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Visions, voices, and voisinages : contemporary Canadian women’s spiritual autobiographies Aikman, Laurie Kathleen 2001

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VISIONS, VOICES, AND VOISINAGES: CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN WOMEN'S SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHIES by LAURIE K A T H L E E N AIRMAN B.A., The University of Toronto, 1991 M.A., The University of British Columbia, 1996 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES Programme in Comparative Literature We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA October 2001 © Laurie Kathleen Aikman, 2001 In presenting t h i s t h e s i s i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t of the requirements f o r an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree t h a t the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r reference and study. I f u r t h e r agree t h a t permission f o r extensive copying o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the head o f my department or by h i s or her r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . I t i s understood t h a t copying or p u b l i c a t i o n o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l gain s h a l l not be allowed without my w r i t t e n permission. Department o f C o ^ ^ r o A U l l A l r a T V r t The U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date cUcW a > loo) 11 Abstract The last thirty years have been a time of considerable change in both Canadian religious life and in Canadian women's lives, as well as in the interrelationships between the two. While Canadian society has undergone a process of increasing secularization, Canadian women have been engaged in a struggle for equal rights within religious and secular institutions. During this time, both prominent and ordinary Canadian women have published, in ever-increasing numbers, autobiographical narratives centred on their experiences of the sacred. This study analyses the relationships between the guiding metaphors, the narrative forms, and the implied readers of sixteen contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. The emphasis is on the dialectical negotiations through which these authors come to live in creative tension with their competing identities and loyalties. Spiritual autobiography has received very little attention in Canadian literary criticism. Most studies of the genre equate it with the conversion narrative. However, the history of religious life-narratives is characterized by a diversity of literary forms, of which conversion is only one. If we define spiritual autobiography as a life-narrative with an explicit focus on the individual's relationship with a particular religious group or tradition, or in which the emphasis is on spiritual (as opposed to exclusively material, intellectual, or psychological) concerns, then a number of characteristics of the genre become evident. It is marked primarily by a double vision of the physical and spiritual worlds, by a literary hybridity that combines autobiography and hermeneutics, and by a strong orientation toward its reader. Furthermore, there are many tensions inherent in the genre itself, particularly for contemporary women: between tradition and innovation, between the individual and the community, between private and public identities, between religious and social engagements, between freedom and enclosure, between embodiment and spirituality. The contemporary spiritual autobiographies in this study are divided into four groups of four texts each. The memoirs of Lois Wilson, Mary Jo Leddy, Andrea Richard, and Joanna Manning are narratives of public figures in Canadian churches. These women negotiate between public and private identities, and between religious and social commitments. The personal and introspective autobiographical accounts by Marcelle Brisson, Andree Pilon Quiviger, Celeste Snowber Schroeder, and Micheline Piotte are I l l written by private individuals who focus on their everyday experiences. These women wrestle with the tensions between their realities as embodied beings and their more transcendent spiritual yearnings. Two books of autobiographical fiction by Jovette Marchessault and two works of nature writing by Sharon Butala are narratives by solitary mystics whose spiritual quests seek to reconcile cosmic, natural, and historical perspectives. Finally, four anthologies by women who perceive themselves as being on the margins of Canadian society (First Nations Christian women, women from a low-income neighbourhood, Jewish women, and Muslim women) find the sacred in their relationships with particular communities. However, a lively tension between individual and communal values never ceases to inform their writings. The study concludes with some suggestions for further research into the genre of spiritual autobiography in Canadian literature, as well as a discussion of the implications of the rhetorical strategies of these authors for the teaching of spiritual autobiography in the secular academic context. iv Table of Contents Abstract ii-iii Table of Contents iv Acknowledgements v Dedication vi Chapter One: Placing Contemporary Canadian Women's Spiritual Autobiographies in Context 1 Chapter Two: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations 45 Chapter Three: Prophetic Visions, Public Voices 75 Chapter Four: Embodied Visions, Private Voices 125 Chapter Five: Questing Visions, Solitary Voices 175 Chapter Six: Shared Visions, Communal Voices 224 Conclusion: Visionary Voices in Our Voisinage 266 Works Cited and Consulted 280 Appendix I 300 Appendix II 301 V Acknowledgements I have incurred many debts of gratitude in the writing of this dissertation: To the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) for a four-year doctoral fellowship, and to the University of British Columbia Faculty of Graduate Studies for a one-year University Graduate Fellowship, both of which provided me with the financial support necessary for the completion of this thesis. To my tireless and endlessly encouraging committee members, Dr. Eva-Marie Kroller, Dr. Valerie Raoul, and Dr. Nancy Cocks, for their patience throughout numerous meetings and readings of drafts, and for their enormously helpful suggestions. To my family and friends, for their love and support, and most of all. for believing in me even when I found it difficult to go on believing in myself. And finally, to all the Canadian women, past, present, and future, who have the courage to write their spiritual life-narratives for publication. I am grateful for their example, which comforts, inspires, and challenges me. vi In loving memory of my grandmother Jean Christy Anglin Owen (1912-2000) And with joyful welcome to my niece Juliette Jean Aikman (born July 26, 2001) "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." From Ecclesiastes 3.1-7 1 Chapter One Placing Contemporary Canadian Women's Spiritual Autobiographies in Context Introduction Spiritual autobiography is a relatively unknown genre in the field of Canadian literature, for reasons that I will address further on.1 However, there are numerous reasons for undertaking an analysis of the genre as it has been practised by Canadian women over the last thirty years or so. I will be using the term "spiritual autobiography" to refer to life-narratives with an explicit focus on the individual's relationship with a particular religious group or tradition, or in which the emphasis is on spiritual (as opposed to exclusively material, intellectual, or psychological) concerns. I do not intend to construct or promote an essentialist category of women's spirituality, but rather to examine the very different ways in which individual women inscribe their spiritual life-narratives within - and at the same time, often, contest - their religious and social imagined communities. The last thirty years have been a time of tremendous change in Canadian religious life, in Canadian women's lives, and in the interrelationships between the two. While Canadian society has undergone a process • of increasing secularization, Canadian women have been engaged in a struggle for equal rights within both religious and secular institutions. Paradoxically, as Canadian women have taken on more prominent roles within their communities of faith, the public influence of religion within their national community has been on the decline. This is but one of many contradictions faced by contemporary Canadian women who choose to tell their life stories in a religious or spiritual context. The focus of this study will be on the discursive strategies that allow these authors to hold their conflicting loyalties, beliefs, and identities in a creative tension, through the imaginative use of metaphor, narrative form, and audience appeals. 1 When I refer to "Canada" in this study, this term designates the entire country, including Quebec, and "Canadian literature" embraces literature in both English and French (as well as other minority languages, which are not the subject of discussion here). The term "Quebec" applies to the province of that name, while "English Canada" excludes Quebec and other francophone communities. I will refer to the collective grouping of all francophone communities within Canada (including Quebec) as "French Canada." 2 The academic criticism of autobiography or life-writing, and in particular of women's autobiographies, has gained momentum over the last twenty years, to the point where there are now a wide variety of competing and sometimes antagonistic critical approaches to the subject(s). Therefore I wish to clarify from the outset my motives for undertaking this study, the goals that I hope it will accomplish, and the contribution that I believe it will bring to the fields of Canadian literature and the criticism of autobiography. I will begin with what feminist sociologist Liz Stanley would call a brief "intellectual autobiography" (64) in order to situate myself in relationship to my subject of study. My own critical interest in women's spiritual autobiography stems from what literary scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson describe, in their Introduction to the anthology Women. Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (1998), as the "most central" reason for "[fjhe growing academic interest in women's autobiography": the fact that "women reading women's autobiographical writings have experienced them as 'mirrors' of their own unvoiced aspirations" (5).2 Women are not alone in confessing to a fascination with autobiographical texts as mirrors or models for their own .lives. In Metaphors of the Self (1972), literary critic James Olney writes that his "interest in autobiography . . . is on the one hand psychological-philosophical, on the other hand moral; it is focused in one direction on the relation traceable between lived experience and its written record and in the other direction on what that written record offers to us as readers and as human beings" (x-xi). More recently, in Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography (1992), autobiography scholar Paul John Eakin offers a list of fellow critics who "testify" to a "felt difference" between reading autobiography and reading other (especially fictional) texts (21). Furthermore, some feminist critics, like Carolyn G. Heilbrun in Writing a Woman's Life (1988), draw attention to the ways in which women's actual life experiences may be shaped (whether consciously or unconsciously) by the narrative models available to them. My own background, which has made me curious about the place of women's spiritual autobiography in Canadian literature, has also made me especially sensitive to the areas of conflict, tension, and paradox within contemporary Canadian women's spiritual life-1 The mirror metaphor, as Smith and Watson are no doubt well aware, is one that has been criticized by many feminist theorists, from French feminist Luce Irigaray to Canadian literary critic Helen M. Buss. Nevertheless, it has rich connotations that literary scholars continue to mine, as the title of literary critic Susanna Egan's recent Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography (1999) indicates. 3 narratives. I am a Christian whose spirituality has been deeply influenced by other religious traditions, most notably Buddhism and Judaism. I have studied Christian theology as well as comparative literature, and my interest in both religion and literary writing is personal as well as academic. As a feminist, I have struggled to reconcile my spiritual faith with some of the aspects of institutional religion that leave me (and many other women) feeling frustrated or excluded. As an academic, particularly one working in the area of religion and literature, I have often wondered what place my spiritual beliefs and practices have in the secular and often highly sceptical context of the university. As a Canadian born in Montreal at the end of the 1960s, and brought up in the competing contexts of Canadian multiculturalism and Quebec linguistic tension, I feel uncomfortable with exclusivist definitions of my own spirituality, nationality, and linguistic and cultural heritages. I am interested in the struggles that the authors I study may also face in trying to reconcile their various identities: as women of faith, as Canadians, as feminists, and so on. In particular, as a literary scholar, I seek to understand the textual strategies that these writers use in order to hold these various identities or conflicting loyalties in a creative tension; one that will not overwhelm them, but rather will allow them to go on participating fully in their various communities. I have borrowed the notion of "creative tension" from Lois Wilson, the first woman moderator of the United Church of Canada, whose memoir I discuss in Chapter Three. Wilson uses the expression "creative tension" to describe her own attempts to live with some of the inner conflicts that she experiences between her feminism and her leadership role within a male-dominated institution, and between the exclusiveness and the inclusiveness of Christianity (78, 132). Tension is created when women feel pulled in two or more opposing directions by competing or conflicting loyalties, beliefs, responsibilities, or assumptions. There are many ways to resolve such tensions, but contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers often seem to prefer the way of paradox, of accepting that the process of negotiating between apparently polar opposites may in fact be part of the spiritual life itself. Christian theologian and historian Esther de Waal, discussing paradox in the monastic Rule of St. Benedict, writes that "as we learn to live with paradox we have to admit that two realities may be equally true; we may be asked to hold together contrasting forces" (33-34). In order to hold their many identities and commitments in creative tension, the writers whose works I will be examining 4 in this study often engage in a series of dialectical negotiations between contradictory concepts. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson refer to the work of feminist critics Nancy K. Miller and Domna C. Stanton as a process of "map[ping] women's dialectical negotiations with a history of their own representation as idealized or invisible" (10). Contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers must contend with many other established and often exclusionary dichotomies as well: public or private, embodied or spiritual, nature or culture, individual or community, religious or social, inside or outside, freedom or enclosure, tradition or innovation, sacred or secular. Following Smith and Watson, I will be referring to the rhetorical strategies through which the writers wrestle with these dichotomies as dialectical negotiations. Although these authors may not arrive at a neat dialectical equation of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, their texts bring two contradictory concepts into dialogue with each other, hold them in creative tension, and often arrive at paradoxical yet aesthetically and theologically satisfying solutions to the writers' spiritual dilemmas. Women who choose to write sacred life-narratives identify which aspects of their inheritance are life-giving, and which are soul-destroying. Through their literary efforts, they often arrive at creative resolutions to these tensions or paradoxes, finding textual ways of transforming that with which they cannot live, into that with which they can. However, although sometimes they manage to resolve tensions rhetorically, at other times the assumptions of the genres and the metaphors that they use themselves create further dichotomies. The analysis of these "fault-lines" in women's religious life-writing can be instructive for the study of autobiography in general, particularly for contemporary genres such as crisis writing3 and postmodernist autobiography. It may be that it is more difficult to resolve conflicts and tensions imaginatively in non-fiction writing than in fiction, poetry, and drama. Developing an awareness of the tensions, conflicts, and paradoxes in contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies has also forced me to confront some of the tensions in my own work as a literary critic, as a feminist, and as an individual whose interest in religion and spirituality goes beyond the merely intellectual. I will discuss some of these 3 In Mirror Talk: Genres of Crisis in Contemporary Autobiography (1999), literary critic Susanna Egan defines crisis as "an unstable condition seeking change," and includes in her list of autobiographies of crisis: documentary film, narratives of diaspora, and accounts of disaster, illness, and death (5). 5 tensions at greater length in Chapter Two, when I present my theoretical and methodological approach. However, I wish to draw attention from the outset to the fundamental tension with which I have had to wrestle, one that I imagine is faced by all scholars who engage in the academic study of religion outside of theological institutions, yet who are themselves people of faith. Although I study the linguistic constructs of women spiritual autobiographers as rhetorical strategies, I have a fundamentally sympathetic attitude toward religious beliefs, spiritual practices, and sacred experiences. This sympathy creates a gulf between my approach to spiritual texts and, for example, that of postmodernist critics, of Marxist/materialist critics, or of psychoanalytic critics, whose discussions of religion in literature are based on the premise that "God" is a purely human construct. Here 1 am in agreement with English professor Graham Good's contention in Humanism Betrayed (2001) that most theoretical approaches that are prevalent in academic circles today share a certain "hostility to religion (a hostility that is perhaps the strongest common trait shared by Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche)" (68). My own approach to the subject of religion and literature is radically different from this "hermeneutic of suspicion" (62).4 Although I recognize that spiritual autobiographies, like sacred texts, are discursive productions with particular material circumstances, I nevertheless give credence to the belief of these writers that there is a spiritual dimension to existence that they seek to express through language. I state this perspective not as an unchanging truth, but as a legitimate assumption that I bring to my study of these texts. Furthermore, I believe that a failure to take into consideration the uniqueness of the religious dimension of spiritual autobiography - without which the genre makes no sense as a genre - may in fact be an obstacle to a full appreciation and understanding of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. One of the factors that makes it complicated both to identify oneself as sympathetic to religious concerns in literature, and also to define the genre of spiritual autobiography, is that there are no simple definitions for terms such as "religion," "spirituality," and "the sacred." 4 Although I wish to distance myself from a totalizing approach to a hermeneutics of suspicion, I also (like Good) recognize the importance of such an approach when used judiciously and in combination with other kinds of hermeneutics. For example, feminist biblical scholar Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza proposes a model that combines a "hermeneutics of suspicion" with a "hermeneutics of proclamation," a "hermeneutics of remembrance," and a "hermeneutics of creative actualization" in reclaiming women's experience as part of biblical interpretation (15). 