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Posted June 28, 2014
Let me start out by saying that I adore this little gem of a book. Books in general have an uncanny way of coming into our lives at the precise moment we need them most, and Summoned fell into my lap while I found myself at one of life's proverbial crossroads, knowing what had to be done and which path I would ultimately take and yet questioning it (and doubting and fearing, etc.) all the same.
Enter Toni Ortner's Summoned. Sliced into six sections, Summoned essentially explores the seminal moments in the lives of six women - Joan of Arc, Saint Teresa of Avila, Maria Curie, Rachel Carson, Mother Teresa and Elizabeth Kubler-Roth - when they were "summoned" by some higher power to their true calling, and the countless sacrifices and leaps of faith that were required of them along the way. The importance of a book of this nature at this particular point in history should not be understated. To begin with, at a time when humanity itself seems to be at a crisis of faith, what better way to examine the very nature of faith (and by faith, I am implying a power that transcends mere religious affiliation or inclination) than through the actions of its most selfless minions, women who were not seeking any personal gain or recognition but merely striving to fulfill their purpose here of earth? Not lost on me - a proud male - either, is the undeniable fact that the majority of those knights of faith that history has smiled kindly upon and admitted into its pantheon have been men. We all know of Galileo, after all, but how many of us know of Hypatia? The reasons for this exclusion of sorts don't need to be aired here - but it should be noted nonetheless, since we tend to smile upon the familiar out of habit and our inherent nature to conform.
But Summoned's true power and poignancy extend far beyond this. Ortner remains in the background and, as she points out in the preface, allows the voices of these remarkable women to channel through her without any pretensions or adornments. In fact, one of the more remarkable aspects of these remarkable women, revisited throughout, is very much connected to the limpid tone in which their sagas are rendered: none saw themselves as extraordinary or their acts as manifestations of some extraordinary ability, but rather the fruits of surrendering oneself selflessly to a higher calling, and a willingness to open one's heart to the unthinkable and sacrifice everything for one's faith. Each was forced to endure adversity, doubt, fear and unimaginable suffering - and each ultimately discovered the courage and fortitude to persevere within the inner sanctum of their own faith. While reading Summoned I had the sense that I often get on my early morning walks with my dog after a huge snowfall when everything is so very still and clear and the landscape heartbreakingly fragile and trembling with something nameless that somehow binds us, bridges the centuries and reminds us that we're all of the same source, struggling to find our way and purpose in a seemingly indifferent world that can swallow us whole if we chose to keep our eyes and hearts closed. And yet that struggle, as Summoned insists without ever insisting, is precisely why we're here, "each soul on earth is unique and has been born for a specific purpose that he or she alone can fulfill. This is the turning point of each human being, as it had been for me."
This reminder alone should find its way onto every bookshelf.
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