Catalogue


Lying awake /
Mark Salzman.
imprint
New York : Knopf, 2000.
description
181 p. : ill.
ISBN
0375406328
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Knopf, 2000.
isbn
0375406328
catalogue key
3988020
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
July 25 Saint James, Apostle Sister John of the Cross pushed her blanket aside, dropped to her knees on the floor of her cell, and offered the day to God. Every moment a beginning, every moment an end. The silence of the monastery coaxed her out of herself, calling her to search for something unfelt, unknown, and unimagined. Her spirit responded to this call with an algorithm of longing. Every moment of being contained an indivisible -- and invisible -- denominator. She lit a vigil candle and faced the plain wooden cross on the wall. It had no corpus because, in spirit, she belonged there, taking Christ's place and helping relieve his burden.Suffering borne by two is nearly joy. Fighting the stiffness in her limbs, she lifted her brown scapular, symbol of the yoke of Christ, and began the clothing prayer:Clothe me, O Lord, with the armor of salvation. She let the robe's two panels drop from her shoulders to the hemline, back and front, then stepped into the rough sandals that identified her as a member of the Order of Discalced -- shoeless -- Carmelites, founded by Saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century. Purify my mind and heart. Empty me of my own will, that I may be filled with Yours. A linen wimple, with the black veil of Profession sewn to its crown, left only the oval of her face exposed. Mirrors were not permitted in the cloister, but after twenty-eight years of carrying out this ritual every morning, she could see with her fingers as she adjusted the layers of fabric to a pleasing symmetry.Let these clothes remind me of my consecration to this life of enclosure, silence, and solitude. She sat at her desk to read through the poems she had written the night before -- keeping her up until past midnight -- and made a few changes. Then she made her bed and carried her washbasin out to the dormitory bathroom. She walked quietly so as not to wake her Sisters, who would not stir for at least another hour. The night light at the end of the hall was shaded with a transparency of a rose window; its reflection on the polished wood floor fanned out like a peacock's tail. As Sister John emptied the basin into the sink, taking care to avoid splashing, the motion of the water as it spiraled toward the drain triggered a spell of vertigo. It was a welcome sensation; she experienced it as a rising from within, as if her spirit could no longer be contained by her body.Wherever You lead me, I will follow. Instead of going to the choir to wait for the others, she returned to her cell, knelt down on the floor again, and unfocused her eyes.Blessed is that servant whom the master finds awake when he comes. Pure awareness stripped her of everything. She became an ember carried upward by the heat of an invisible flame. Higher and higher she rose, away from all she knew. Powerless to save herself, she drifted up toward infinity until the vacuum sucked the feeble light out of her. A darkness so pure it glistened, then out of that darkness, nova. More luminous than any sun, transcending visibility, the flare consumed everything, it lit up all of existence. In this radiance she could see forever, and everywhere she looked, she saw God's love. As soon as she could move again, she opened her notebook and began writing.
First Chapter
July 25
Saint James, Apostle

Sister John of the Cross pushed her blanket aside, dropped to her knees on the floor of her cell, and offered the day to God. Every moment a beginning, every moment an end. The silence of the monastery coaxed her out of herself, calling her to search for something unfelt, unknown, and unimagined. Her spirit responded to this call with an algorithm of longing. Every moment of being contained an indivisible -- and invisible -- denominator.

She lit a vigil candle and faced the plain wooden cross on the wall. It had no corpus because, in spirit, she belonged there, taking Christ's place and helping relieve his burden.Suffering borne by two is nearly joy. Fighting the stiffness in her limbs, she lifted her brown scapular, symbol of the yoke of Christ, and began the clothing prayer:Clothe me, O Lord, with the armor of salvation. She let the robe's two panels drop from her shoulders to the hemline, back and front, then stepped into the rough sandals that identified her as a member of the Order of Discalced -- shoeless -- Carmelites, founded by Saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century. Purify my mind and heart. Empty me of my own will, that I may be filled with Yours. A linen wimple, with the black veil of Profession sewn to its crown, left only the oval of her face exposed. Mirrors were not permitted in the cloister, but after twenty-eight years of carrying out this ritual every morning, she could see with her fingers as she adjusted the layers of fabric to a pleasing symmetry.Let these clothes remind me of my consecration to this life of enclosure, silence, and solitude. She sat at her desk to read through the poems she had written the night before -- keeping her up until past midnight -- and made a few changes. Then she made her bed and carried her washbasin out to the dormitory bathroom. She walked quietly so as not to wake her Sisters, who would not stir for at least another hour. The night light at the end of the hall was shaded with a transparency of a rose window; its reflection on the polished wood floor fanned out like a peacock's tail.