6 I will use these words more or less interchangeably throughout this study, with slight nuances between them, relying partly on popular usage and partly on sociological definitions. The sociological definitions of religion that inform my use of the term are those that differentiate between sacred and secular consciousness, such as Roland Robertson's proposal in The Sociological Interpretation of Religion (1970) that "[r]eligious culture is that set of beliefs and symbols (and values deriving directly therefrom) pertaining to a distinction between an empirical and a super-empirical, transcendent reality; the affairs of the empirical being subordinated in significance to the non-empirical" (47). This definition emphasizes the relationship between beliefs, symbols, and values (all of which are crucial to the literary study of spiritual autobiography), as well as the distinction made between the empirical (or profane) and the transcendent (or sacred) realms, a distinction shared by all the spiritual autobiographers in this study. Even when these writers experience and describe the profound interpenetration of the two realms, they give precedence to spiritual concerns in determining or influencing their behaviour and choices, particularly ethical ones. Emile Durkheim's more functional definitions of religion also underlie the arguments in this study. Durkheim emphasizes religious practice as well as belief, and stresses the presence of community in the cultural production of religion: "[La religion] est un systeme de croyances et de pratiques relatives a des choses sacrees - croyances et pratiques communes a une collectivite determinee" (70). While the presence of a religious community is central to most definitions of religion, popular usage tends to distinguish between religion as an organized and institutionalized set of beliefs, and spirituality as a more private and individualistic experience of the sacred, and my own emphasis will follow this practice. Elsewhere, Durkheim defines "les etres ou choses sacres" as "ceux que defendent et protegent des interdictions, tandis que les etres ou les choses profanes sont ceux qui sont soumis a ces interdictions et qui doivent n'entrer en contact avec les premiers que suivant des rites defmis" (64). The sacred - as I will be using the term in this study - refers to anything that is considered to be holy, or that is associated with the religious or spiritual (rather than the purely material and empirical) realm of life. Although some scholars of religion and literature, such as William Closson James in Locations of the Sacred (1998), prefer this term because of its relative freedom from the more negative connotations that adhere to the words religion and spirituality, the fact that the writers I will be. discussing themselves use the 7 words religion, spirituality, and spirit to refer to their own beliefs and experiences gives me the incentive to reclaim this terminology for literary studies. I also wish to clarify my use of the term theology. Theology, in this study, refers to any comprehensive system of thought and philosophy regarding religion or spirituality, and not exclusively or necessarily to that of Christianity. I use the word theology more in the sense of religious philosophy or spiritual world-view - ways of thinking about the sacred - rather than strictly as discourse about, or the study of, the Christian God. Finally, I will also be employing the term hermeneutics to refer to "the theory of interpretation in general - that is, a formulation of the principles and methods involved in getting at the meaning of all written texts" (Abrams 91). I have chosen this word because of its roots in biblical interpretation, that is, in the interpretation of sacred texts. Generally, I use the term in a fairly limited context, to refer to the particular interpretive strategies (either implicit or explicit) of individual writers or anthologies. Before I provide some of the necessary background to the study of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies, I wish to address one final consideration: the aesthetic value of these texts as works of literature. Although I will continue to address this question throughout my study, I will make two points here. The first is that I agree with religious historian Virginia Lieson Brereton, and other scholars who work in the field of women's life-writing, that "literary merit.. . is an increasingly problematic ascription" (xiii). One of the difficulties in assessing the literary merit of spiritual autobiography is that the conventions of the genre are not widely known or understood, a lacuna which I hope to begin to address in the remainder of this chapter. The second point is that in spite of this claim, I do in fact have my own personal scale of appreciation for the texts in this study. However, I have come to realize that theological and aesthetic considerations are not easily separated for me, or for other critics. The literary texts that are the least satisfying to me from an aesthetic point of view are those that also present what I consider to be the most superficial or simplistic spiritual world-views. Nevertheless, 1 have endeavoured to approach each of the books in this study both critically and with respect. For I do have a great deal of respect for the genre of spiritual autobiography as it has been practised by women. As Brereton points out in From Sin to Salvation (1991), in her discussion of nineteenth and twentieth-century Protestant American women's conversion narratives, spiritual autobiography has generated many fascinating examples of "women's 8 vernacular literature," by offering women throughout the centuries "a rare and sanctioned way to tell their stories" (xi). Contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers are mapping new literary territory for women of all faiths in this country by attempting to write their spiritual life-narratives in a secular or multifaith context. Their rhetorical efforts not only provide a model for other religious women in the writing and living of their own lives, they also raise important questions for all readers regarding the transformative power of language and ritual, the inescapability of living within an ethical framework of some kind, the influence of deeply held beliefs and values on the living and writing of lives, and the importance, at times, of learning to dwell in paradox. Spiritual Autobiography as Genre The genre of spiritual autobiography is not a familiar one to most readers of Canadian literature, at least in part because there is very little critical literature on the subject. If the phrase conjures up any images at all from the history of non-fiction writing in this country, they are probably stereotypical scenes from a distant past: Jesuit priests recording their impressions of New France and boasting of the souls that they are intent on converting to Christianity; Presbyterian ministers hunched over their private diaries in dusty, book-filled studies; French Canadian nuns recording the ecstatic visions that lead them to found hospitals or schools; Protestant missionaries sending enthusiastic first-person accounts back to their home congregations in small, Canadian towns. While these historical images are all legitimate, I suspect that very few people would think of the literary productions of contemporary and sometimes iconoclastic Canadian women when they hear the term spiritual autobiography. The literary criticism of the genre of religious life-writing in general remains a fairly limited field, from which Canadian literature is almost completely absent. Such criticism is dominated by American and British scholars who focus on the Puritan conversion narrative as the exemplary representative of the genre, or on paradigmatic texts such as St. Augustine's Confessions (ca. 397-400), John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), Cardinal John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), or Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain (1948). Most critics typically focus on historical rather than contemporary examples of spiritual autobiography, and until fairly recently both 9 women's narratives and non-Christian texts were viewed as problematic to the genre. This restrictive critical landscape has been changing over the last twenty years, as the study of life-writing and of women's autobiography has been expanding. One of the difficulties that has plagued the literary criticism of spiritual autobiography has been disagreement over precisely what it is that characterizes the genre. The notion of genre is a slippery term in literary theory. Critics find it difficult to agree on the exact characteristics and distinguishing features of a literary genre; for some, the label has a narrow meaning, while for others it is used more or less interchangeably with broader categories such as literary form or mode. In "Autobiographie et histoire litteraire" (1975), Philippe Lejeune argues that as critics and teachers, the choices we make with regard to our objects of study are not innocent. Genres, he insists, are social institutions with which we collaborate by consolidating them through scientific study (903-904). The parallel that Lejeune draws between the way in which a generic body or corpus is formed, and the more insidious exclusions of classism and racism, stands as a cautionary tale for any discussion of generic definition and classification: Une fois decide le choix de modele, on constitue le 'corpus' par un systeme d'exclusions: on jugera soit comme des echecs ou des cas aberrants, soit comme des elements exterieurs au corpus, tout ce qui n'est pas conforme au modele. Le genre devient une sorte de 'club' dont le critique s'institue gardien, selectionnant a coups d'exclusions une 'race' relativement pure. (914) In this study I will adopt a very broad understanding of genre as "a recurring type of literature" (Abrams 75), recognizing that although genres are "rather arbitrary ways of classifying literature," they are also "convenient in critical discussions" (Abrams 77). The books that I have chosen to refer to as spiritual autobiographies in this study could, and frequently do, receive other generic classifications. As theorist Heather Dubrow writes in an introductory volume on Genre (1982): "[Gjeneric codes frequently function like a tone of voice rather than a more clearcut signal: they provide one interpretation of the meaning of the text, they direct our attention to the parts of it that are especially significant, but they do not and they cannot offer an infallible key to its meaning" (106). By re-examining spiritual autobiography as a genre, and by grouping the texts in this study around that heading, I will focus particularly on the ways in which contemporary Canadian women situate themselves 10 and their beliefs, through their writing strategies, in relation to their religious as well as their literary and cultural heritages. Like autobiography itself, the genre of spiritual autobiography is a literary oddity. Any literary category that can encompass not only the reasoned theological reflections of St. Augustine's late fourth-century Confessions but also the impassioned sermons of nineteenth-century African American Methodist women preachers, not only the ecstatically erotic visions of medieval women mystics but also the staunchly repressed sexuality of Puritan conversion narratives, must be a capacious and fluid generic label indeed. The difficulties that literary critics experience in arriving at inclusive definitions for spiritual autobiography may explain why it remains largely unknown and unexamined as a separate literary genre. However, I believe that it is precisely by reviving the notion of spiritual autobiography as a genre that one may come to understand the connections between some of the different manifestations of this unique type of contemporary Canadian women's life-writing. In order to arrive at a definition of spiritual autobiography that is at once broad enough to encompass the wide variety of writings that have been designated by that label, and narrow enough to be methodologically useful, I will begin with a very basic definition of spiritual autobiography according to its subject matter (religious or spiritual concerns), its subject (the autobiographical "I"), and its literary form (prose). Other literary critics have also focused on subject matter as a starting point for their definitions of spiritual autobiography. For English professor and Jesuit priest David J. Leigh, in Circuitous Journeys (2000), "[w]hen [the] lifelong search for an ultimate reality that gives meaning to one's life in the face of evil, suffering, and death becomes the theme of [a] book, then the writer has created a 'spiritual autobiography' " (xi). Literary scholar Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, in Archetypes of Conversion (1985), describes the central concern of the spiritual autobiographer as "the growth of the soul" (35), and argues that it is important to retain "a distinction between secular and spiritual autobiography" (28). Similarly, literary historian Frank Bowman, in "Le Statut litteraire de l'autobiographie spirituelle" (1982), refers to the presence of spiritual autobiography in literature as "l'existence d'un grand nombre de textes ou . . . le narrateur raconte sa vie ou une partie de sa vie comme une recherche et decouverte de la foi" (316). Such a broad definition has the advantage of allowing us to classify various types of spiritual 11 autobiography, such as the conversion narrative, as literary modes rather than as the defining exemplars of the genre itself. By adopting a definition of spiritual autobiography that is based primarily on subject matter, I am contradicting the work of many literary critics who view spiritual autobiographies and conversion narratives as synonymous. Critics such as Peter Dorsey use spiritual autobiography as a classificatory term that includes all of the secular developments of the genre, provided they share a set of "narrative strategies centering on conversion" (Dorsey, Sacred Estrangement, 3). However, such categorizations blur the distinctions between such texts and works of a more religious character in which the motif of conversion plays a less central role (or is completely absent), distinctions that create some of the unique and paradoxical qualities of spiritual autobiography, as we shall see below. In my view, what remains unique about spiritual autobiography in the contemporary context is its concern with a reality that lies both beyond and within the realm of the everyday, the ordinary, or the material. A spiritual autobiography is a life story told with an awareness of the presence of the sacred in the life of the individual. On this point I am in full agreement with theologian James McClendon, Jr., who argues in Biography as Theology (1990) that the life stories of certain individuals are best understood as lives lived in the context of a deep religious faith: "Our question must . . . be whether the life-experience of [these individuals] is or is not understood better when it is treated as experience with God; that is, whether (as I believe) the ongoing story of their lives makes more or fuller sense when the involvement of God in that story is recognized, or when it is bracketed" (160, emphasis in the text). All of the women's autobiographies that I will analyse in the following pages make fuller sense to me when they are read as testimonies to a life that is lived primarily in dialogue (and perhaps even in tension or in disagreement) with a religious tradition or a community of faith, a life that is imbued with a sense of the sacred. Another insight of genre theory that helps to explain specific aspects of spiritual autobiography is the emphasis of certain critics on the relationship and expectations that genre establishes between readers and writers. Dubrow argues that "genre . . . functions much like a code of behavior established between the author and his [or her] reader" (2). Genre theory in literary criticism draws attention to the ways in which literary genres set up a contract with their readers, through which they convey a complex set of ideological histories 1 2 and assumptions. In an article entitled "Genre as Social Action" (1984) English professor Carolyn R. Miller proposes an "understanding of rhetorical genre" that "is based in rhetorical practice, in the conventions of discourse that a society establishes as ways of 'acting together' " (163). Miller's discussion of genre as a discursive action that arises in specific, recurring contexts provides an explanation for the diversity of texts that have been classified under the generic label of spiritual autobiography. For one of the paradoxes inherent in the genre of spiritual autobiography is that although by its very definition it is concerned with allegedly universal truths and values, at the same time it is, like all genres, highly influenced by its particular social, cultural, historical, and religious contexts. Spiritual autobiographers writing from different historical periods, religious communities, and cultural groups are engaged in very different acts, and are bound by very different religious, cultural, and rhetorical constraints. Yet their shared emphasis on religious or spiritual life does indeed give their writings a unique set of common characteristics. If we define spiritual autobiographies as life-narratives with an explicit focus on the individual's relationship with a particular religious group or tradition, or in which the emphasis is on spiritual (as opposed to exclusively material, intellectual, or psychological) concerns, then one of the few claims that can be made with any certainty about the genre is that it has found expression in a remarkable diversity of narrative forms. Most literary historians trace the progressive manifestations of the genre of spiritual autobiography from Augustine, through the visionary writings of the medieval mystics, to the Puritan, Quaker, and Methodist narratives of the seventeenth century. In the West, St. Augustine's Confessions (ca. 397-400) is generally acclaimed as the paradigmatic text for both religious and secular autobiography. During the Middle Ages, the genre of hagiography - biographies of the Christian saints, often with embedded autobiographical passages - flourished alongside the visionary writings of Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila, Hildegard von Bingen, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Ignatius of Loyola, Mechtild von Magdeburg, and others. With the Protestant Reformation's emphasis on the individual's unmediated relationships with both God and sacred scripture came a veritable outpouring of conversion narratives. Such first-person accounts of the individual journey from sin to salvation became, for seventeenth-century Puritans and Quakers, a requirement for acceptance into the community of believers. The most influential of these autobiographies was John Bunyan's 1 3 Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), which provided the model for many subsequent conversion narratives (and was itself already following an accepted formula), but lesser known works by both women and men have survived in great numbers.5 Somewhat more recent Christian spiritual autobiographies that have followed the Augustinian model of religious and intellectual conversion include Leo Tolstoy's Ispoved (1879; A Confession), Thomas Merton's The Seven-Storey Mountain (1948), Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness (1954), and C S . Lewis's Surprised by Jov (1955). Along with the conversion narrative, the hagiography, and the visionary writings of mysticism, the spiritual diary or journal has also given rise to many thoughtful examinations of the spiritual life, such as the 1694 Journal of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, imitated by many of his followers. The apology has served to emphasize in particular an individual's intellectual and spiritual development; examples include John Henry Newman's defence of his conversion to Catholicism, Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864), and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz's epistolary defence of her theological writings, La Respuesta a Sor Filotea (1691; The Answer to Sister Filotea). Narratives of pilgrimage have left a legacy of exciting and animated religious autobiographies, and continue to provide a popular vehicle for sacred life-writing, perhaps due to the popularity of the journey as a metaphor for the spiritual life, as well as to readers' attraction to tales of exotic locales. Margery Kempe's visions of Jesus lead her to abandon her husband periodically in order to embark on lengthy-pilgrimages in The Book of Margery Kempe (ca. 1436), while John Bunyan's allegorical The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) was far more widely read than Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), his actual spiritual autobiography. In the tradition of the Christian mystics, many of them women, religious autobiography has often taken the form of an account of visions or ecstatic revelations. Well-known classics include Teresa of Avila's Libro de la vida (ca. 1565; The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself), Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love (ca. 1373), Mechtild von Magdeburg's Ein vliessendes lieht der gotheit (ca. 1270; The Flowing Light of the Divinity), and Hildegard von Bingen's Scivias (ca. 1140; Showings). In "La Relation de 1654 de Marie de l'lncarnation: Une autobiographie spirituelle," literary critic Michela Mengoli-Berti argues that the writings of other women For studies of Puritan and Quaker conversion narratives, see Shea and Caldwell . / 14 mystics were a far more important influence on the spiritual autobiography of the French Canadian nun than were the Confessions of "Augustine, thus calling into question the insistence of literary critics on Augustine's text as the model for all subsequent spiritual autobiography. Missionary biographies and autobiographies, with their focus not on the conversion of the author but on the conversion of other people, flourished as a distinct form of religious life-writing from the seventeenth century onwards. As Terrence L. Craig observes in his study of the auto/biographies of Canadian missionaries, The Missionary Lives (1997), "[fjhese works documented a clear and ostensible evangelist spirit at work almost everywhere in the world" (4), and were written to offer "a report, of the missionary's progress" as well as "to encourage further support and to stimulate readers to come forward themselves as missionaries" (xvii). This overview of some of the literary forms associated with spiritual autobiography still runs the risk, however, of obliterating diversity through broad generalizations. One of the fundamental problems with most literary histories of spiritual autobiography is their complete neglect of texts outside the Christian tradition. While this absence may be justified in delineating the contours of the genre of Christian spiritual autobiography, it is an unacceptable oversight if one wishes to define spiritual autobiography in a wider context. Certainly, in examining Canadian literature of the final quarter of the twentieth century, the period encompassed by this study, it is crucial to be aware of the different issues raised by literary models from traditions other than Western Christianity. Even within Christianity, as we have seen, there are significant differences between the Catholic tradition of mystical and visionary writings, and the Protestant legacy of conversion narratives. While Christianity may well be unique among religions in its preoccupation with the inner life of the spirit and with the process of conversion, virtually all of the world's spiritual traditions have produced autobiographical writings that in some way document the life of faith or religious commitment. The literary forms of religious or spiritual autobiography are often determined by the models of life-narrative - and, indeed, by the very definitions of life, self, and soul -that are upheld by a particular religious tradition, spiritual community, or cultural and literary context. Like Christianity, other religious traditions have narrated the religious life through their own doctrinal and cultural lenses. Judaism's recognition of the importance of history 1 5 led to an early emphasis on the individual's role in historical events, rather than on details of private spiritual experience. Exceptions include Hasidic literature, in which rabbis would sometimes describe their spiritual development, and the Kabbalistic literature of visions and mystical insights. Diaries and memoirs have long provided records