed that the visions are c...more
Feb 02, 2010 K rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are interested in questions of spirituality
Sister John is a nun who, having struggled with doubt and disillusionment for years, is finally reaching the spiritual heights she envisioned when she first joined the convent. She is an inspiration to those around her, writing prolific devotional poetry to critical acclaim. When a neurological explanation for her newfound spirituality comes to light, everything is suddenly cast into doubt and she struggles with the dilemma of whether to relinquish her gift and have the brain surgery her doctor...more
Rachel Wagner
One of the best books I have read in a long time. I LOVED IT. The story revolves around a nun who comes from a troubled home. As a child she clings to the nuns at school and decides to become one. (Btw this is not the cruel or goofy depiction of nuns we often see. They are good, holy women). As an adult she begins having violent visions of God where she feels compelled to write about what she has seen. To help others she publishes her writings, and they become popular. Unfortunately she finds ou...more
"An absentee father who demands that his children put him at the center of their lives and beg for his return."

this quote sums up how i would feel about being a contemplative nun like sister john. although i wouldn't choose such a lifestyle, Salzman treats this topic with great care and complexity. what i enjoyed about the book are the questions it raised about religious life:

is it selfish to give up your outside life for one of religious devotion?
is a contemplative nun just as worthy as a nun w...more
Nancy (NE)
Sr. John is a cloistered nun who, upon entering the life of a Carmelite, is not finding the spiritual growth and maturity she had expected. She comes from a dysfunctional family, who were probably a strong influence in her choice to become a religious. Years later, she begins to experience visions, powerful meditative states in which she has felt a divine presence, periods of intense creativity and writing, all of which eventually are diagnosed as a form of epilepsy related to a small tumor. Is...more
Joanne Baines
I am awed by this book and all I could think when I finished it was "perfect". He doesn't need to tell you about the stark precision of the monastery because it's in the style of the prose. He doesn't need to describe the poetry that comes, unbidden, to the protagonist because you experience it at the same time that she does.

It's a simple plot line with a deep underlying question that could have easily been elaborated on or agonized over, but that is the key to the book, it's left to you to do...more
A quiet, gently sparkling book; the cloister of Sister John and the internal nature of the narrative (this nun struggling with the realization that her "kaleidoscope" of spiritual visions come from epilepsy) make me feel somewhat claustrophobic, but also make moments of scene and exchange and breaking-in from the outer world wonderfully startling, as if her way of seeing affects your own and you find yourself listening and watching much more intently. The italicized sections from her life before...more
if you like books that take you into the mind and soul of another person, you will enjoy this beautifully written little little gem of a book. It is short, but the characters are fully developed. You will learn about the daily life of a contemporary nun living in a cloister outside of L.A., as well as how the main character, Sister John, struggles with her doubts and faith. This book both inspired and challenged me. I just finished reading it and can't wait to read it again because I'm sure ther...more
A deceptively simple book with some truly lovely passages and ideas. It focuses on a Carmelite nun in Los Angeles, Sister John of the Cross. The name is deliberate, for John of the Cross was one of the great mystics, who also wrote famously of the dark night of the soul. Sister John, after what has seemed to her to be a period of aridity, is granted wonderful visions of the love of God and the unity of nature, but these visions are accompanied by crippling headaches. When she discovers that the...more
Celia Pastoriza
A short and beautiful book about a nun who realizes that her holy experiences are the result of a curable epileptic illness. I have always favored books that tackle the big questions. To me this book was about coming to terms with the failure of one's vocation, something I think most adults struggle with, as we accept that our lives look very different than we imagined they would as we made our choices.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Lying Awake is a Carmelite Nun's journey through ecstatic conversation with God and a decision about her health that is likely to remove that closeness from her life. The writing itself is sparse and internal, very much like the inner life I imagine a nun to have. Beautiful and kept me up reading late into the night.
Robin Tuthill
I was transported to another world while reading this book, which happens to be what I love about reading. This was a world of bliss and awe, as Sister John of the Cross, who has been struggling mightily her entire life to know God -- unsuccessfully, in her mind, with "her prayers empty and her soul dry" -- suddenly starts having intense visions where she experiences a better world and a world overflowing with love -- or, a direct connection with God, as she interprets it. Living an austere life...more
Just found a scrap of paper with some words jotted down from when I read this years ago:

If I serve Thee in hopes of Paradise, deny me Paradise. If I serve Thee in fear of hell, condemn me to hell. But if I love Thee for love of Thyself, then grant me Thyself.
i was in it for the mystical experiences, somewhat disappointing because those experiences weren't dealt with extensively. i also thought there would be more to her internal debate about choosing between medical treatment and continued visions.
Aug 28, 2007 Julia rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: soul searchers
Shelves: fiction, religion
I found the description of this book so fascinating that I was slightly disappointed by the book itself. That said, it was thought-provoking and short enough to avoid getting bogged down. I would recommend it just for the questions it raises.
Polly Glowatz
Unique story that I could understand as I have visited the cloistered nuns near my home town. They are the happiest,joyfilled women on earth. Lesson on faith. Prayer is the tool,work at it and it and faith will come.
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Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficien...more
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“It's a mean story, Helen fumed. An absentee father who demands that his children put him at the center of their lives and beg for his return. Sister Priscilla didn't think it was mean, apparently. She was so in love with God that she had married him, even though she would not see his face, hear his voice, or feel his embrace for as long as she lived. One of us, Helen, thought is flying blind.” 6 likes
“What if I have it all upside down? What if I'm the one who knows nothing of God, and the people in the world are actually interceding on my behalf with their ordinary daily struggles” 4 likes
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