Wednesday, May 5, 2010

LYING AWAKE by Mark Salzman

Sister John is a nun with a brain tumor, which is giving her migraine-like headaches. On the plus side, it's also causing seizures that she interprets as very spiritual moments because of the peace and beautiful visions that she experiences. These seizures have, in fact, rescued her from troubling doubts about her religious calling. She finds that there have been other historical figures, including Dostoevsky, that have also enjoyed their seizures. Therefore, she is conflicted about having surgery to remove the tumor, as she will subsequently be thrust back into the drudgery of her secluded life without enjoying the divine presence her seizures provide. Salzman does a decent job of conveying what the life of a contemplative nun is like, but that's not something that particularly interests me. The book raises the question of religious motivation and the fact that leading a monastic life in order to reach heaven or avoid hell is selfish and not what God requires. In fact, joining a religious order because you enjoy God's company is also selfish. In other words, motivation is more important than results.

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