of the religious persecution of Jewish people, from fifteenth-century accounts of their expulsion from Spain, to works by both victims and survivors of the Holocaust,- such as The Diary of Anne Frank (1947). Islamic spiritual autobiography found its earliest model in the biographical dictionaries that began to be published from the ninth century onwards, based on oral traditions of Muhammad and his followers. Narratives of the pilgrimage to Mecca became common during the Middle Ages, and provided another literary form for Islamic religious life-writing. Medieval mystics were among the earliest Muslims to recount their visions and spiritual experiences, in works such as al-Munqidh min al-dalaal (ca. 1095; Deliverance from Error) by scholar and Sufi mystic al-Ghazzaalii, which is often compared to Augustine's Confessions. Like Christianity, Islam has its share of conversion narratives; a contemporary example well known to many Western readers is The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965, with Alex Haley), by the eponymous African-American activist. Pei-yi Wu's seminal work on autobiography in China, The Confucian's Progress (1990), provides insight into the factors that shaped spiritual narratives by Buddhist Monks, Confucians, and Neo-Confucians. The constraints of traditional Chinese literature provided no models for self-revelation, and early spiritual autobiographers had to cloak their accounts in the ceremonial and self-effacing conventions of biography. Literary forms which offered a greater potential for the expression of spiritual concerns were the diary, employed as a record of self-examination by Neo-Confucian Wu Yii-pi (1392-1469), and travel literature, which gained enormous popularity through Confucian apostate and Buddhist monk Teng Huo-ch'ii's Nan-hsiln lu (1565; The Record of a Quest in the South). Canadian scholar Phyllis Granoff, in her extensive work on the spiritual autobiographies of medieval Indian Jain monks, notes that "remembrance of past births" or "[r]emembered autobiography plays a fundamental role in the Jain quest for salvation" (16). Indeed, the religious view, widespread in India, that the self or soul is an identity that encompasses more than one biological lifetime, expands the purview of spiritual autobiography beyond the boundaries of one historical life. Finally, it should be emphasized that in some spiritual traditions, the long history of oral rather than 16 written literature has led to a lack of emphasis on written forms of religious autobiography. Outsiders have sometimes attempted to record the stories of those coming from such communities. The resulting texts, though appreciably distorted and subject to criticism, have become popular spiritual and political documents. Guatemalan activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu's Me llamo Rigoberta Menchu y asi me nacio la conciencia (1983, with Elisabeth Burgos-Debray; translated as I, Rigoberta Menchu) and Native American Black Elk's Black Elk Speaks (1932, with John Neihardt) have attracted a wide readership outside of their own religious and cultural contexts.6 The relationship between women and spiritual autobiography has historically been a very complex one, and women's productions of the genre today seem to occupy a complex liminal space in literary criticism. These texts are often ignored or dismissed by critics of spiritual autobiography because they do not conform to the male models of the genre, yet criticized by feminist scholars for adhering too closely to those same norms.7 In most of the general (that is, not specifically feminist or women-oriented) studies of the genre, spiritual narratives by women are excluded in one of three ways. First, they may be ignored completely in favour of the paradigmatic texts written by figures such as St. Augustine, John Bunyan, Cardinal Newman, and Thomas Merton, as in the studies of Robert Bell, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, Heather Henderson, and Dennis Taylor. Second, women may be 6 The 1999 controversy surrounding the authenticity and veracity of Menchu's autobiography illustrates some of the problems that can arise when two different cultural codes, with contradictory conventions of selfhood and storytelling, come into conflict. American anthropology professor David Stoll wrote a book disputing the veracity of some of Menchu's claims, arguing that the book "cannot be the eyewitness account it purports to be" (Wright A14). Other scholars defend Menchu's memoir, claiming that it is a testimonio, a form in which "a personal story . . . also contains a message from a subordinated group involved in a political struggle" (Wright A16). In Circuitous Journeys. David J. Leigh outlines some of the problems of authenticity surrounding the writing of Black Elk Speaks, in which the emphasis of critics is on the distortions of the translator rather than the indigenous narrator (Leigh 162-77). Both of these controversies demonstrate the ways in which different readings of the rhetorical "intent" of autobiography can result in very different assessments of the value of a text. 7 In Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America 1740-1845, religious historian Catherine A. Brekus makes a similar observation about nineteenth-century American women preachers: "Revolutionary in their defense of female preaching, yet orthodox in their theology, female preachers had been too conservative to be remembered by women's rights activists, but too radical to be remembered by evangelicals" (7). Similarly, in Literature as Pulpit: The Christian Social Activism of Nellie L. McClung, literary scholar Randi R. Warne describes how feminist and mainstream historical studies of McClung dismiss her religion, while accounts of Canadian religious history pass her over in favour of the work of clergy and other religious men. 1 7 mentioned as unproblematic adherents of a tradition that is apparently (since the issue is not discussed) free of any gender bias; this is the case with Frank Bowman's mention of St. Teresa, or Daniel Shea's discussion of early American women's spiritual autobiographies. Third, if women spiritual autobiographers deviate in any way from the masculine norms, their narrative productions may be denigrated. Bowman's dismissal of Margery Kempe with the words "il serait difficile d'attribuer a son texte une grande valeur spirituelle" (323-4) stands in stark contrast to Sidonie Smith's characterization of Kempe, in A Poetics of Women's Autobiography (1987), as "a medieval mystic" whose book is "a fascinating work, full of life and energy and travail as it captures the quality of medieval Christian life" (60). Linda Peterson, in "Gender and Autobiographical Form: The Case of Spiritual Autobiography" (1988), refuses to accept as true spiritual autobiographies texts that do not conform to generic norms, yet she does not challenge the norms themselves. Another problem that arises in classifying women's spiritual autobiographies is that in recounting their religious beliefs and their relationships with communities of faith, women are almost as likely to write narratives that deal with a loss of faith as they are to affirm their spiritual beliefs. In Versions of Deconversion: Autobiography and the Loss of Faith (1994), John D. Barbour refers to such narratives as "deconversion narratives," and points out that many conversion narratives, beginning with St. Augustine's, are also deconversion narratives.8 The writers of such accounts often unwittingly recreate the conventions of spiritual autobiography, and may champion a new faith or a new agnostic freedom as fiercely as any convert. Women often write deconversion narratives as an explicit condemnation of the repressive or sexist practices of the religious tradition which they have abandoned. One example of such deconversion narratives is the category of ex-nuns' stories.9 While in the nineteenth century such works often served as anti-Catholic propaganda or thinly-veiled pornography, in the second half of the twentieth century these texts can be voices of women's resistance to monastic structures that they have experienced as restrictive, and may indeed be a prelude to an alternative spiritual awakening. Barbour suggests that 8 Frank Bowman takes a different stance in classifying such works as a distinct and antithetical category: "les autobiographies antispirituelles qui racontent non la conversion, mais la perte de la foi" (329). 9 For more on this sub-genre, and on the social phenomenon of ex-nuns, see Griffin , Hollingsworth, and SanGiovanni. 1 8 deconversion narratives may find more sympathy with sceptical modern audiences than traditional conversion narratives, particularly as their content is often much more sensationalist than many mainstream conversion narratives. However, in this study my interest is primarily in women who, rather than rejecting religion entirely, either seek out new forms of spirituality, or find ways of living in a state of creative tension with the traditions which they challenge. A genre that straddles the uneasy middle ground between conversion and deconversion is what literary critic Elizabeth N. Evasdaughter refers to as "Catholic girlhood narratives" (1996). Some of the writers she discusses would still consider themselves to be Catholics, while others describe their upbringing from their secular or atheist perspectives as adults. Catholic girlhood narratives offer a telling example of the fact that for many women, neither conversion nor deconversion is at issue in their spiritual lives. Rather, the challenge that such women face is in trying to occupy a middle ground, in which they struggle with, or are critical of, their religious tradition but do not leave it. Such narratives, as we shall see, offer a more nuanced vision of what the terms conversion and deconversion may mean for women. In "The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers" (1980), Mary G. Mason argues that "[t]he dramatic structure of conversion that we find in Augustine's Confessions, where the self is presented as the stage for a battle of opposing forces and where a climactic victory for one force . . . completes the drama of the self, simply does not accord with the deepest realities of women's experience" (210). Mason's suspicion is not necessarily of the trope of conversion itself, as literary scholar Peter Dorsey has argued ("Women's Autobiography" 73), but of the battle imagery that accompanies it, and the resolution of tension through the annihilation of one of the opposing forces. As we shall see, many women spiritual autobiographers prefer the way of dwelling in paradox. Furthermore, in many contemporary women's spiritual autobiographies, as we shall see, conversion refers not to an individual process of gaining faith, but to a prophetic activity of calling for change within social or religious institutions. This brief overview of the varieties of narrative forms that spiritual autobiography has adopted in various cultural, religious, and historical contexts, and of some of the complications that arise when women adopt the genre, should make it evident that a simplistic equation of the genre with conversion narratives is unfair to the breadth of sacred 1 9 life-narratives that have been written throughout the centuries. Furthermore, there is often a strong correlation between the literary forms adopted by spiritual autobiographers, and the particular uses for which their texts were written. One of the features that links spiritual autobiography across diverse faith traditions and cultures, as well as across these various literary forms, is an emphasis on the individual life as a model for the reader. Spiritual autobiography is almost always, at some level, didactic; it is an example of a "rhetorical (in the classical sense of audience-directed)" genre, as opposed to a "mimetic" or "textual" genre (Snyder 2). Each of the narrative forms discussed above is directed at an audience in an effort to inspire, convert, convince, or otherwise influence the reader. Conversion narratives are often written to gain membership into a particular faith community, such as the Puritans or contemporary evangelical sects. The apology is a rhetorical form usually adopted by those who wish to defend their religious views against either established authorities within their own tradition, or outside critics. The missionary life is a way of promoting the success of foreign missions, of soliciting funds from congregations in one's home country, and of inspiring future missionaries. The record of mystical visions is both a way of sharing private religious experience with a larger community, and a way of establishing the spiritual authority of the visionary.10 The narrative of pilgrimage is an engaging narrative form that can capture and hold the interest of a wide audience, while providing a metaphorical or allegorical map for the spiritual life. The private diary or journal is a method of self-examination which becomes an invitation to the inner life for other spiritual seekers if it is published. The functional or pragmatic dimension of spiritual autobiography - that is, the fact that it is often written to fulfill a specific purpose, rather than having a primarily aesthetic intent - may help to explain the suspicion with which some literary critics and contemporary readers regard the genre. Spiritual autobiography is a genre that places heavy demands on its readers. The relationship with an implied reader is often central to the text, expressed in the hope of the reader's conversion or transformation, or in the desire to provide the reader with a map or model. Indeed, although one can question the importance of the motif of conversion in the life of the writer of spiritual autobiography, conversion is virtually always projected in some 1 0 For a thorough discussion of the power struggles surrounding medieval women mystics' visionary discourse, see Jantzen. 20 way into the life of the reader of spiritual autobiography. Thus, in The Book of Margery Kempe, Kempe's scribe writes himself into her account as the model of the sceptical listener (or reader) who is eventually won over by her narrative.'1 Anne Bradstreet's brief spiritual autobiography, "To My Dear Children" (ca. 1656), is written for the religious edification of her offspring and family (Mason, "The Other Voice" 209 and 229). The spiritual autobiographies of many of the medieval mystics (Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross) were intended as devotional manuals or instructions in the life of prayer, while others were presented as revelations directly from God, with the power to challenge existing theologies (Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen, Marie de LTncarnation). Contemporary spiritual autobiographies, as David Leigh points out in Circuitous Journeys, often have a social or political component as well as a religious one, calling for the conversion not only of the reader, but of entire social structures and institutions (xiv). Thus, the reader is invited not only to follow the author on a path of individual, spiritual transformation, but to participate in the transformation of the world. One way in which the authors of spiritual autobiography have traditionally attempted to convey their message to as wide an audience as possible has been by adopting the most popular genres of their culture and historical period. Although books such as St. Augustine's Confessions, John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz's La Respuesta a Sor Filotea were originally written for a learned rather than a popular audience, spiritual autobiography has always had a certain affinity for what literary critic Thomas J. Roberts refers to rather affectionately as "junk fiction" (1-9). Religious life-stories such as the Puritan and Quaker conversion narratives, as well as Catholic lives of the saints and allegorical texts such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, were intended for a general readership. Similarly, in Quebec during the 1930s and 1940s, spiritual autobiographies shared many of the conventions of popular or sentimental romance, and were widely read by people of the working classes (Gagnon, "Autobiographic religieuse et roman sentimental quebecois"). Popular contemporary spiritual autobiographies, particularly " See Mason ("The Other Voice"), Dorsey ("Women's Autobiography"), and Smith (A Poetics of Women's Autobiography) for discussions of the emancipatory politics of Kempe's book. 2 1 those that might be labeled "New Age," 1 2 often continue this trend by taking the form of adventure stories, such as James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure (1997), or quest narratives, such as Lynn V. Andrews's Medicine Woman (1983). Public libraries often carry copies of books that academic libraries ignore, thus further emphasizing the apparent gulf between "high" and "low" forms. Spiritual autobiography's tendency to oscillate between the poles of "high" and "low" literature is not the only paradox or tension inherent in the genre. Frank Bowman points out that the genre as a whole has been marked more by a propensity for literary hybridity than by any generic homogeneity. Indeed, he terms spiritual autobiography's exemplars "des formes plutot excentriques du pacte [autobiographique]" (320), that is, heterogeneous texts that incorporate a wide variety of modes of discourse and literary styles. This hybridity exists in spite of spiritual autobiography's often formulaic and imitative qualities, which are in fact the subject of Bowman's article. Although he does not deny the importance of Augustine's text as the "modele-prototype" of all subsequent spiritual autobiography (316), Bowman argues that the first spiritual autobiography is not, in fact, Augustine's Confessions but a lesser known hybrid text: "La premiere autobiographie spirituelle chretienne n'est pas celle d'Augustin, mais de Gregoire de Nazianze; c'est un poeme qui deja melange details biographiques et meditations" (320). In Women's Spiritual Autobiography in Colonial Spanish America (1999), literary scholar Kristine Ibsen refers often to "the rhetorical hybridity of the vida[s]" (13) or "lives" written by Spanish American nuns in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, who produced accounts of their visionary experiences at the behest of their confessors. These spiritual autobiographies employ not only confessional discourse but also the legal language of the Inquisition and its tribunals. Such hybridity seems to be a feature of many, if not most, spiritual autobiographies. Caren Kaplan's description of "out-law genres" in "Resisting Autobiography: Out-Law Genres and Transnational Feminist Subjects" (1988) is also helpful - perhaps surprisingly - in elaborating theoretical claims about spiritual autobiography. Kaplan's article is concerned specifically with women's postcolonial narratives of resistance (such as prison narratives, 1 2 Journalist Ron Graham defines "New Age" rather dismissively as "the loose and controversial term broadly used to describe a loose and controversial mishmash of unusual cosmologies, spiritual practices, and health-food recipes" (God's Dominion. 65). 22 testimonio,13 biomythography,14 ethnography, and cultural autobiography15) and with a concomitant criticism of resistance. Nevertheless, many of the characteristics of the out-law genres that she identifies are also shared by spiritual life-narratives. Kaplan writes that "[o]ut-law genres in autobiographical discourse at the present moment mix two conventionally 'unmixable' elements - autobiography criticism and autobiography as thing itself (208). What differentiates spiritual autobiography from the out-law genres described by Kaplan is that it tends to mix not autobiography and criticism, but theology or spiritual reflection with the account of an individual's religious journey or spiritual growth. This characteristic is what Linda Peterson refers to as "the hermeneutic origin (or basis) of the genre" (213), and is evident as early as Augustine's Confessions. Frank Bowman fails to grasp the essential complexity and hybridity of Augustine's spiritual autobiography, when he calls the last four books of the Confessions, in which Augustine shifts from the autobiographical to the hermeneutical or theological mode, "generiquement monstrueux" (318). They may be so in terms of narrow definitions of spiritual autobiography or of literary genre, but it is clear that such "generic monstrosity" may indeed be one of the defining characteristics of spiritual autobiography itself. The presence of theological reflection in such texts is of particular importance in the case of women writers, for often the recounting of their own experience opens up a space from which to challenge the authority of the religious tradition, or to call the faith community (or national community) to justice and transformation. In the context of spiritual autobiography, this hermeneutical method consists of a perpetual movement back and forth between the individual life, and the larger sacred or religious narrative. In particular, spiritual autobiography engages in acts of theological and ethical reflection that transcend the life story of the individual. 1 3 Testimonio or testimonial literature refers to resistance narratives by postcolonial subjects, often transcribed by or written in collaboration with an editor, in which the personal "I" usually evokes the solidarity of a group identification. 1 4 The term "biomythography," coined by poet Audre Lorde to describe her book Zami, A New Spelling of My Name (1982), has been adopted by other gay and lesbian writers to refer to their efforts to create and celebrate a mythical historical context for their life-writing. 1 5 Cultural autobiography has been adopted by writers like literary critic bell hooks, who uses the genre of autobiography not to tell a personal story, but "to preserve and transmit experiences of black southern life" (Kaplan 212). 