"The rain stung his eyes and forced them closed, the waves splashed up over his head, making him choke and gasp, and his legs, which had been carrying people to safety all day, seemed about to give out. And still, the waters rose higher! At the point of despair, he thought of the child on his shoulders and knew he had to fight on, he had to reach the other shore, no matter what. . . . At last the child revealed himself to the poor giant as Christ, and he said, 'You carried the weight of the whole world on your back when you carried me.' Sometimes we all feel that way when we share Christ's burden, we feel we are drowning in the sorrows of the world, but if we ask God for the strength to endure for the sake of others rather than ourselves, we discover how powerful love really is" (p. 13-14)
This is the imagery used in the sermon Sister John and Mother Mary were collaborating on illustrating for Father Aaron. Though it is the story of St. Christopher, Sister John can't help but read her own story into the message and therefore identify very strongly with St. Christopher and his struggle of not dropping his precious burden. Just when he thinks he can't possibly handle it any more, he succeeds and finds that he had been carrying Christ and the weight of the world, and helping Christ with his burden.
"Between the overpowering smell and the sight of all that miserable confinement, Helen preferred to wait outside in the dirt lot next to the warehouse. She searched for dirt bombs - clods of dry earth, suitable for throwing - and sent them whistling against the cinderblock foundation of the shed. These exploded with a satisfying noise and cloud of dust, and left a cone of red dirt and the point of impact. She would daydream about sneaking into the warehouse at night and releasing the chickens, then visiting their colony years later and finding that she had become a legend over the course of several avian generations" (p. 54)
In vivid imagery, Salzman portrays the horrific situation of the chickens and the visceral reaction Helen has to their situation and how she lets her displeasure be made known. In a sense, this imagery serves to illuminate Helen's character and provide a bit of foreshadowing on her future as a contemplative: Helen sees herself as a savior of the chickens.
"She got dressed and drove the five miles to the school, but then froze at the sight of the crucifix mounted over the door to the chapel. There it is, she thought, the symbol we're supposed to cherish above all others. The most innocent man in the world, nailed to a cross to die" (p. 88)
The cross is the central image underlying the book. Through the Cross, Helen escapes the sadness and boundaries of her life. Though she resents it at first, it comes to mean life and meaning to her.
"Throughout the cloister, spiritual quotations had been painted over doorways to keep the Sisters' minds on God during the ordinary, in-between moments of daily life. These messages tended to become invisible over time, but now the one over the infirmary door would not disappear even when Sister John turned her back to it: 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" (p. 170)
The image of the quotation captures the heart of Sister John's dilemma: why is she serving Christ? The inescapability of the quotation too - she is confined to the infirmary - mirrors the inescapability of the question. Though the novel has shown that Sister John has true faith, the path of true faith requires returning to that question over and over again.
Lying Awake Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Lying Awake is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.