As Sister John emptied the basin into the sink, taking care to avoid splashing, the motion of the water as it spiraled toward the drain triggered a spell of vertigo. It was a welcome sensation; she experienced it as a rising from within, as if her spirit could no longer be contained by her body.Wherever You lead me, I will follow. Instead of going to the choir to wait for the others, she returned to her cell, knelt down on the floor again, and unfocused her eyes.Blessed is that servant whom the master finds awake when he comes. Pure awareness stripped her of everything. She became an ember carried upward by the heat of an invisible flame. Higher and higher she rose, away from all she knew. Powerless to save herself, she drifted up toward infinity until the vacuum sucked the feeble light out of her.

·   ·   ·

A darkness so pure it glistened, then out of that darkness,

nova.

More luminous than any sun, transcending visibility, the flare consumed everything, it lit up all of existence. In this radiance she could see forever, and everywhere she looked, she saw God's love. As soon as she could move again, she opened her notebook and began writing.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-07-17:
Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing r‚cit of a nun's dark night of the soul. It's 1997, and Sister John of the Cross, a Carmelite nun in a monastery just outside Los Angeles, seeks treatment for epilepsy, although the remedy threatens to diminish her formidable spiritual powers. The Carmelites place heavy emphasis on prayer, and over the years this discipline has helped Sister John to develop miraculous visionary gifts. When severe headaches precipitate a collapse that requires medical intervention, Sister John finds the process starkly juxtaposed against her centuries-old traditions: she discovers it's almost impossible to discuss infused contemplation with a neurologist. Is her continual prayer "hyperreligiosity"?; her choice to remain celibate "hyposexuality"?; her will to control her body "anorexia"? Although she accepts a CT scan and its diagnosis, Sister John determines that faith offers a more substantial, meaningful reality. Written with simple elegance, alternating narrative and prayer, the tale is engaging yet maintains a curious emotional elusiveness. A drama centering on the realm of mysticism is bound to be difficult to describe and, like Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, this story doesn't aim to render the nun's spiritual life and psyche in accessible terms for lay readers. What Salzman conveys with perfect clarity is that momentary, extraordinary mental state in which physical pain becomes pure, lucid grace poised between corporeal reality and eternity, a state that Sister John desires to prolong for a lifetime. Salzman's talent for calling forth the details and essence of unfamiliar realms is well known: his memoir, Iron & Silk, was acclaimed for its deft rendering of life in China, no less authentic for being written by an outsider. With this third novel (after The Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices and consistently challenging themes, story lines and characters. Eight illus. by Stephanie Shieldhouse. (Sept.) FYI: The Soloist was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-10-15:
Normally, the contemplative Sisters of the Carmelite monastery of St. Joseph outside Los Angeles would have little contact with the everyday world. However, Sister John of the Cross, a longtime Carmelite, has brought some outside attention (and needed income) to the small religious community, including an invitation to deliver a poem at the Vatican, because of her inspirational writings based on the intense spiritual visions she experiences regularly. But when equally intense headaches send her to the hospital, Sister John is shocked to learn that her visions may originate from a life-threatening physical condition. Worse, if she agrees to the recommended surgery, the operation is likely to eliminate forever what she had accepted as a special grace from God. To make her decision, Sister John must reexamine her path to the cloistered life and test the strength of her most cherished beliefs. In this spare, affecting novel, Salzman (Lost in Place, The Soloist) creates a compelling portrait of faith and the interior life. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DStarr E. Smith, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Lib., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Here, in his third novel and fifth book, Salzman has discovered a rule that permits him to be freed of himself and to discipline his talent. The result is so superior that it is not unreasonable to call this his masterpiece. . . .Lying Awakeis stripped to essentials. . . . This story seems almost to be told through him rather than by him. . . . One wonders why this sortie into a discipline carries him to so much higher a plane [than his earlier attempts]. Mother Mary Joseph, the convent's "living rule," would doubtless say, as she says of Sister John, "God showers this one with graces." Could be she'd be right." -Marian Burkhart,Commonweal
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, July 2000
Kirkus Reviews, August 2000
Booklist, October 2000
Library Journal, October 2000
Los Angeles Times, October 2000
New York Times Book Review, November 2000
Washington Post, December 2000
New York Times Book Review, October 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
In a Carmelite monastery outside present-day Los Angeles, life goes on in a manner virtually un-changed for centuries. Sister John of the Cross has spent years there in the service of God. And there, she alone experiences visions of such dazzling power and insight that she is looked upon as a spiritual master. But Sister John's visions are accompanied by powerful headaches, and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. For if her spiritual gifts are symptoms of illness rather than grace, will a "cure" mean the end of her visions and a soul once again dry and searching? This is the dilemma at the heart of Mark Salzman's spare, astonishing new novel. With extraordinary dexterity, the author of the best-sellingIron & SilkandThe Soloistbrings to life the mysterious world of the cloister, giving us a brilliantly realized portrait of women today drawn to the rigors of an ancient religious life, and of one woman's trial at the perilous intersection of faith and reason. Lying Awakeis a novel of remarkable empathy and imagination, and Mark Salzman's most provocative work to date.

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