23 However, in "Gender and Autobiographical Form: The Case of the Spiritual Autobiography" (1988), literary critic Linda H. Peterson argues that the relative absence of spiritual autobiographies by nineteenth-century English women is directly related to "the hermeneutic origin (or basis) of the genre" (213). English autobiographers of the period were drawing on "a Protestant tradition of religious introspection" which borrowed its interpretive frameworks from the typological analysis of biblical texts (213). Women's participation in the hermeneutical process was not only generally discouraged on intellectual grounds, it was actively prohibited by most sects on the grounds of biblical authority. Peterson's conclusion is that such prohibitions effectively denied potential women spiritual autobiographers "the source from which self-interpretation proceeds" (216). Although the situation of twentieth-century Canadian women is admittedly very different from that of their nineteenth-century British counterparts, nevertheless, Peterson's argument raises two important points. The first point is that spiritual autobiography is strongly rooted in the interpretive traditions of its period, and that spiritual autobiographers attempt to make sense of their lives not only through the sacred texts of their religious tradition, but also through its hermeneutical methods. The second point is that gender is a factor that can complicate one's identification with the available models of interpretation. Thus, even contemporary Canadian women may find that they have to subvert or transform generic models because of embedded, formal assumptions about - and interpretations of - selfhood and the sacred. Furthermore, because feminist biblical hermeneutics has come into its own precisely during the period that I survey, many of the earlier authors that I study may not have had access to feminist hermeneutical models for interpreting their religious experiences. Therefore, they sometimes draw on interpretive models such as psychoanalysis that are equally problematic for women. Women spiritual autobiographers, both historically and during the contemporary period, have had to contend not only with the limitations of certain hermeneutical models in making sense of their own experience. They have also had to wrestle with the fact that many of the qualities held to be desirable by the world's major spiritual traditions are qualities that have often already been imposed on women by patriarchal social structures. It may seem, therefore, to some women, that spiritual commitment comes at the expense of personal freedom and development as an autonomous human being. In At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst (1998) Carol Lee Flinders, a scholar of women's mysticism, identifies four "critical stress points . . . along the interface between feminism and spirituality" (61), which she names "silence," "self-naughting," "redirecting desires," and "enclosure" (59-82). These stress points are among the tensions that women spiritual autobiographers attempt to resolve through their dialectical negotiations. "Self-naughting" refers to the fact that many religious traditions promote an ideal of selflessness or transcendence of the self that may seem antithetical to the writing of a narrative centred on the individual life. While the conventions of autobiography (particularly since Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, published in 1782) put the self at the centre of the textual enterprise, spiritual autobiographers are constantly (and perhaps not always successfully) trying to displace the self in order to place God, spirit, or the community of faith at the centre of the narrative. Indeed, the very notion of personal salvation or individual spirituality is alien to certain religious traditions. This displacement of the self is problematic for feminist critics like Patricia Meyer Spacks and Carolyn Heilbrun, who value autobiography as a literary vehicle for the proclamation of women's autonomy, individuation, and self-creation. In "Some Strategies of Religious Autobiography" (1974), Dennis Taylor's central argument is that the genre contains an inherent tension between ideals of disinterestedness and selflessness, and actual experiences of interestedness and selfishness that must be overcome by the autobiographer. This tension helps to explain why the genre is treated with suspicion by a feminist critic like Patricia Meyer Spacks, for whom the "mode of self-denial" of spiritual autobiography becomes questionable when it is adopted by prominent women activists and politicians (132). Literary scholar Carolyn Heilbrun, in an otherwise sensitive and insightful exploration of the writing of women's lives entitled Writing a Woman's Life (1988), subsumes religious commitment under the only "plot" traditionally available to women, that of "put[ting] a man at the center of one's life": "Occasionally women have put God or Christ in the place of a man; the results are the same: one's own desires and quests are always secondary" (21). Such a remark denies the autonomy and agency of women who choose to write their spiritual life-narratives. The point of these brief observations is simply to draw attention to the ways in which a feminist approach to women's spiritual autobiography as a distinct genre can sometimes overlook the very questions that are central to the writers themselves, questions that may set them apart somewhat from their non-religious counterparts. 25 Other critics view the tensions between individual and communal (or relational) identities in women's spiritual autobiographies in more nuanced ways. In "Women's Autobiography and the Hermeneutics of Conversion" (1993), literary scholar Peter A. Dorsey attempts to redress the fact that "the relationship between the traditions of the spiritual autobiography and women's life-writing has been regarded as being problematic — if not downright antithetical" (72). Dorsey is responding in particular to three feminist critics (Mary Mason, Sidonie Smith, and Linda Peterson) who demonstrate, in his opinion, a "suspicion of the form [of spiritual autobiography] as a vehicle for self-expression" (74). While not denying the historical factors that have complicated women's access to the genre, Dorsey argues that spiritual autobiography in fact exhibits many of the characteristics commonly associated with women's life-writing: non-linearity, the importance of relationships, and a tension between public and private selves. He also suggests that the discourse of conversion "opens a space for actions and beliefs that go against existing cultural norms" (75). Spiritual autobiographies by their very nature call into question rationalistic and individualistic notions of selfhood and agency, and conversion discourse can offer women an alternative interpretive framework through which to view not only their experiences and their actions, but also the injustices of their social contexts: "Its purpose is to persuade others of the cogency of one's interpretation of the self and the world, and its very 'otherness' allows it to be used to challenge existing power relations" (85). Perhaps the most noteworthy contribution of Dorsey's article to this discussion is the idea that spiritual autobiography is not necessarily a confining genre for women, but can offer them a space from which to engage in counter-cultural critique. The limitations of Dorsey's argument are his refusal to acknowledge that conversion discourse can be a problem for women (as well as for others, such as Catholics and non-Christians), and that spiritual autobiography is not always counter-cultural, but rather has the potential to be a highly conventional genre. Indeed, inherent in the genre of spiritual autobiography is a tension between tradition and innovation, between a conservative tendency to imitation and convention, and a propensity for spiritual autobiography to be associated with those on the margins of the religious tradition. On the one hand, as Frank Bowman and others point out, the very authority of the narrative may be determined by the extent to which the life of the autobiographer conforms to an ideal model or pattern. Thus, religious life-narratives may in 26 fact be one of the most formulaic or conventional of all autobiographical genres. On the other hand, both theologians and literary historians agree that spiritual autobiography is a genre that has generally been adopted by those on the margins of mainstream religious tradition, or those who felt that their communities of faith were somehow threatened from the outside. In this sense, spiritual autobiography may be closely related to genres of crisis such as narratives of illness, disability, and trauma. In Biography as Theology (1990), theologian James McClendon asserts that "confessional writing appears in the Christian movement whenever a believer finds it necessary to take a stand against the dominant thought-patterns of the day" (165). While women's spiritual autobiographies may offer unique instances of the individual's struggle either to leave a repressive religious environment behind, or to find ways to critique a religious tradition from the position of an insider, historically such texts have also given women the opportunity to belong to a specific community, and to gain power and authority within that context.16 In Women's Spiritual Autobiography in Colonial Spanish America. Ibsen highlights one of the challenges faced by many women who choose to recount their spiritual life-narratives within the context of a particular religious tradition or faith community; that is, the challenge of "successfully negotiating] the delicate balance between expression and obedience" (14). In the contemporary context, one might rename this as the balance between self-expression (that is, the expression of one's private spiritual experience) and faithfulness to the norms of the religious tradition. Canadian women writing their spiritual autobiographies in the last thirty years of the twentieth century were faced with far fewer social and cultural constraints than Spanish American nuns writing three hundred years earlier. Yet they still had to work within certain limitations imposed by discursive norms, from the available literary genres to the prevalent religious images and symbols. This pull between tradition and innovation in the genre of spiritual autobiography is one of the strongest of the genre's paradoxes for contemporary Canadian women. If spiritual autobiography is such a problematic category, both in terms of literary classification and with regard to women's life-writing, why retain the term at all? Here I align myself with the stance of Canadian literary scholar Helen M . Buss, who argues for the retention of the term autobiography as well as broader terms such as life-writing. In See, for example, Edkins and Brereton. 27 Mapping Our Selves: Canadian Women's Autobiography in English (1993), Buss defends her choice of the term autobiography to describe a fairly wide range of women's life-narratives, from diaries to novels to postmodern literary works, with an appeal to her "own need to refresh old terms rather than invent new ones" (14). After deconstructing the Greek roots of the word autobiography (autos or self, bios or life, and graphie or writing), Buss goes on to "emphasize that the very unstable nature of the word is what makes it suitable for describing the writing acts featured in this study, for those acts have been found to be themselves fairly unstable" (15). Like Buss, I feel the need to refresh and reclaim existing generic terminology. By classifying all of the texts in this study as spiritual autobiographies, I hope not only to expand the generic boundaries that women themselves are already pushing and challenging with their writing, but also to show that spiritual autobiography itself is far richer in its literary possibilities and potential than many literary critics have imagined. I believe that an understanding of the historical diversity of the narrative forms grouped under the heading of spiritual autobiography will also help to explain some of the idiosyncracies of the products of contemporary Canadian women. To summarize, spiritual autobiography is a life-narrative in which the author's awareness of the sacred or religious dimension of life is central. Spiritual autobiography adapts itself to the narrative forms of the author's religious, cultural, and literary contexts, and usually finds expression in hybrid genres. This literary hybridity has a hermeneutical basis, incorporating both self-disclosure and theological reflection, as the author seeks to understand her or his life in the light of sacred texts, religious beliefs, or other spiritual teachings. The relationship between spiritual autobiographers and their religious communities is a central aspect of spiritual autobiography, whether this relationship is one of affirmation, contestation, or rejection. The implied reader is a central participant in the discourse of spiritual autobiography, for the text often contains an implicit intention to convert the reader, or to invite the reader's participation in the transformation of self and world in the context of the spiritual autobiography's theological insights and ethical imperatives. Furthermore, there are many tensions inherent in the genre of spiritual autobiography, particularly as it is practised by women: between "high" and "low" literary forms, between self-disclosure (or self-assertion) and self-denial (or self-transcendence), between imitation and innovation. These tensions take on diverse nuances, and are resolved 28 in a variety of ways, depending on the spiritual autobiographer's historical, religious, social, cultural, and personal contexts. W o m e n and Religion in Canada: The Last T h i r t y Years What, then, are the particular contexts that have influenced late twentieth-century Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies? Religion in Canada is a highly complex phenomenon, at no time more so than the present, and although there is no space in this chapter to do more than outline the contemporary situation, the major issues that affect the texts discussed in this study should become apparent. There is no lack of statistics on the religious preferences of Canadians. The question of religious affiliation is part of Census Canada data as well as the subject of various Gallup polls, and University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby has conducted numerous surveys of his own, the results of which he discusses in two books: Fragmented Gods: The Poverty and Potential of Religion in Canada (1987) and Unknown Gods: The Ongoing Story of Religion in Canada (1993). However, interpreters of the statistics on religious affiliation disagree about precisely what they signify for the relative importance of spiritual beliefs in the everyday lives of most Canadians. In The Sociology of Religion: A Canadian Focus (1993), sociologist W. E. Hewitt notes that although church attendance has been on the decline in Canada over the last fifty or sixty years, other statistics suggest that "religion continues to play an important part in the everyday lives of Canadians" (4). In general, sociologists of religion portray both English Canada and Quebec as societies that have moved from a relatively strong religious homogeneity, to the contemporary situation in which the dominance of both Protestantism (in English Canada) and Catholicism (in Quebec) is increasingly challenged by religious pluralism, secularization, and the privatization of spirituality. Between 1971 and 1985, according to Statistics Canada, there was "a rather dramatic rise in lack of religious affiliation" in Canada, as the numbers of those who identify themselves as having "no religion" rose "from 4.4 percent to 10.5 percent in a period of 14 years" (Hewitt 59). Some sociologists suggest that if one were to expand the category of "religious nones" to include "the unaffiliated," or those who have a religious affiliation but only occasionally participate in communal religious rituals, the number would climb to 30 percent (Hewitt 59). This 29 observation applies not only to English Canada, but also to Quebec, as Pierre Boucher points out in his introduction to Croyances et incroyances au Quebec (1991): "[D]es etudes recentes revelent un paradoxe troublant. D'une part, une forte majorite de nos concitoyens affirme se referer et adherer a la religion traditionnelle d'ici. Et du meme souffle, les enquetes demontrent que peu de gens adoptent les elements fondamentaux de sa configuration religieuse" (7-8). However, the situation in Quebec has been somewhat different from that of the rest of English Canada, due to the strong links in the province between religion, culture, and politics at the communal level. Many historians and sociologists agree that the Quebec Act of 1774, in which the British government guaranteed the legal, linguistic, and religious rights of French Canadians, paved the way for centuries of domination by the Catholic clergy. Up until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the Roman Catholic faith was inextricably intertwined with the French language and with French Canadian culture, as well as with a strongly communal and agrarian way of life. Although this link may have begun to erode as early as the late nineteenth century (with increasing industrialisation), the Quiet Revolution is perceived as the watershed period in Quebec religious history for the enthusiastic embrace of secularism, and the rejection of many traditional Catholic values. With the Quiet Revolution, which followed years of conservative Catholic ascendance and political corruption during the regime of premier Maurice Duplessis, there came a profound questioning and often rejection of many of the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism, which many Quebecois held responsible for their collective attitudes of unquestioning acceptance of authority. Even before the 1960s, however, many Quebecois intellectuals were already accusing the Catholic church hierarchy of cooperating with the British and English Canadian oligarchy in Quebec to maintain the inhabitants of the province in ignorance and servitude.17 Nevertheless, new readings of Quebec religious history are now underway, and contemporary scholars also argue for the important contributions of the Catholic church to education, health care, social welfare, and letters. Many observers point out the powerful legacy of the Catholic church in Quebec, such as a continued emphasis on communal values, as well as the strong connections between the religious faith of the past and the nationalistic pride of the present. An obvious 1 7 Perhaps the most famous of these accusations is the Refus global (1948) of Quebecois automatiste painter Paul Emile Borduas. 3 0 and visible symbolic manifestation of such a link is the transformation of the annual St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration into the current Fete Nationale (officially renamed and appointed Quebec's national holiday by the Parti Quebecois government in 1977). Religious parades featuring representatives of John the Baptist have given way to processions of Quebec flags and smiling politicians. Similarly, no discussion of religion in Canada is complete without some attempt to come to terms with the complex relationships between aboriginal spirituality and Christianity. The last three decades of the twentieth century have been a paradoxical period for indigenous religions in Canada as well as for other faiths. During the 1960s and 1970s, many spiritual seekers from European Christian backgrounds began to turn to aboriginal spirituality to fill a perceived void in their own traditions, while at the same time many First Peoples were rediscovering and reclaiming their own sacred roots. However, in the 1980s the Canadian churches were forced to confront the fact that many staff members of Native residential schools had severely abused the children in their care. The stories of physical, sexual, emotional, and cultural abuse of First Nations children who had been removed from their families and placed in the Catholic, Anglican, and United Church-sponsored schools, left many Christian Canadians reeling in shock, and at the time of this writing it is still unclear what impact the resulting lawsuits will have on the spiritual credibility and financial solvency of the Canadian churches. The links between Christianity and colonialism are undeniable, both in English and in French Canada. Yet the numbers of First Nations individuals who are still practising Christians argues against a simplistic understanding of monolithic cultural and religious imperialism. The question of whether aboriginal peoples were actually converted to Christianity, or whether they in fact incorporated Christian beliefs into their existing theologies and spiritual practices, has implications for the issue of religious pluralism and syncretism today. Furthermore, as we shall see in Chapter Six, the notion of conversion has also been turned upside down by First Peoples, as individuals who are the grandchildren of indigenous "converts" now preach a message of repentance and reform to the great-grandchildren of the European missionaries. While the numbers of "religious nones" among Canadian-born Christians may be steadily growing, the numbers of immigrants from non-Christian countries (and from non-secularized Christian countries, that is, countries where the majority of people are still 3 1 practising Christians, often Roman Catholics) is also increasing (Hewitt 60). This trend has meant the arrival of growing numbers of new Canadians from non-Christian backgrounds (or from predominantly Christian countries where religion is still an important part of daily life), many of whom are more committed to their religious practices than Christian Canadians who would classify themselves as only moderately religious. In some cases, this phenomenon has led to radical demographic alterations in Canada's religious landscape. In God's Dominion: A Sceptic's Quest (1990), journalist Ron Graham describes the changes brought about to the city of Toronto, once a Protestant stronghold, by immigrants from Catholic countries arriving in great numbers during the 1950s and 1960s: "[Fjamilies rushed in from Italy, Eastern Europe, the Philippines, and Latin America, pushing Roman Catholics to the edge of becoming the majority in both the city and the country" (137). Graham also recounts a controversy that took place in 1988, "the so-called Taffaire d'Outremont' " (279), in which anti-Semitic feeling was stirred up in this predominantly French Canadian (and nominally Catholic) suburb of Montreal. The outcry was triggered by an application for a building permit for a synagogue, but caused at least in part by a clash between the rising numbers of Hassidim (a highly visible Orthodox Jewish sect) in the community and "the declining birth rate among French Canadians" (278). These are but two examples of the effects of religious immigrants on a more secular (but nominally or culturally "Christian") Canadian society. However, in spite of their apparent secularism, the category of Canadians who profess "private religious sentiment not tied to church membership or affiliation" (Hewitt 60) may actually be growing. It is not unusual these days to find articles such as the recent cover story of Maclean's magazine (April 16, 2001), entitled "Soul Searchers," in which Sharon Doyle Driedger reports on the growing phenomenon of Canadians going on spiritual retreats: "It is a silent revolution. Quietly, privately, more and more Canadians are slipping away from hectic lives, claiming time for inner reflection, in solitude or in small groups of like-minded seekers" (42). The cover story of the May 2000 edition of Elm Street magazine,18 written by Linda Goyette and entitled "A Search for the Holy Grail: Pam Barrett's AfterLife," examines with a mixture of scepticism and respect the resignation of Alberta 1 8 This Canadian magazine, devoted to "Canadian life/people/issues/style," finds its way into "more than 600,000 homes in preselected subscriber copies o f some of Canada's major national newspapers (Elm Street, May 2000, 16). 