Where is the divide between the spirit world and the corporeal world? Is there a divide?
I know that when my Grandma died, people had dreams and visions of her and each encounter was comforting. When I was staying at an Aunt’s house with a cousin, I think that a long-lost cousin showed up to say hello. I believe that the Holy Spirit fills those who are willing and I think that the Spirit of Creation is present in the wind. Angels are present all the time, even if we don’t notice. So where is that divide?
I read Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson as part of a group looking at incorporating more FNMI (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) literature into our classrooms. The closest I have come to reading a book like Monkey Beach is Bessie Head’s novel A Question of Power, in which the main character wanders in and out of sanity.
Monkey Beach is the story of a teenage girl, Lisa, living in a Haisla community on the BC Coast. In the novel her brother, Jimmy, disappears on a fishing trip and Lisa takes off to help in the search of her brother in a speedboat while she remembers stories of her family and her experiences leading up to this moment. Throughout the novel Lisa encounters sightings of Sasquatches, conversations with the dead, dream visions, and a sacrificial relationship with T’sonoqua. All of these experiences of the spiritual world happen as Lisa tries to navigate Jr High, High School, the death of family members and friends, and a community broken by a local residential school and the trauma and violence that surround those who survived.
In an article about Monkey Beach, Kit Dobson writes:
“Lisa experiences the loss of other family members, rape, and pathologization for her encounters with the spirit world, which frequently take the form of a small, prophetic man who portends disaster. Her proximity with this spiritual realm connects her to what critics have seen as a more traditionally Native worldview, one in which Lisa might recover her sense of self and come to see her capacities for paraphysical perception as enabling rather than troubling, as a valuable asset to her community” (Castricano 802).
I think that the power of the spiritual world is something that is lost on most Canadians. Yet throughout the novel, Robinson makes the experiences and relationship Lisa has with the spiritual world something that is normal and an everyday occurrence that is not bizarre. In fact, her Ma-ma-oo (Grandmother) tells Lisa that she has a special gift, a gift that runs in the family. As a non-First Nations reader, I have to trust and believe in a new way of looking at the world: the connectedness between people, nature, and the spiritual world.
Later in the same article, Dobson writes that “While writing a novel about Haisla characters, Robinson encounters limits placed on her by both the spiritual world and her elders. These keep her from discussing certain elements of Haisla life. So while Robinson has to negotiate a readership that generates unrealistic and problematic expectations about her work because of her role as a representative of her community, she also “has to worry about ticking off the denizens of the spiritual world, not to mention the entire Haisla Nation” (Methot 13).
How interesting! Although she is a story teller, she had to respect the boundaries of what she could share with a larger audience, including the boundaries of respect for her Elders, her Community, and the Spirit World. I find that idea fascinating.
I appreciated Robinson’s narrative and the blur between the spiritual and psychical worlds. Through her story telling, I learned about a First Nation in BC through the eyes of a teenage girl struggling to find her place in life, a struggle every person on earth is familiar with, no matter which religion or nation.
“The stories I was told growing up were full of supernatural creatures who were described the same way you’d describe your neighbours. Oh, those sasquatches. Always stealing bivalves and blondes. Well, Wee’gits playing with the tide again. Crazy raven. Gran visited from the other side to say she wants more raisin pie in the next burning. A lot of that attitude comes into play when I’m writing. I tend to view the supernatural characters like the other characters, prone to idiosyncrasies and family squabbles” (Eden Robinson in an interview).
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2).