With or Without Me, Esther Marie Magnis (Translated by Alta L. Price). Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2022.
Summary: A memoir of losing a father to cancer and the loss of faith that came when earnest, believing prayers went unanswered, and the slow journey back.
Esther’s father announced the news as Christmas approached. He had cancer and the doctors said it was too advanced for them to do anything. He had weeks to a few months to live. Esther had grown up in a church-going family in Germany. Her first prayer was, “I want to keep dad.” She, her brother, and sister joined in attic prayer meetings. Her father fought back and for a short while, the cancer relented and it seemed their prayers were being answered. And then it came roaring back. And for a time, she prayed even more, believing they would travel to Spain as a family. But dad died. And God died to Esther.
The middle part of this book is hard reading, as Esther retells the rawness of her grief, her anger at the God who did not act, who was silent. She skips school, drinks, and embraces all the skepticism of those around her about God and truth. This section is full of expletives, many directed toward God. She engages in internal debates with “the clown” and “the snitch” representing skepticism about God and truth and even one’s own existence. Finally she hits rock bottom during a forest party a year after her father died on Easter weekend and declares, “I don’t care.”
Silence. God is silent, and yet present. She realizes that “God subverts silence. There must be a power there we do not understand.” Singing a lullaby to her grandmother who suffers from dementia, she sings the words “He has not forgotten thee” and remembers how she heard it as a child–“Godandthee.’ She questions the certitude of those who confidently assert “there is no truth.” How can they be so confident, then of the truth of this statement? Slowly she gropes her way back to faith, just in time for her brother, who will face his own existential crisis.
This is a powerful memoir. No easy answers. Hard painful realities of life. Unvarnished and raw at times. Believing can be challenging. But for the author, not believing is even harder. In the end, she faced the reality that despite all the hard stuff, at the bottom of reality, “God is.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.