32 NDP leader Pam Barrett, after her near-death experience in the dentist's chair on February 1, 2000. Similarly, although nationalism may seem to some observers to have replaced religion in Quebec, studies show that a number of new faiths, sects, and cults are flourishing in the province.19 Pierre Boucher writes: "[L]es debris du 'ciel quebecois' a peine effronde, ont germe dans une terre religieuse en jachere. Le spectacle est etonnant: a nouveau le 'Ciel' s'alourdit ou s'egaie de sacre et de magie" (7). Even the established churches are attracting their share of spiritual seekers, as recent articles in both the The Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail attest.20 This private interest in spirituality is perhaps what supports the growth of the religious publishing industry in North America. In an article entitled "In Search of an Authentic Spirituality," Canadian theologian Marguerite Van Die notes that "already in 1985 North Americans reportedly purchased over 37 million books on spirituality" (7). A recent issue of Quill and Quire (December 2000), a publication for Canadian booksellers, has a "Spotlight" section devoted to "Religious and Spiritual Books." Several considerations emerge from this brief overview of the changing patterns of Canadian religious life over the last thirty years. It is indeed clear that during that time, the relative homogeneity of Canadian religious life has become increasingly diversified, and that the Canadian spiritual landscape now includes a higher number of people with no religion, with religious backgrounds other than Christianity, or with more private spiritual beliefs, than ever before. The implications of such pluralism for the writing (and reading) of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies are manifold. One might begin to expect to see the publication of more spiritual narratives by women from non-Christian religious traditions, narratives that might draw on literary models or textual practices unfamiliar to readers from a Christian background. One might also expect that for women writing from a Christian perspective, the tensions between individual expression and faithfulness to a community or tradition would be stronger than ever, in a context where allegiance to a religious community is increasingly becoming a mark of marginalization. 1 9 See, for example, Charron and Profils des principaux groupes religieux du Quebec (1995). 2 0 See, for example, "Non-churchgoers flock to 'basic Christianity' course," The Vancouver Sun (Wednesday, February 14, 2001): A l l , and " M y long and winding walk toward God ," The Globe and M a i l (Friday, December 29, 2000): A6-7, the last in a five-week Focus Special series on spirituality. 33 Furthermore, as theologian Sallie McFague argues in Metaphorical Theology (1982), regardless of the religious commitment of particular individuals, as a society "we are, even the most religious of us, secular in ways our foremothers and forefathers were not. We do not live in a sacramental universe in which the things of this world . . . are understood as connected to and permeated by divine power and love. Our experience, our daily experience, is for the most part non-religious" (1-2). This observation has implications for the readers of contemporary spiritual autobiographies, who may be unfamiliar with religious imagery or intertextual references to sacred writings. Even more crucial is the consideration that in Quebec, the cultural climate over the last thirty years may have been more conducive to questioning and rebelling against the authority of the Catholic Church, than to the writing of devotional literature. At the same time, the growing interest in private spirituality may render contemporary readers particularly receptive to the genre of spiritual autobiography. Thus, for a contemporary, Canadian woman to write the story of her life within a religious framework is a complex rhetorical activity that is situated at the intersection of a variety of competing and sometimes contradictory discourses. The last thirty years have been an important period for women in Canadian religious and secular life. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was published in 1970, giving widespread recommendations for the improvement of women's situations in all aspects of Canadian society: from access to government-funded day care programs for children, to more positive images of women in school textbooks, to the appointment of more women as senators and judges. The writers of the report note the growth of the feminist movement in Canada, observing that "as of March 1970, there were local units of the Women's Liberation Movement in 16 cities from Vancouver to Halifax" (2). The rise of feminism, as well as the increased national attention focused on the status of women in Canada by the Royal Commission's public hearings, also led to improvements in women's positions within religious institutions. Although sociologists of religion in Canada, as we have seen, point to a decline in religious commitment over the last thirty or thirty-five years, women's involvement in leadership roles within the Protestant Christian churches has 34 been slowly on the increase.21 In the Catholic context, the Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962, spent three years examining the role of the Catholic church in the world, and proposing changes that would help it to rejoin mainstream society. Vatican II had widespread effects that began to be felt around the world from the late 1960s on, and these included a greater freedom for both lay women and women in religious orders. The role of French Canadian Catholic women in relation to religion is in many ways quite different from that of their English Canadian Protestant counterparts. The Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary - which has had no counterpart in Protestant denominations until recent feminist evocations of Sophia (Wisdom), or feminine imagery for God or the Holy Spirit - has meant that women have had their share of veneration in the religious context. Indeed, some historians and sociologists argue for the strongly matriarchal character of traditional Quebec society. Similarly, as Marta Danylewycz and other historians have shown, nuns in Quebec religious orders benefitted from a great deal of autonomy and independence, both economic and spiritual. On the other hand, with a predominantly Roman Catholic population, women in Quebec have not been able to accede to ordained positions within the institutional church as they have in the Protestant denominations in English Canada. Feminist theologian Monique Dumais draws attention to the Quebec Catholic church's emphasis on the sacred vocation of motherhood, and argues that this cult of motherhood has limited women's perceptions of the other options open to them.2 2 Background on Religion and Spir i tua l Autobiography in Canadian Li terature The last thirty years have also been a formative period for the field of English Canadian and Quebec literatures. Both English and French Canadian authors have 2 1 For example, although the first woman minister was ordained by the United Church of Canada only in 1936, by the year 2000 approximately 25% of all United Church ordained ministers were women (968 women and 2931 men), while diaconal women ministers outnumber the men 14 to 1 (247 to 17). Although such statistics are encouraging in that they point to change within religious institutions, they also draw attention to how far women still have to go in order to reach equal representation with men in positions of church leadership. 2 2 A collection of writings by Monique Dumais has been self-published under the title Ferveurs d'une theologienne (Rimouski: Departement des Sciences Religieuses, Universite du Quebec, 1978). Essays by Dumais also appear in numerous publications on women and religion in Quebec. 35 demonstrated a marked concern with questions of identity and nationalism, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. However, the role of religion in identity formation generally has not been addressed. The critic of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies must contend with the relative neglect of religious or spiritual writings in the context of Canadian literary criticism. There seems to be a discomfort with issues of religion in Canadian literary circles that is not shared in the United States, where explorations of the religious origins of American literature abound. Scholarly studies such as Daniel B. Shea, Jr.'s Spiritual Autobiography in Early America (1968), Patricia Caldwell's The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression (1983), and Peter A. Dorsey's Sacred Estrangement: The Rhetoric of Conversion in Modern American Autobiography (1993) have done a great deal to advance our understanding of the significance of spiritual autobiography (usually defined as Puritan conversion narratives) to the development of American literature. Literary scholars are not the only academics who assert the importance of religion in the formation of American culture. In Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada (1990), political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset points out that unlike Canada, "[t]he United States is a country formed by Protestant dissent, by the groups known in England as the dissenters and nonconformists . . . The majority of the population have always belonged to, or adhered to, the sects, not to the various denominations which were or are state churches" (Lipset 74). Given that spiritual autobiographies are often written by those on the margins, or at a time when faith is threatened or in crisis, it is perhaps not surprising that a country founded by religious dissenters is rich in conversion narratives and other spiritual autobiographies, and that this genre has influenced American literature as a whole. Whatever the reasons for the neglect, no comprehensive literary explorations of spiritual autobiography or religious literature have been attempted in Canada, making it more difficult to situate contemporary examples of the genre in their historical context. Although "Religious and Theological Writings" are considered to be a category worthy of inclusion in the first (1967) as well as the second (1976) editions of the Literary History of Canada, there is no mention of spiritual autobiography in either edition. In the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (1997), only two pages are devoted to "Religion and Theology" (as opposed to eight pages for "Exploration literature," three pages for "Pioneer 36 memoirs," and four pages for "Travel literature"), and once again the genre of spiritual autobiography is not mentioned at all (991-993). In the context of Quebec literature, sacred writing is interwoven throughout the history of the province's discursive productions, as is evident from even a brief glance at the subject headings in the 1967 Histoire de la litterature francaise du Quebec, edited by Pierre de Grandpre: the writings of "les peres fondateurs" and "l'eloquence sacree" are treated as significant literary categories, and one cannot help noticing that many of the authors (particularly in the early volumes of the four-volume history) have ecclesiastical titles such as abbe or monseigneur. However, once again, spiritual autobiography receives no mention as a distinct literary genre. It is difficult to assess the extent of religious life-writing in Canadian literature, due to the absence of a critical history of the subject. In the French Canadian context, some of the earliest writings produced in New France were the seventeenth-century Jesuit Relations. The visionary writings of Marie de l'lncarnation (published by her son in Paris in 1677) are considered as an example of early Quebec Catholic mystical literature. As Victor-Levy Beaulieu points out in the Manuel de la petite litterature au Quebec (1974), stories of pious Catholics (many of them women and children) were a staple of popular literature in Quebec during the nineteenth century. In English Canada, Terrence L. Craig's study of Missionary Lives points to the importance of this genre to the Canadian churches. Certain prominent authors have published spiritual autobiographies, such as suffragist Nellie McClung (Clearing in the West in 1935 and The Stream Runs Fast in 1945), but English Canadian reference works are less comprehensive in their treatment of life-writing than their French Canadian counterparts. Recent studies of the relationship between religion and literature in English Canada have focused primarily on male writers of fiction, such as Robertson Davies (Little), Morley Callaghan and Hugh MacLennan (Pell), or on particular (minority) religious groups, such as Mennonite writers (Reimer) or Jewish writers (Greenstein). None of the aforementioned studies has addressed autobiography, or women's writing. Locations of the Sacred (1998), a recent publication by William Closson James, a Religious Studies professor, emphasizes women writers (Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro, Joy Kogawa, Marian Engel, and Aritha van Herk) as well as non-literary or non-fictional narratives, such as tales of canoe trips, or the complex web of stories woven around the 1941 Belcher Islands 37 massacre. For the most part, however, James chooses fictional texts over autobiographical ones, explaining that his interest is in "the religious imagination" in Canada, rather than in "organized religion . . . especially not in terms of doctrinal beliefs and attitudes, nor institutional affiliation and attendance at worship" (2). My approach differs from James's first by attending to the religious imagination precisely in non-fictional spiritual narratives, and second by considering institutional affiliation to be a significant factor in influencing the discursive choices of contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers. Along with James's book, other English Canadian publications that have appeared recently attest to a renewed preoccupation with the dimension of the sacred in Canadian literature, and in Canadian women's experience. A Matter of Spirit: Recovery of the Sacred in Contemporary Canadian Poetry (1998), edited by Susan McCaslin, brings together poems by sixteen Canadian writers (seven of whom are women), all linked by a concern with spiritual experience. Voices and Echoes: Canadian Women's Spirituality (1997), edited by Jo-Anne Elder and Colin O'Connell, is a collection of short stories and poems that purports to "present the ways that women have explored their spirituality" (xiii). The Winter 1997 issue of the York University periodical Canadian Women Studies / les cahiers de la femme, is devoted to the topic of Female Spirituality. The issue includes scholarly articles on the history of women's spiritual expression (from pre-Christian goddess worship to medieval mystics to eighteenth-century Newfoundland Methodist women), autobiographical reflections (by a Jewish woman who is a student of Buddhism, by a contemporary Hindu Goddess worshipper, by a midwife who is also a United Church minister, by women who reflect on the relationships between physical disability and spirituality, and others), creative writing, and book reviews. Many of the essays in the collection were originally presented at a gathering at York University in 1996, entitled "Female Spirituality: A Celebration of Worshippers, Goddesses, Priestesses, and Female Saints." Compiling a bibliography of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies is no simple task. The genre itself, as we have seen, is not a well-established or easily defined literary category. Canadian women's religious life-narratives may be classified under any number of headings in book stores, for example: biography, non-fiction, Canadiana, essays, religion and spirituality, fiction, and even nature writing (in the case of Sharon Butala). I discovered many of the books analysed in this study during a determined 38 search through religious and general book stores and libraries (primarily in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Sherbrooke, and Moncton), by contacting religious women's organizations such as the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, and by scouring reference works such as The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (Second Edition, 1997), Yvan Lamonde's Je me souviens: La litterature personnelle au Quebec (1860-1980) (1983), and Yvan Lamonde and Marie-Pierre Turcot's La litterature personnelle au Quebec (1980-2000) (2000) for mentions of religion and spirituality. Although the French Canadian bibliographies of life-writing are more comprehensive than their English Canadian counterparts (the social and political reasons for this difference can be inferred from the title of Yvan Lamonde's collection, Je me souviens), neither community distinguishes spiritual autobiography as a distinct category of life-narrative, and the interested reader or researcher is left to ponder titles, book jackets, and reviews for hints of religious content. Of the primary authors whose texts are discussed in this study, only Sharon Butala (who is also a novelist and short story writer) and Jovette Marchessault (who is also a visual artist and playwright) receive entries in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (1997). Only Butala's The Perfection of the Morning (1994) is reviewed in the Canadian Book Review Index, and only Marchessault receives an entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography's Canadian Writers Since 1960: Second Series (1987). None of the authors is mentioned in Contemporary Canadian Authors (1996), Contemporary Canadian and U.S. Women of Letters: An Annotated Bibliography (1993), or Dictionary of Literary Biography's Canadian Writers Since 1960: First Series (1986). By contrast, the reference works for French Canadian authors are much more comprehensive. The Dictionnaire des auteurs de langue francaise en Amerique du Nord (1989) has entries for Marcelle Brisson, Jovette Marchessault, and Andree Pilon Quiviger.23 It is not difficult to speculate as to why spiritual autobiography has been virtually ignored as a genre in Canadian literature, although there is probably no definitive reason for this critical neglect. It may be worth rehearsing some of the characteristics of the genre that act as obstacles to its academic study. To begin with, as we have seen, spiritual 2 3 Andrea Richard's and Micheline Piotte's books were published later, in 1995 and 1999 respectively. The absence of any mention at all of Piotte may be because her first book was only published in 1988. 39 autobiography - like autobiography itself - is a notoriously slippery term to define. Most American literary critics equate spiritual autobiography with conversion narratives, thus privileging the form of the genre preferred by the Puritans and other sectarian Protestants. However, this definition has excluded many forms of sacred life-writing by Catholics, women, non-Christians, and others. Another reason for spiritual autobiography's neglect may be the affinity of its authors for popular or vernacular forms of literature. Many authors of spiritual autobiography are not writers by profession, but rather are individuals who have turned to writing in order to make sense of their religious experience, and to convey their beliefs to others. This relative lack of experience with the craft of writing sometimes leads to texts of questionable "literary" value. Furthermore, literary studies take place today in an academic context that is often, if not hostile to, at least suspicious of or uncomfortable with, the subject of religion itself. The colonial and imperialistic overtones of some missionary auto/biographies, the unquestioning faith of many mystical visionaries, the overt proselytization of most conversion narratives, and the tendency of a great deal of contemporary spiritual literature to emulate popular psychology's "self-help" books, may all help to explain why an agnostic or sceptical contemporary reader may find spiritual autobiography a problematical genre for academic research, for what is one person's devotional literature may be another person's propaganda or "junk" fiction. This opinion is expressed in no uncertain terms by former Governor General's Award juror T. F. Rigelhof.2 4 In an article published in the National Post on May 13, 2000, "Confessions of a Governor General Juror" (borrowing, ironically enough, its title from the very genre that Rigelhof dismisses), Rigelhof admits that, following the example of former juror Brian Fawcett,25 one of the "kinds of books [that] didn't make it onto his shortlist" for the non-fiction award was " 'devotional literature' . . . [that is,] works trying to sell us . . . 2 4 Vancouver-born T. F. Rigelhof (b.1944), who currently teaches Religious Studies at Dawson College in Montreal, is the author of poetry, short stories, and essays. His memoir, A Blue Boy in a Black Dress (1995), was nominated for a Governor General's Award in 1995. Rigelhof was also for many years a regular book reviewer and literary columnist for the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star, and the Globe and M a i l . A collection o f essays based on his columns has recently been published under the title This Is Our Writing (2000). 2 5 Brian Fawcett (b. 1944) is a British Columbia poet, short story writer, and essayist who has worked as a community planner, an English teacher for a prison outreach program, and an editor. His writing has a strong social conscience and is often controversial. 