This month we read Lying Awake by Mark Salzman, a rather short book about a nun (Sister John) living in a cloistered monastery who appears to have a direct line to the divine, but it turns out her rapturous visions and writing were a result of seizures. She struggles with the decision to have surgery to eliminate the seizures and what it means that her spiritual awakening was not what it seemed to her (and others).
It was interesting to see how much was revealed about the nuns living there, without benefit of much conversation. Apparently, a few well spoken words will do (a lesson that some members — well, one member — of the book group is trying to take to heart.)
The book is kind of a meditation on the meaning of religion and art in life. It’s also a nice glimpse into what it is like to live this kind of life, have this much silence and solitude. (Many aspects of that life appeal to those of us who are moving through our days at too frantic a pace!)
World’s Smallest Book Group is not known as a religious body. In fact, it might be hard to find this small a group with fewer actual religious leanings. So we decided to think about her “gift” as more of an artistic one. (Like imagining it was Dostoyevsky deciding whether or not to lose his writing, we were better able to relate.) It was an interesting discussion along those lines.
It also put some of us in mind of a research project Blaine did for his biology class senior year in high school. He put this question out to the Internet: “If we had the technology to eliminate disabilities from the population, would that be a good public policy?”
Howard Rheingold referred to Blaine’s paper in his column, “For Some, the Net is a Lifeline.”
It’s hard to find Blaine’s paper on the web now, but it is referred to in this article in Disability Studies Quarterly.
We also talked about the notion that religion is a throwback to the bicameral mind, referring to Julian James’ book The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. If you want to read a book that will spark thinking and conversation, go there!