Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review: The Unfolding of a Rose by Mamie Smith

Genre: Biography, Spiritual

Synopsis: Author Mamie Smith recounts her daughter Meta Rose's life, and untimely death due to cancer and botched surgery, sharing lessons she learned from Christian Science along the way. The story starts out in 1962 when Meta is just a toddler and the family is moved to Germany because Meta's father is in the military. It follows their lives as they move to Japan, and then back to the states, but never really settling down. It follows Mamie's introduction to Christian science in Japan, her later encounters with it, her eventual conversion, her daughter's conversion, their lives and experiences that led up to Meta finding out that she had cancer, treating it with Christian Science, turning to modern medicine and the surgery that Mamie believes caused her daughter's death. It follows the long hard road this mother walked, holding her daughter through sickness, trying to heal her with her beliefs, and then ultimately losing her, and processing that loss through her beliefs.


The story is heartfelt, deep, and emotionally involving. A mother's loss and pain is a great burden to bear. Mamie's catharsis (this book) to process the good, the bad, and the ugly of her experiences; and move to a place of healing is a wonderful experience to witness. Her love and devotion to her daughter is heroic and endearing. Her guilt over her daughter's death is heartbreaking. The emotions run deep in this story, so keep a box of tissues handy.


This book was clearly a self-published, or at best a vanity published book. Being self-published is not the problem, but this book desperately needed a non-biased editor for content and flow. The story portrays itself as being about Meta, but it really isn't. It is about Mamie. And that is fine. The story of a mother's conversion, her love for her children, her processing of grief after losing one of them, that is an acceptable story. But without the focus being in the right place, the story is split. Sometimes it is about Meta. Sometimes it is about extraneous details about the family's life, mostly it is about Mamie and the way she saw these events in her life. A good editor could have helped her cut out parts that were not relevant to the story, to fluff up parts that were probably more relevant, and to help re-align the focus. They could've helped Mamie show the story, instead of telling it all.

The Ugly

I try very hard to be respectful of other people's beliefs, religious and otherwise. I respect many religious believers' right to not believe in modern medicine, to put their faith in God healing them. I do question the practice when it endangers others, however.  I found comfort in the story Mamie shares about when she decided that she would heal herself of her need to wear glasses, and a man from the church man pointed out to her that by refusing to wear her glasses while she was driving, and relying on God to heal her, she was endangering others. The man gave her several citations to read on "spiritual sense". It gave me a different perspective on what I thought I knew about Christian Scientists.

And yet, Mamie condemns cancer treatment in this book. She blames the doctors who "botched" the surgery, for her daughter's death. Yes, she goes about it in a very sweet way not blaming them for their shortsightedness. Looking at their sin of fear as the reason that they would not take responsibility for butchering her daughter, and turning her own belief of her ability to heal her daughter and her seen failure into a spiritual lesson of healing the spiritual part of her daughter and therefore not failing.   All of that is good, I guess, but the overall message that she is spreading to others is not to trust doctors, to trust God to heal you.

A wonderful message, except that science and medicine cure hundreds of thousands of people every day!  Early prevention and detection increases the chance of success of treatment. Who knows what might have happened if Meta had not waited to get treatment? It may have turned out the same way, because medicine is fallible. It is not perfect. Then again, Meta may not have had to have such invasive surgery in the first place. I was raised that God made man in his own image, that our cleverness was a gift from God. What we do with our cleverness is up to us, but medicine is a product of that cleverness. A product that, for the most part, does more good than harm. Yes, we should use wisdom in how we implement medicine. Yes, we should weigh the pros and the cons of any given surgery. But to ignore the tools that God has given us through the gift of ingenuity is as much a sin of fear, in my mind.

The spiritual growth and learning in this story is worth the read, but I cannot get on board with the overall message and theme. It hits too close to home for me.

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