4 0 God in various guises" (BIO). While Rigelhof chooses the term "devotional literature" rather than "spiritual autobiography," it is clear from his remarks that he is dismissive of any writing in which religious polemic seems to outweigh literary concerns. He justifies this exclusion on aesthetic and intellectual rather than ideological grounds, arguing that religious topics "require more awareness of the infinite complexities 'of language and human realities' than the authors acknowledge or even perceive in their works" (BIO). However, Rigelhof himself is a former Catholic and ex-seminarian, and the author of what one might call an anti-spiritual autobiography or deconversion narrative.26 It is at least possible that his decision to exclude devotional literature is influenced as much by anti-religious sentiment as by literary judgement. Rigelhof s comments are all the more surprising because author Sharon Butala, a former Governor General's Award winner and fellow juror of Rigelhof s, has been described by William Closson James as "a foremost contemporary example" of a "nature mystic" (xiii). Furthermore, as prominent a Canadian writer as Margaret Laurence has used the term "spiritual autobiography" to refer to one of her most celebrated and controversial novels. In Dancing on the Earth: A Memoir (1989), she writes that "The Diviners came closest to being not precisely an autobiography, but certainly a spiritual autobiography" (6). Margaret Laurence and Sharon Butala are by no means the only contemporary Canadian women authors who have embraced the allegedly unliterary genre of spiritual autobiography after establishing their literary reputations in other forms of writing. Canadian playwright Patricia Joudry, best known for her radio and television dramas written in the 1940s and 1950s, also published an account of her lifelong interest in spiritualism, From Spirit River to Angels' Roost: Religions I Have Loved and Left (1977), and co-authored with Maurie Pressman a spiritual study entitled Twin Souls (1993). Acadian author Antonine Maillet, after establishing her reputation as the foremost contemporary storyteller of the Acadian people, wrote an intriguing but lesser known book called Les Confessions de Jeanne 2 6 A Blue Boy in a Black Dress (Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1995) draws parallels between Rigelhof s . unhappy experiences (including a suicide attempt) as a Catholic seminarian and the murder-suicides o f cults such as the Order o f the Solar Temple. Rigelhof promotes an anti-authoritarian and scientific worldview that still values poetry and mystery. In his concluding chapter, he writes: "[T]he world in which I 'm most at home is the one that comes as a simple gift from the natural order. We are star dust. I prefer the narrative epic of stars and neurons disclosed by science to any o f the myths propagated by religions" (104-105). 4 1 de Valois (1992). This work is what might be called a "fictional biography," that is, a fictional narrative (Maillet calls it "un roman") based on the life of a real person, a nun who was teacher and mentor to Maillet herself (who was also, briefly, a nun). Quebec Metis visual artist and writer Jovette Marchessault, now best known for her feminist dramas, actually launched her writing career with the two "fictional" spiritual autobiographies that I will be discussing in this study. Furthermore, over the last thirty years, from 1970 to 2000, growing numbers of ordinary as well as prominent Canadian women have written and published, in both English and French, autobiographical texts that focus on their spiritual lives and religious experiences. Yet for the most part, these books have received little critical attention, and only in rare instances, such as Butala's award-winning The Perfection of the Morning (1994) and Marchessault's award-winning Comme une enfant de la terre (1975), have they been considered as works of "literature." Part of the resistance to the study of religiously motivated literature is, as we have seen in Rigelhof s objection to devotional literature, a suspicion of its polemical nature. However, to refuse to classify a text as literary merely because of its obvious ideological intent - because it is, in Rigelhof s words, "trying to sell us God" - is to deny many works that are generally accepted as literary classics, from Augustine's Confessions (ca. 397-400) to Pascal's Pensees (1660), from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678) to The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). One of the aims of spiritual autobiography is, in fact, "to sell us God"; Rigelhof s objection is therefore to one of the most fundamental characteristics of the genre. In Literary Theory: An Introduction (1996), literary critic Terry Eagleton points out that literature cannot be defined as including only "non-pragmatic discourse" and "self-referential language": "[I]t would probably have come as a surprise to George Orwell to hear that his essays were to be read as though the topics he discussed were less important than the way he discussed them. In much that is classified as literature, the truth-value and practical relevance of what is said is considered important to the overall effect" (7, emphasis in the text). For a literary critic to avoid grappling with the questions of ethics and values raised by literature is to turn one's back on the reason that many books are written in the first place. Rather than dismissing certain works as "unliterary" because of their subject matter, literary criticism can offer an understanding of language and rhetoric that allows us to examine the 42 textual strategies through which ideological arguments are constructed, including our own. These are precisely the questions that I will attempt to address in this study. Research Questions It would appear to be an opportune time to undertake research into contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. Given the growing popular and academic interest in spirituality, as well as the increased marketing and commodification of devotional and religious literature, literary scholars need to have the critical language, the methodological tools, and the historical background to be able to assess and evaluate this contemporary phenomenon. The present study is a preliminary attempt to lay some of the necessary groundwork for this endeavour. My research has been guided by multiple aims. First and foremost has been the desire to examine the discursive practices of contemporary Canadian women who seek to narrate their spiritual lives in a predominantly secular and heterogeneous literary context. A second goal has been to invite my readings of these texts to contribute to the contemporary discussions of spiritual autobiography as a genre. A third project has been to reflect on the contributions of these texts to the field of Canadian literature as a whole, particularly in the rereadings of canonical women authors that they suggest. A fourth question has been what pedagogical challenges and contributions women's spiritual autobiography as a genre might bring to the literature classroom, as well as to the general reader. Finally, given the complex and often problematic status of the genre in contemporary literature, a fifth aim has been to consider the future of spiritual autobiography in Canada. Having opened this chapter with an intellectual autobiography, I will close it with something of an intellectual manifesto. I share with feminist literary critic Francoise Lionnet and others a sense of both hope and urgency with regard to the potential of literature, literary criticism, and literary pedagogy to transform both individuals and communities. In Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender. Self-Portraiture (1989), Lionnet raises these issues in a passage that resounds with the conviction of a spiritual creed: These are questions we must face with great urgency if we believe that intellectual work can have any kind of effect on reality, if we do not want our words to be . . . 43 aimless detours or strategies of deferral, and would rather choose to have them function as a means of transforming our symbolic systems, for the symbolic is real, and in symbols lies our only hope for a better world. To reinterpret the world is to change it. (26, emphasis in the text) Some readers may find this emphasis on language, symbols, and interpretation to be an overly formalist way of envisioning the process of social change, and I would certainly agree with them (as, no doubt, would Lionnet) that other less literary acts are a crucial part of this process. Nevertheless, many of those who engage passionately with literature - whether as students, as teachers, as critics, or as lifelong readers - do so because this engagement enriches their lives in significant and unforgettable ways. On the one hand, literature often has an aesthetic beauty, a rhetorical force, and a visionary quality that has the power to inspire its readers. This is the argument made by scholars such as sociologist Robert Coles in The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (1989). On the other hand, the critical study of literature can give its practicioners the conceptual tools with which to question and to challenge the discourses in which they find their own lives inscribed. This is the approach favoured by critics such as Terry Eagleton, who advocates a politically-aware rhetorical literary criticism in Literary Theory: An Introduction (1996). Caren Kaplan's suggestion, in "Resisting Autobiography: Out-Law Genres and Transnational Subjects," that certain forms of writing demand certain forms of reading, raises questions of responsibility for the critic of spiritual autobiography. If "resistance literature" demands "resistance criticism" (210), then does spiritual autobiography demand some form of spiritual or theological criticism? What is the difference between a literary reading and a theological reading of a spiritual autobiography? Kaplan's work indicates that perhaps the two are inseparable; that in order to do critical justice to women's spiritual life-narratives, one must engage with them not only on the literary, but also on the theological and ethical levels. On this point I would argue, with fellow comparatist Louise M . Rosenblatt, that the task of the teacher and critic of literature is to hold both aesthetic and ethical questions in tension, just as they always exist in relationship in the life of the text itself. In Literature as Exploration (1995), Rosenblatt writes that "[f]o view literature in its living context is to reject any limiting approach, social or aesthetic. Although the social and aesthetic elements in literature may be theoretically distinguishable, they are actually inseparable" (22, emphasis 44 in the text). The methodology that I will outline in the following pages attempts to combine aesthetic (or literary) and social (or theological) concerns, in order to elucidate the unique rhetorical activities in which contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies are engaged. These rhetorical strategies are of interest to me - as a literary scholar and as a woman of faith - not as purely aesthetic elements but for their wider social, political, theological, and ethical implications. Such an approach does not imply an unquestioning acceptance of the religious views of the authors under consideration, but neither does it allow for the kind of all-encompassing dismissal of devotional polemic expressed by Rigelhof. Rather, it attempts to approach these works both critically and also with respect for their authors' religious views, however alien or familiar they may seem. The type of criticism of spiritual autobiography that I advocate is one that invites readers to engage not only with the writer's deeply-held beliefs and values, but also with their own. Each one of us approaches the study of all literature (and not only spiritual autobiography) with our own beliefs and values, which express themselves in our own lives through a comparable mixture of imagery, narrative form, and dialogical context as in the books that I analyse in this study. Religion may no longer be surrounded by the same social taboos in Canadian society as in societies or historical periods in which it is universally accepted as sacred and unquestionable, but in many cases it still retains the power to silence discussion, perhaps because of the realization that religious beliefs are often tied to people's deepest, most emotional, and most private experiences. I quickly learned that my topic of academic research is either a very effective conversation-stopper, or a subject that opens the floodgates to an individual's fundamental world-view. Discussion, disagreement, and debate have been part of the history of religions - even when such discursive activities were expressly forbidden - perhaps even longer than they have been part of the world of academic scholarship. I hope that the study that unfolds over the following pages will stimulate debate, dialogue, discussion, disagreement even, but above all, a dynamic reassessment of the place of Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies in the contemporary literary and academic contexts. 45 Chapter Two Theoretical and Methodological Considerations Corpus of This Study In order to begin formulating some answers to the questions posed at the end of the last chapter, I have chosen to analyse sixteen contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. For the purposes of this study, the term "contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiography" refers to any non-fictional, prose text published after 1970, in which a Canadian woman writes about any part of her life experience with an explicit focus on her relationship with a particular religious group or tradition, or on her own primary concern with spiritual (as opposed to exclusively material, intellectual, or psychological) concerns. The field of sacred life-writing by women in Canada is relatively limited, although it is steadily growing. Nevertheless, I have not included in the purview of my study all works by Canadian women that deal with religious or spiritual life. I have excluded works of fiction -even autobiographical fiction - with the exception of Jovette Marchessault's Comme une enfant de la terre and La Mere des herbes. Although these two books draw on the conventions of fiction, they also engage the reader in a form of the autobiographical pact, by indicating that the name of the author, narrator, and protagonist are one and the same.1 I have also included only published texts, as part of my interest lies in exploring the place of these works in Canadian literature, as well as their potential impact on readers outside of the author's community of faith. Finally, I have excluded works of theology or other forms of non-fiction that do not have substantial autobiographical content. Even within these restrictions, there are still more published spiritual autobiographies by contemporary Canadian women than can be adequately accommodated by one literary study. Therefore, the autobiographical writings selected for this study share a number of common characteristics and concerns, apart from their national affiliation and contemporary historical context. Each of the writers under discussion wrestles overtly with the ways in 1 Philippe Lejeune's classic formulation of the autobiographical pact insists that there be both "identite de l'auteur et du narrateur" and "identite du narrateur et du personnage principal" in the text (Le pacte autobiographique , 1975, 14). 46 which her identity as a woman interacts with her religious identity or her spiritual concerns, as well as with her national or cultural identity. I have also chosen texts that share certain common interests and themes: a concern for social justice or religious reform, an interest in embodied spirituality, a preoccupation with gender, and a certain awareness (or questioning) of a Canadian (or Quebec) identity or context. For the purposes of textual analysis, I have not grouped these sixteen works together chronologically, but rather in terms of the relationships between the different authors and their faith communities or religious traditions.2 This method of organization is consistent with my thesis that there are significant connections to be made between the uses of metaphor and imagery, the narrative forms, and the theological or ethical stances adopted by each writer in relation to her imagined communities, both religious and secular. The first group of texts, which are examined in Chapter Three, consists of spiritual autobiographies written by Christian women who see themselves as public figures, engaged in leadership roles within their spiritual communities. The four memoirs in this chapter are by Lois Wilson (the first woman moderator of the United Church of Canada), Mary Jo Leddy (a prominent religious journalist and social activist who was one of the founding editors of the alternative newspaper Catholic New Times), Andrea Richard (an Acadian ex-nun, founder of a contemplative Catholic lay community in Quebec), and Joanna Manning (a well-known Catholic educator and outspoken critic of the Vatican). These four authors confront the conflicts that they experience in their lives between their public roles and their private faith, between their religious commitments and their social responsibilities. In Chapter Four, I examine life-narratives written by women whose relationship to the Christian tradition and to Christian community is somewhat more complex, and who write as private rather than as public figures. The four personal and introspective autobiographical accounts that make up this chapter are by Marcelle Brisson (a novelist and essayist who tells the story of her journey from convent life to secular, urban life), Andree Pilon Quiviger (who has various vantage points that include mother, wife, psychologist, and writer), Celeste Snowber Schroeder (who writes from her perspectives as mother, wife, liturgical dancer, writer, and 2 For a chronological listing of the works by date of publication, see Appendix I. For a chronological listing by the author's date of birth, in order to highlight potential generational differences, see Appendix II. 47 biblical scholar), and Micheline Piotte (who identifies herself as a writer, a spiritual seeker, a psychologist, and a person with a disability). These four authors focus more intensively on their everyday experiences, and wrestle with the tensions between their realities as embodied beings and their more transcendent spiritual yearnings. Chapter Five analyses two works of autobiographical fiction by Jovette Marchessault (a prominent Metis writer and visual artist from Quebec), and two narratives of spiritual quest by Sharon Butala (a w e l l 4 c n o w n Canadian novelist from the Prairies). Each pair of texts is interesting for the ways in which the books complement and, whether intentionally or not, rewrite each other. Both Butala and Marchessault situate their writing in tension with Christianity, and in relationship with aboriginal and nature-oriented spiritual traditions. Their narratives move sometimes uneasily between a lyrical nature mysticism and a more ironic or sceptical awareness of science and history, never quite resolving the tensions between the two perspectives. Although they portray themselves as solitary seekers, both authors have won Canadian literary awards, making them the most accepted of these writers by the literary mainstream. In Chapter Six, I discuss four anthologies or works of collective authorship. Two of these are situated within the Christian tradition (one by women from a low-income Montreal neighbourhood, and one a collection of interviews with First Nations women elders); another is a collection of essays by Jewish women; and the last is an anthology of biographical and autobiographical sketches by and about Canadian Muslim women. The contributors to these anthologies all emphasize the communal nature of their religious commitments, seeing themselves as fragments of a larger spiritual whole. Yet a lively tension between individual and communal values never ceases to inform their writings. Furthermore, they all perceive the groups to which they belong as being marginalized by mainstream Canadian society, and their writing becomes a way of making visible or audible the experiences of their religious, cultural, or economic communities. Finally, in my Conclusion, I make some suggestions regarding further research to be accomplished in the area of religious life-writing and Canadian literature, as well as reflecting on the implications of the rhetorical strategies of these authors for the teaching of spiritual autobiography. 48 The Double Vision of Women's Spiritual Autobiography One of the common rhetorical features that links spiritual autobiographies across different historical periods, narrative forms, and religious beliefs, is the fact that their authors write with a kind of "double vision," aware of both their secular, cultural context and the more all-encompassing sacred narrative in which they see their own life story unfolding. Autobiography as a genre is already imbued with the double vision of the author who is at once protagonist and narrator, who is both the one who experiences and the one who interprets.3 Spiritual autobiography offers a unique instance of this double vision, in which the writer's experience may be worldly, but the interpretation given to it is sacred; or, in a related fashion, in which the message is spiritual but the available literary forms are secular. On the one hand, even when the imagery used by spiritual autobiographers is literally drawn from their own lives (such as the figure of the mother, the image of the desert, the action of pilgrimage, the world of nature, and so on), it may take on added theological significance from its meaning in their religious traditions. On the other hand, the writers' choice of narrative forms may rely as much on popular, secular literature as on the heritage of scriptural and classic texts. In addition, spiritual autobiographers may posit in their writing both a homogeneous audience composed of fellow believers, and a disparate audience consisting of non-believers whom the writers wish to convert, or of accusers against whom they must defend themselves. These dualities become a veritable multiplicity of competing factors for contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers, who may write out of diverse senses of identity: religion, culture, class, education, profession, gender, sexuality, language, physical ability, and so on. I have borrowed the concept of a religious double vision specifically from Canadian literary scholar Northrop Frye. His posthumously published book The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion (1991), a series of lectures delivered at Emmanuel Theological College in Toronto, is Frye's final work of criticism and also, in this case, of theology. At its simplest level, the phrase refers to "the double vision of a spiritual and a physical world simultaneously present" (85). This double vision is the hallmark of the On this subject see, for example, Neuman's "The Observer Observed" and Egan's Mirror Talk. 49 spiritual autobiographer, and it is the quality that I have referred to as the defining characteristic of spiritual autobiography: writing one's life story with an emphasis on its sacred dimensions. Sharon Butala poetically captures this sense of a double vision as she reflects on her growing awareness that the moon is both sentient presence and lifeless satellite: "I would look up at the moon in the sky in all her phases and wonder how she could be both a goddess having control over life and death and, at the same time, a lightless, cold, dead rock hurtling through space, for I was beginning to suspect, even though I could not see how or find an explanation that satisfied me. that she was indeed both" (Wild Stone Heart. 