Theology, Narrative, and Pilgrimage

At Contemplative Light, we encourage submissions from readers and writers of all backgrounds. While we focus primarily on contemplative spirituality, we also enjoy the depth that arises from interdisciplinary approaches to faith.  Josianne Barrette is a poet, short story writer, and widely-published freelancer in Canada. Here, she shares her musings on the interaction between the theological, the literary, and the temporal.  

Why did you choose to study Theology?

I am passionate about Theology and probably will be for the rest of my life. As an aspiring writer, I have always been fascinated by the art of storytelling. Theology encompasses all-things 'text' and 'narrative', various approaches to the concept of personhood, and narrative patterns that mediate the relationship between the divine and the human.  Why do some people get inspired to write a poem.   When we find a transcendent quality in nature?   What story is told by the garment you wore on the day you were baptized?  These are questions for theologians, too. It is a kind of  hermeneutics.

Why is spirituality/theology important to you?

Theology asks existential and philosophical questions (sometimes regarded as removed from the action, yet incredibly valuable) as well as concrete, practical questions (applied ethics). Spirituality is a sense of relatedness and connectedness to these questions. Not everyone is familiar with Satan, but everyone has been wronged and has made mistakes, and Satan could be a metaphor for those types of experiences. Spirituality directs any task that we truly put our heart into.

What was your personal experience with the study of pilgrimage?

The study of pilgrimage really opened my mind and made me wonder about the meaning of journeys. It gave me the opportunity to consider contemporary aboriginal pilgrimages instigated by truly inspirational native women . Their pilgrimages allowed them an escape from the consumerist notion of time in order to concentrate on more existential concerns. Their journeys were guided by both past and present,  where a form of nostalgia walked alongside an acute sense of the present tense.  Participants were paying homage, remembering, showing respect. They conjugated the past with the urgency of taking action and opening a dialogue. In the case of the Belcourt project journeying meant acknowledging and commemorating the value of missing women's lives.

What do you think is value of pilgrimages? What do you look for in a pilgrimage?

Jordan B. Peterson, Ph.D., pretty much sums it up in his Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Knowledge (1999): ‘The pilgrim voluntarily places him or herself outside the ‘protective walls’ of original culture and, through the difficult and demanding (actual) journey to ‘unknown but holy lands,’ catalyzes a psychological process of broadening, integration and maturation. It is in this manner, that a true ‘quest’ inevitably fulfills itself, even though its ‘final, impossible goal’ (the holy grail, for example) may remain concretely unattained.’

My personal addition to his very eloquent and complete definition of pilgrimage would be the notion of compassion. Compassion seems to be the antidote we  need for both appreciating holy sites   and for denouncing the questionable turns our communities have taken over these last few years.


Josianne has had essays, poems and stories published in French and in English. She is a contributor at À l’essai, Moebius, Matrix Magazine (Canada), and  Les Éditions des Femmes d’à Côté.   She was a semi-finalist for the CBC Fiction Prizes in the Short Story category and a judge for the Hysteria Writing Competition in the poetry category.  She is currently working on a short story collection.

Twitter : @JosiannBarrett