A few years ago there was a best-selling novel entitled, Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. It is the story of Sister John of the Cross, a cloistered Carmelite nun, who is slowly drawn into the intimate presence of God through stunning, dazzling, disintegrating visions. An ordinary woman becomes a quivering mystic, disappearing into “pure awareness.”
Unfortunately for Sister John, there is a complication. Along with her visions come excruciating headaches, which demolish her for days at a time, making her unavailable for the work of the cloister and causing her to be a great burden to the other nuns. Finally, a doctor diagnoses her with epilepsy, a condition that will get worse unless she chooses an operation – an operation that will relive the pain, but most likely destroy the visions. A God Alert
What should she do? After an intense wrestling match with herself and God, Sister John chooses the operation. Why? With great reluctance, she denies herself, for the health and well-being of the larger, convent community. And sure enough the debilitating pain disappears. But so, too, does the exquisite passion – those intimate, ecstatic encounters with God. She goes back to the ordered, plodding life of the community where she is but one of many, serving God in the mundane moments of daily discipleship.
In a final moment of wisdom in the book, the Mother Superior offers Sister John words that sustain her after the mountaintop moments have disappeared, when her daily faith journey seems dull and tentative: A God Whisper
“We stretch out our emptied hands to take hold of the Light. We may feel that our prayers are arid, or that God has abandoned us. Although we suffer deeply, those become our most precious hours, because only in complete darkness do we learn that faith gives off light.”
From The Offense of Grace
These are words to consider on this Lenten Wednesday and the First Day of Spring.