171-172, emphasis added). Butala expresses a recognition and an imperative that is held in common by many of the world's spiritual traditions: the inescapability of paradox, and the necessity of an act of faith in order to live with that paradox. From the baffling and cryptic pronouncements of Zen koans to the shocking and subversive parables of Jesus, from the rabbis' competing interpretations of Torah to the adaptability of aboriginal spiritualities, all religious heritages wrestle with the inescapability of paradox, and model ways to live with it creatively, often through the vehicle of spiritual autobiography. "Even though [she cannot] see how or find an explanation that satisfies [her]," Butala comes to accept her double vision, and invites her readers (or attempts to persuade them) to do the same. In the contemporary intellectual and social context, it often seems that the word religion is synonymous with a religious fundamentalism in which spiritual and moral issues are starkly polarized, and in which the importance of paradox to human spirituality is ignored. The present would seem to be an opportune time to reclaim this category, particularly for those of us (such as myself, and many of the writers in this study) for whom the only choice open if we are to live with the many contradictions and tensions in our lives would appear to be a conscious decision to dwell in paradox. Frye extends his concept of a double vision to human perceptions of language, of nature, of time, and of God. He contrasts the imaginative world of literature, where, in his terms, "the organizing principles are myth, that is, story or narrative, and metaphor, that is, figured language" (16) with the transformative world of sacred texts: The literary language of the New Testament is not intended, like literature itself, simply to suspend judgment, but to convey a vision of spiritual life that continues to transform and expand our own. That is, its myths become, as purely literary myths 50 cannot, myths to live by; its metaphors become, as purely literary metaphors cannot, metaphors to live in. (17-18) I would qualify Frye's distinction by arguing that the reader (or interpretive community) plays a role in determining what makes a work religious or literary; thus, the New Testament (whatever its "intent") is read by some people as "purely literary," while other literary texts take on a religious meaning for their readers. Frye's observations are particularly relevant to the context of this study, for if one accepts his distinction between imaginative and religious literature (however these terms might be applied to individual texts), then spiritual autobiography can be perceived as occupying a position somewhere between the two. Spiritual autobiographers attempt to show their audiences what it means to "live by the myths" (that is, narratives) of a particular religious tradition, and what it would look like to "live in the metaphors" of that spiritual heritage. Thus, spiritual autobiography becomes a particularly compelling way of communicating one's religious tradition or spiritual experience to others. However, for contemporary Canadian women, these myths and metaphors may themselves be in need of transformation, and what the spiritual autobiography may "pass on to others" (The Double Vision 18) is as much a questioning or a dismantling of tradition as an attempt to live within it. This sometimes painful position makes the double vision of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies somewhat different from Frye's more classical stance. For as we shall see time and again in the texts analysed in this study, these women attempt to inscribe their life stories in the context of a tradition that does not always see their visions or hear their voices. In order to "live in the metaphors" and "live by the myths" of their spiritual heritages, they often need to discover ways of dwelling in paradox through imaginative and creative uses of the imagery and narrative forms of their religious and secular communities. The double vision of spiritual autobiography may be one factor that helps to explain the highly conventional - almost cliched - nature of some of the literary strategies employed by its writers. The writers of Christian religious life-narratives, for example, may turn again and again to the same biblical stories and metaphors in order to imbue their own autobiographies with significance: stories such as Jacob wrestling with the angel to illustrate spiritual crisis or psychomachia; Jesus's encounters with Satan in the desert to allude to temptation; the image of "the peaceable kingdom" to describe the vision of an ideal society; 51 and so on. This imagery may seem conventional to readers familiar with the biblical tradition, yet it may appear fresh and challenging to readers from other backgrounds, just as the language of Muslim, Jewish, or First Nations writers may be particularly compelling to readers outside of those religious communities. Contemporary feminist spiritual autobiographers may find themselves in a particularly complicated position in relation to sacred imagery and ritual language, for even as they seek to challenge or to refresh the symbols of their religious heritage, they may also find comfort, solace, or inspiration in the very images they criticize. Although Frye writes from his own explicitly Christian perspective - both as a literary scholar with an interest in the Bible and as an ordained United Church minister - his understanding of the transformative power of religious faith is profoundly dialogical and includes other spiritual traditions (The Double Vision 18). Thus, Frye's notion of a double vision is not linked only to a particular religious belief system (although he discusses it in the context of Christianity), but to a more inclusive spiritual value system that includes such ideals as compassion and respect for diversity.4 This ethical stance becomes particularly apparent when Frye discusses the different levels of reading the Bible: the literal (a reading of the text as fact or history), the metaphorical-literal (a reading which considers the text as story or imaginative literature), the allegorical (a reading that reveals the deeper meanings of the text), and the moral or tropological (a reading of the moral truth or doctrine contained in the passage).5 It is obvious that Frye finds this last level, in which "the reading of the Bible . . . takes us past the story into the reordering and redirecting of one's life" (78), to be the most valuable one. As an example of such reading, Frye offers Jesus's parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37), which presents a challengingly inclusive ethic of compassion. Frye then goes on to describe how the reader may be transformed by reading such stories: "With such parables we begin to suspect that there may be two readers within us, and that one is beginning to form a larger vision that the other has only to attach itself to. That is, we are moving from a single or natural vision to a double or spiritual one" (78). This passage 4 For a discussion of Frye's "Christian humanism," see Good 89-102. 5 Frye modifies the medieval system of "fourfold meaning" proposed by Thomas Aquinas and others, by adding the metaphorical-literal level after the literal, and by abandoning the final anagogic or apocalyptic level of interpretation (Abrams 95-96). 52 suggests that for Frye, the double vision is also an ethical one, and one which can be learned by reading. Therefore, the double vision is not simply an attribute of the spiritual autobiography (that is, the text), but also a way of reading. Spiritual autobiography presents particular challenges to its readers, who may or may not identify with the religious beliefs or spiritual experiences of the author. Readers might pick up Lois Wilson's or Mary Jo Leddy's memoirs in order to learn more about these women as Canadian public figures (Wilson is currently a senator and Leddy was for many years a well-known journalist), or as prominent social activists (Leddy's most recent book is an indictment of Canadian refugee policy and Wilson has been awarded numerous peace prizes). Women who are parents might be drawn to Celeste Snowber's or Andree Pilon Quiviger's reflections for their emphasis on motherhood rather than their theological arguments. Micheline Piotte's writings would certainly be of interest to readers wrestling with their own illnesses or disabilities, while readers from non-First Nations, Muslim, or Jewish backgrounds might wish to learn more about women from these groups by reading the collective autobiographies discussed in Chapter Six. Jovette Marchessault and Sharon Butala have received praise for the literary qualities of their writing, although the feminist and environmental aspects of their writing often receive more attention than their spiritual focus. Although readers may not pick up such books for religious motives of their own, they will quickly find themselves confronted with texts that demand spiritual and social engagements from their interlocutors. Thus, there may be tensions not only within the text of the spiritual autobiography, but also within the mind and heart of the reader or critic who is immersed in that text, or between the reader and the text. All of the spiritual autobiographies that I examine in this study attempt to teach their readers how to see with what Frye calls a double or spiritual vision. Northrop Frye's emphasis on "metaphor" or "figured language," on "myth" or "story or narrative," and on the reader's role in interpretation provides three categories of analysis for understanding what is distinctive about contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. Thus, there are three main literary techniques that a writer can use to situate herself in relation to (and perhaps in tension with) her religious and literary traditions. The first strategy is the use of metaphor, symbol, imagery, and other figurative language. Such tropes generally have a long history in both religious and literary texts, and the ways in 53 which an author has recourse to them in her text can either reinforce or subvert their inherited meanings and ideologies. The second technique through which a writer may orient herself to her religious and literary communities is through the combination of various narrative forms or modes of discourse: confessional literature, hagiography, popular romance, the spiritual diary or journal, the literature of travel or pilgrimage, nature writing, mystical or visionary literature, and so on. The choice of narrative forms - like the use of metaphor - also has profound implications for the theological and ethical orientation of a woman's spiritual autobiography. Finally, an author can position herself in relation to her imagined communities by inscribing her reader or audience within the text itself. This rhetorical device is particularly important to the genre of spiritual autobiography, where the conversion or transformation of the reader is often a central element (or desired outcome) of the text. A critical approach to the study of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies that would claim both aesthetic and social significance needs to keep in sight both figurative language, narrative forms, and inscribed readers, and the relationships that these linguistic features establish between the individual and the community or tradition. To that end, I employ three theoretical approaches in my methodology: the analysis of guiding metaphors and their role in life-writing and theological discourse (what I will call "visions"), the analysis of narrative forms or modes of discourse (what I will call "voices"), and the analysis of implied or imagined audiences (a network of interrelationships for which I have coined the term "voisinages," in the interests of alliteration and out of respect for the one-third of my texts that are written in French).6 Visions: Guiding Metaphors I have chosen the concept of "visions" as a broad term to refer to my analysis of the dominant metaphors of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies. The 6 The French word "voisinage" has a somewhat broader meaning than its usual English translations, "neighbourhood" or "vicinity." Voisinage signifies not only the neighbourhood, and by extension proximity in time and space, but the "ensemble des voisins" as well . Furthermore, it can also be used to refer to the relationships between those neighbours, as in the expression "vivre en bon voisinage avec quelqu'un" (Paul Robert, Le Petit Robert I: Dictionnaire alphabetique et analogique de la langue francaise, Paris: Dictionnaires Le Robert, 1989, p. 2111). 54 word "visions" has resonances with the spiritual experiences of mystics, both female and male, of many religious traditions, who have recounted their ecstatic glimpses of the transcendent, to the delight, edification, or consternation of fellow believers. Religious visions exist, therefore, precisely in the liminal realm between the earthly and the spiritual, between the seen and the unseen. Visions can also refer to prophetic dreams or imaginings about how individual and social realities can be transformed, as in "a vision of a better world." It is precisely these glimpses of the spiritual realm, and of the world as a transformed place, that contemporary Canadian women attempt to convey through the figurative language of their spiritual autobiographies. Furthermore, the metaphor of "seeing" itself becomes a trope in many of these texts, as the authors describe learning to see the world, their societies, and their religious institutions with new eyes: whether it is through the eyes of disadvantaged people from other countries and in one's own community (Wilson, Manning, Leddy, Hope is the Struggle), or through adopting the gaze of the mother (Snowber, Quiviger) or of the lover (Richard, Brisson), or by developing greater attentiveness to the natural world (Marchessault, Butala, Brisson) or to one's own dual cultural identities (Marchessault, At My Mother's Feet, From Memory to Transformation, Bridges in Spirituality). All of these women are engaged in a process of trying to see what is unseen, and to make visible what is invisible. Their metaphors gesture toward the intangible world of sacred realities, as well as pointing out the blind spots in both their religious and national communities, where their own experiences (as women, as non-Christians, as people from impoverished neighbourhoods, and so on) have not been perceived. In "Le Statut litteraire de l'autobiographie spirituelle," Frank Bowman suggests that the best approach to spiritual autobiography as a literary genre is the analysis of topoi (318). I agree with Bowman that the examination of literary tropes - their imitation and their transformation by writers - is one way of discerning a writer's theological and ethical perspectives, as well as her or his relationships with both spiritual and literary rhetorical traditions. In Metaphorical Theology, Protestant feminist theologian Sallie McFague asserts that "[f]ar from being an esoteric or ornamental rhetorical device super-imposed on ordinary language, metaphor is ordinary language. It is the way we think" (16, emphasis in the text). McFague's extensive research into the use of metaphors and models in both science and theology is supported by the conclusions of other theorists, linguists and philosophers of 55 language. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in Metaphors We Live By (1980), argue that "[o]ur ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature" (3). These insights into metaphorical language support the argument that when women spiritual autobiographers are engaged in the process of developing metaphors for their religious experiences, they are also involved in acts of theological reflection. Such metaphors are not purely literary or purely imaginative textual constructs, but are "the way [spiritual autobiographers] think" about the meaning of their spiritual experiences, integrate those experiences into their lives, and share them with their readers. The analysis of metaphors also provides one way to understand, explore, and contrast the multiplicity of ways in which contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers negotiate between the authority of tradition and the authority of their own lived experiences. The writer's use of literary images and symbols to describe spiritual experiences conveys, through a type of metaphorical theology, the concerns which are, for that writer, central to the religious life. Although Sallie McFague never explicitly defines "metaphorical theology," she uses the term to refer to a form of theological reflection that is funded by a diversity of metaphors and models, and that seeks to be both traditional and contemporary (14-29). As Frank Bowman notes, the same images can have very different meanings: "[I]miter n'est point repeter; on peut avoir recours au meme topos pour exprimer des convictions fort differentes" (318). William Closson James takes this idea further by arguing that even symbols drawn from religious tradition can allow the literary imagination to move beyond the intellectual or dogmatic boundaries of its spiritual heritage: "Even in supposedly classic exemplars speaking in that small-town Canadian Protestant voice other nuances and yearnings are detectable. In the works of some authors so identified religious symbols provide a possible mode of imaginative escape from the confines of beliefs, creeds, and precepts" (Locations of the Sacred, viii-ix). Both Lois Wilson and Mary Jo Leddy use the metaphor of the "peaceable kingdom" to describe Canada, a biblical image whose application to this country can be traced back to historian William Kilbourn. Yet Wilson invests it with the revolutionary qualities of "a world turned upside down," while Leddy uses it specifically in the context of peace activism. Both Celeste Snowber and Andree Pilon Quiviger explore the theological implications of motherhood and the image of the womb, but for Snowber it is a place of creative possibilities and freedom, while for Quiviger it is a false illusion of 56 security that must be left behind. Sharon Butala and Jovette Marchessault both envision the natural world as feminine presence, but for Marchessault the relationship with nature is one of kinship, while for Butala nature remains alien and other. Immigration is described as exile by the Jewish women in From Memory to Transformation, but as both hijra (sacred flight) and pioneering by the Muslim women in At My Mother's Feet. By attending to the differences between various authors' use of metaphor, and to the creative liberties that they take with traditional symbolism, we may glimpse the parameters of the sacred world as they experience and construct it. Because I will be using the literary terms "image" or "imagery," "figurative language," "trope," "metaphor," and "symbol" throughout this study, at times virtually interchangeably, I wish to clarify from the outset the nuances in definition that apply to my own understanding of these words. When I refer to images in a text, I am referring to "objects and qualities of sense perception referred to in a . . . work of literature, whether by literal description, by allusion, or in the vehicles . . . of its similes and metaphors" (Abrams 86, emphasis added). The terms trope and figurative language will often be used as synonyms to describe figures of thought such as metaphor, simile, synecdoche, and prosopopeia (Abrams 66-70). I will follow McFague's broad definition of metaphor as not only a literary trope, but also a way of thinking, that finds similarity in dissimilarity: Most simply, a metaphor is seeing one thing as something else, pretending 'this' is 'that' because we do not know how to think or talk about 'this,' so we use 'that' as a way of saying something about it. Thinking metaphorically means spotting a thread of similarity between two dissimilar objects, events, or whatever, one of which is better known than the other, and using the better-known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known. (15, emphasis in the text) The concept of "metaphorical thinking" is a particularly important one in religious or mystical discourse, for the notion of a spiritual realm seems to demand figurative language in order to express how it is both like and unlike the ordinary, everyday, empirical world. I will lean toward the religious meaning of the term "symbol" in this study, seeing it as an image with a somewhat narrower or more specific range of significance than a metaphor; in the case of religious symbols, "concrete objects of this passing world are used to signify, in a relatively determinate way, the objects and truths of a higher eternal realm" (Abrams 207). 57 Finally, I will use the term "guiding metaphor" to refer to the dominant network of interrelated images, metaphors, and/or symbols that informs each of the spiritual autobiographies in this study. I have chosen this term because it resonates with the terminology of other literary scholars who have also made use of the metaphorical approach to the study of life-writing. James Olney's seminal study of autobiography, Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography (1972) remains a key text in the criticism of the genre. Olney's method is to examine the "symbolic images" (50) in the life-narratives (and, in one case, poetry) of seven well-known authors,7 claiming that "[fjhe self expresses itself by the metaphors it creates and projects, and we know it by those metaphors . . . We do not see or touch the self, but we do see and touch its metaphors" (34). Olney's approach assumes that we can only know the writing self through its metaphors (a textual emphasis), but also that there is a human self who has written the text and who deserves our respect, a notion that I find particularly important in the literary analysis of living, contemporary writers. In Patterns of Experience in Autobiography (1984), Susanna Egan analyses the metaphors or "narrative patterns" (3) - such as paradise, the journey, conversion, and confession - that form the Active templates to which autobiographers turn in attempting to give shape to the various stages of their life-narratives (childhood, youth, maturity, and old age respectively). Egan's "patterns of experience," like Olney's "metaphors of the self," are dominant metaphors that allow the reader to assess the more universal significance which the autobiographer attaches to her or his individual life. In the critical literature devoted exclusively to spiritual autobiography, the method of analysing an author's dominant metaphors also prevails. Archetypes of Conversion (1985), a Jungian analysis of the life-narratives of Augustine, John Bunyan, and Thomas Merton by literary scholar Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, examines the paradigms of quest, family, and psychomachia (spiritual struggle or crisis) in these three classic texts. In Circuitous Journeys (2000), English professor and Jesuit priest David J. Leigh adopts the expression "directional images" to describe the central motifs of eleven modern spiritual autobiographies from different cultures and faith traditions (1-3). Similarly, in Biography as Theology, theologian James McClendon, Jr. argues for the revitalization of contemporary 7 The lives examined by Olney are those of Michel de Montaigne, C. G. Jung, George Fox, John Henry Newman, Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and T. S. Eliot. 58 theology by attending to the life stories of contemporary "saints" (22-23) of the Christian church. McClendon proposes that "a key to these biographies is the dominant or controlling images which may be found in the lives of which they speak" (69, emphasis in the text). The suggestion of all these scholars, then, is that by examining the dominant metaphor of a person's life (in the case of this study, a person's life as it is textually constructed in a spiritual autobiography), one can gain insight into that person's theological and ethical orientations.8 I have chosen the adjective "guiding" in order to draw attention to the fact that the prevailing metaphors of spiritual autobiographies guide not only the author's shaping of the text, but also the life choices of the writer, and are offered as maps to the reader as well. I am particularly interested in the tensions that may become apparent through an analysis of metaphorical language. Although at times the guiding metaphors employed by writers may be adjuncts to their rhetorical arguments, at other times the imagery may be in conflict with the stated theological intent, or with the narrative forms in which it is deployed. Like the scholars discussed above, I believe that the analysis of a text's dominant metaphors can aid in the understanding and evaluation of its ideological and ethical (and, in the case of spiritual autobiography, theological) orientation. However, this orientation may be as much a series of dialectical negotiations as a set of theological pronouncements. In an analysis of Lytton Strachey's use of metaphor in his biography Eminent Victorians (1918), literary scholar Ira B. Nadel argues that Strachey "not only uses metaphor to express its possibilities but analyzes metaphor to show its limitations" (150) by ironically undermining the grand and epic metaphors he employs. The authors examined in this study sometimes engage in similar processes, as in Quiviger's rejection of the myth of Eden, Manning's dismantling of images of papal authority, or Leddy's questioning of the stark dichotomies of traditional Christian metaphors of darkness and light. By using metaphors critically as well as descriptively, the authors foreground the fact that the figurative language of their texts has an explicit theological intent. The notion that autobiography can also be theology is an idea with important implications in the case of women writers. As we have seen, women have often found themselves excluded from (and by) hermeneutical and theological discourse. Furthermore, ° Frank Bowman suggests that "1'autobiographic spirituelle reflete souvent un systeme theologique" (325). I would replace the word "souvent" with the word "toujours." 59 many women have also argued that their life experience has been neglected or denigrated by patriarchal theological traditions. To assert, as does James McClendon, the vital importance of lives and of life-narratives to the project of theology is to create a prominent place for the challenges that women's lives can offer to their theological and religious traditions.9 Writing of guiding metaphors (or, as he calls them, "momentous images"), McClendon argues that "in all of us so far as we are religious, such images are of the very substance of religion . . . ; that these sacred images are not . . . peripheral to faith; that images, while not the only constituent of religion, are of central importance in it" (72, emphasis in the text). One of the most fundamental insights of feminist theology has been the observation that the language that humans use to describe the realm of the sacred has an undeniable relationship with the aspects of earthly life that are valued or given prominence. For example, images of God as "King" and as "Father" reinforce the worldly power of male rulers and authority figures. As Sallie McFague points out, "[fjhe relationship between feminine imagery for the divine and the status of women in a society has been well documented in the history of religions" (Metaphorical Theology. 10). Thus, when Celeste Snowber and Andree Pilon Quiviger celebrate feminine and maternal imagery for the divine, or when Sharon Butala and Jovette Marchessault describe a presence in the natural landscape that is both sacred and feminine, their literary strategies have theological, social and political implications. By choosing to write their life stories as spiritual autobiographies, contemporary Canadian women are implicitly or explicitly challenging the images and symbols of their traditions. Their works of spiritual autobiography as metaphorical theology help "not only to recover present experience in its full social and political dimensions as foundational for theology, but also to correct the bias in the experience which plays a foundational role in theology" (Gordon 130). Images, for James McClendon, reach backward to tradition as well as forward to potential readers and to a transformed future: "To know its images is . . . to know a life, particularly to know it in connection with its creative sources (its 'scripture' and 'tradition') and its creative possibilities (the influence that life may have on others' lives)" (162, emphasis added). This two-fold movement is absolutely central to the genre of spiritual autobiography as I understand it, and is of particular importance in the context of 9 Ironically, however, McClendon includes no women among his contemporary "saints." 60 contemporary Canadian women who may stand in tension both with their religious and with their readerly communities. The gesture of self-location, of locating oneself in relation to one's various imagined communities, is a complex one in these texts. At times the writers themselves may borrow images from two different communities and combine them, in order to breathe new life and significance into both of them. For example, Muslim Canadian women creatively juxtapose the Canadian image of the pioneer with the Islamic story of the hijra or flight of the Prophet, thus investing their immigration with significance in terms of both their national and their religious myths. In a different kind of rhetorical gesture, Mary Jo Leddy draws on conventional Christian images of light and darkness, of church and culture, but questions them to the extent that she breaks down the traditional dichotomies they represent, creatively dramatizing a third option or middle ground of reconciliation. While both McClendon and McFague are Christian theologians, whose religious backgrounds influence their claims about the use of metaphor in biography and in theology, McClendon at least attempts to broaden the perspective of his study by suggesting not only that religions other than Judaism and Christianity may engage in metaphorical theology, but also that Christians themselves may creatively employ imagery from other traditions, contexts, and communities (74-75). My application of the theoretical models of McFague and McClendon to spiritual autobiographies by Jewish, Muslim, First Nations, Metis, and other non-Christian women is obviously not intended as an exercise in Christian imperialism, but rather as an affirmation of the presence of a diversity of faith and imagery in the Canadian religious and literary contexts. Most of the non-Christian authors in this study are conscious of the fact that they are writing for an audience that does not necessarily share their spiritual background, and they try to situate their metaphors for the general reader. Even some of the Christian writers, conscious of the secularism and lack of biblical literacy of their potential readers, take the time to explain the meaning of some of the rituals and images to which they refer. Perhaps as more contemporary Canadian women continue to write and to publish their spiritual autobiographies, they will find themselves communicating with an audience whose religious literacy is broad and diverse. In focusing on the guiding metaphors of Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies, and reading them as examples of metaphorical theology, I have also been forced to confront the philosophical and theological assumptions that influence my own use of figurative 61 language. I have found myself joining the spiritual autobiographers themselves in groping for language to describe the ineffable experiences of the sacred. At times, others have pointed out to me how closely my own metaphors parallel those of the authors I study. This realization has been a reminder to me of how persuasive some of these texts can be, and of how powerful the pull of traditional or communal figurative language can be in attempting to convey a sense of the spiritual life. I have also gained a deeper appreciation for the tensions experienced by contemporary Canadian women writing their religious life-narratives. Furthermore, even as this knowledge has forced me to be alert to the assumptions behind my own analytical discourse, it has also reminded me that the metaphors that inform literary criticism also have significant implications for methodology. Throughout this study, I have attempted to keep in mind the metaphor of dialogue as a way of engaging with the texts I survey, allowing them where possible to "talk back" to my analysis and to my theoretical assumptions. Voices: Narrative Forms and Modes of Discourse The writers that I study situate themselves in relationship to their sacred and secular communities not only through their uses of metaphor, but also through their discursive choices, and those choices are inextricably linked to the theological and ethical visions that their texts embrace, as well as to their notions of "selfhood" or "identity." As we have seen, spiritual autobiography is a genre that centres on the author's experience of the sacred dimension of life. The writer can accommodate this theme to (or, can adapt to the demands of this theme) any number of literary forms: fiction, essays, travel writing, meditational or devotional writing, poetry, nature writing, journalism, adventure stories, self-help books, and so on. I refer,to these narrative forms as "voices" because they are the broader literary structures through which contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers convey their sacred "visions" to their readers. A writer's manipulation of literary genre and generic expectations provides her with a way of situating herself with respect to both her religious and national literary heritages, often highlighting the connections or dichotomies between her experiences of the two traditions. As Shirley Neuman observes in her chapter on "Life-Writing" in Volume Four of the Literary History of Canada (Second Edition, 1976): "[L]ife-62 writing is not a construct of facts, memories, and documents but is produced by the conjunction of, as well as the gaps between, the 'selves' inscribed by the conventions of different genres" (333). Narrative forms are, at least in part, social and literary conventions that contain within them different concepts of the narrated self. Therefore, by identifying the various narrative forms or modes of discourse that are incorporated into an individual woman's spiritual autobiography, we can arrive at a better understanding of the ways in which the author may be either complying with or challenging the conventions of those genres, both at the level of textual identity and at the level of theological reflection. The metaphor of "speaking" contained in the term "voices" is as central to my argument, and to the texts I analyse, as the metaphor of "seeing" implied by the word "visions." Just as contemporary Canadian women spiritual autobiographers see themselves as engaged in a process of making the invisible visible, they also draw attention to the need to speak of the ineffable, and of that which has been unvoiced or silenced in society. Whether the unspoken is women's experience of sexuality in the Catholic church, or nature mysticism in a society structured according to a scientific world-view, or the experience of immigrants or the poor in Canadian society, the authors in this study raise their textual voices to fill the perceived silences in their religious and literary traditions. At the same time, paradoxically, they celebrate silence itself, and describe the difficulties of expressing spiritual experience in language. There are moments in each of the narratives during which the author's voice seems to falter or to quail in the face of the paradoxical and mysterious nature of spiritual experience. Finally, I use the term "voices" in order to emphasize the oral qualities of many of the genres adopted by these writers: First Nations storytelling in Bridges in Spirituality, liturgy and ritual in Marchessault and Quiviger, the sermon in Snowber and Leddy, ritual and rabbinical questioning as well as academic performance in From Memory to Transformation. In my analysis of the "voices" of Canadian women spiritual autobiographers, I will draw on aspects of the work of philosopher Paul Ricoeur, particularly on his interest in the modes of discourse that make up the biblical narratives. Although he is primarily engaged in biblical hermeneutics, Ricoeur himself distinguishes between "hermeneutics in general" which "is, in [philosopher Wilhelm] Dilthey's phrase, the interpretation of expressions of life fixed in written texts," and the peculiarly "Christian hermeneutics" that "deals with the 63 unique relation between the Scriptures and what they refer to" (Essays on Biblical Interpretation, 49). Ricoeur's hermeneutics is concerned with the founding documents of a religious tradition; that is, with "the most originary expressions of a community of faith . . . those expressions through which the members of this community have interpreted their experience for the sake of themselves or for others' sake" (Figuring the Sacred, 37, emphasis in the text). His methods also apply to the study of spiritual autobiographies, which represent an ongoing dialogue between the life of the individual and the traditions of the community of faith. As literary texts such life-narratives are also "expressions through which the members of this community have interpreted their experience for the sake of themselves or for others' sake," although they are not generally "originary expressions." Furthermore, Ricoeur makes claims about the literary hybridity of the Judeo-Christian scriptures that apply equally well, as we have already seen, to the genre of spiritual autobiography. In his argument, biblical texts are composed of a diversity of what he calls modes (or forms) of discourse: "narratives, prophecies, legislative texts, proverbs and wisdom sayings, hymns, prayers, and liturgical formulas" (Figuring the Sacred, 37). According to Ricoeur, by understanding the relationships, particularly the "tensions and contrasts" (Figuring the Sacred, 39, emphasis added) between these various modes of discourse, the reader can come to a greater appreciation of the theological significance of the sacred narratives. Ricoeur argues that this religious meaning is in fact inseparable from the forms of the biblical texts, contending that we cannot: construct theologies of the Old or New Testament that understand the narrative category to be a rhetorical procedure alien to the content it carries. It seems, on the contrary, that something specific, something unique, is said about Yahweh and about Yahweh's relations with the people Israel because it is said in the form of a narrative, of a story that recounts the events of deliverance in the past. (40) Similarly, "something specific, something unique, is said" about the spiritual life through the hybrid narrative forms chosen by the authors in this study. I have adopted the theoretical term "narrative form" from the book Interpreting Women's Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives (1989), edited by the collective Personal Narratives Group. This interdisciplinary group of women scholars argues that narrative form is preferable to the terms "genre" or "mode" in analysing a wide range of 64 women's texts, because it is "an inclusive term amenable to cross-disciplinary studies, [that] suggests in its more encompassing nature that a narrative might be viewed as fluid rather than fixed in the variety of shapes that it can assume. Thus it is important to locate and interpret its sources and to pinpoint the particular form that is adapted" (99). The narrative forms that spiritual autobiographers adopt allow them to make use of some of the strategies and assumptions of other genres, without sacrificing the overall double vision of the spiritual autobiography. Thus, Sharon Butala combines elements of the ghost story with her more predominant style of nature writing in order to emphasize the supernatural quality of her experiences. Jewish women can reclaim the rabbinic mode of discourse known as Midrash, without necessarily structuring their texts as classical works of scholarship. The hybridization of various narrative forms can lead to creative but also disturbing tensions in the texts that I analyse. As the Personal Narratives Group puts it: "To interpret the narrative form . . . means attending to cultural models, power relations, and individual imagination. All are brought to bear on the act of self-interpretation articulated in the choice of the narrative form" (102). The conventions of the hagiography may appear compelling when combined by Mary Jo Leddy with her editorials about other Christians, but self-aggrandizing when used uncritically by Andrea Richard to tell her own story. The mystical and the scientific modes of nature writing create contradictions for Sharon Butala's efforts to condemn one over the other, a tension she attempts to resolve by turning to the mode of the fantastic in her second spiritual autobiography. Celeste Snowber's shifts from the introspection of mystical discourse to the didacticism of biblical scholarship and to the proclamation of the sermon prevent an easy dismissal of her book as sentimental or essentialist feminine writing. The collectively written books or anthologies discussed in Chapter Six suggest that the religious life of the individual is inextricably linked with that of the community, while the solitary quest narratives of Butala and Marchessault argue otherwise. To ask these questions is to take the analysis of these texts to a deeper level than that which is offered by a reading that is confined to the study of dominant metaphors. Furthermore, by juxtaposing the guiding metaphors and the narrative forms of contemporary Canadian women's spiritual autobiographies, we may become aware of the ways in which the texts themselves attempt to model and almost to become the images they evoke. Wilson turns the memoir form upside down by focusing more on the stories of 65 ordinary people she has met than on herself as a prominent, public figure, and the many Christian social activists she describes form a virtual community of those who are "turning the world upside down," which the reader is invited to join. Manning's essay treats papal edicts, like unjust Catholic structures, as edifices to deconstruct. Through her subversive use of the psychoanalytic case study, Brisson re-enacts for the reader her liberation from both the convent and the restrictive elements of her own psyche. Piotte merges the images of her fragmented text and her mutilated body, inviting the reader into a relationship with both. Marchessault's Comme une enfant de la terre sweeps the reader along in the breathless, unceasing movement that the author describes as a form of prayer. The image of a quilt or banner becomes, for the authors of two of the collective anthologies, both theological metaphor and an analogy for their literary form. The symbol of the pioneer is an appropriate metaphor not only for Muslim Canadian immigrant women, but also for the ground-breaking anthology of their stories. Another issue that comes into focus when the analytical category of narrative form is brought to bear on these spiritual autobiographies is the question of structure and liberation. Narrative form, particularly the conventions of established literary genres, can be a way of providing a written text with a specific structure. Similarly, the received traditions and practices of a religious institution are a way of giving a shape to the spiritual life. One might expect that contemporary women who struggle to transform some of the more confining aspects of their religious communities will also wrestle with the limitations imposed by literary form, and this is indeed the case for many of the writers in this study. Brisson subverts the genres of both the psychoanalytic case study and the ex-nun's story in order to convey her individual spiritual vision. Alternating between the intimate voice of the personal diary and the more authoritative voice of the newspaper editorial, Leddy strives to reconcile her private and public selves. Richard's fairly conventional memoir is interrupted by the genre of the popular romance, through which the author attempts to convey the sacred nature of sexual love and the importance of personal growth. Manning uses the relentle