Spiritual Courage in the Face of Toxic Harassment
The Twisted Circle tells the story of Sister Barbara, a nun who has just transferred to a convent in the northern jungle region of Guyana to teach school. Like the other nuns, she cares very much about the students. Her sudden promotion to the position of headmistress of the school infuriates the antagonist, Sister Francis, a white woman from the US, who believes she has more experience. Sister Francis has an inappropriately close relationship with the priest, Father Goodman. She thinks of him as more than a friend and is very possessive of him. I find the choice of names (Francis and Goodman) interesting, perhaps supporting the realization that people are not always as pious as they appear.
It’s helpful that we get to read the thoughts of both Sister Barbara and Sister Francis. The additional perspective allowed me to see Sister Francis as more than jealous and spiteful. Her journal entries reveal that the antagonist is overcome by paranoid delusions. This of course does not excuse her behavior as she attempts to destroy Barbara’s reputation. Reading as a white woman from the US, it was humbling and enlightening to experience Francis through the eyes of Barbara who is of East Indian and African heritage and often referred to, by herself and others, as Black.
Barbara struggles with self-doubt but shows admirable courage as she strives to do the work God has given her to do in a toxic environment of conflict, betrayal, and sexual harassment from men in religious and political authority. We feel how sad and frustrating it is that her colleague, Francis, craves the attention of a man at the expense of integrity. If Barbara and Frances could have been friends, they would have been able to support each other, but Francis’ twisted delusions prevented this. Meanwhile, the nuns in charge of the convent do not want to challenge the patriarchy or reveal its secrets.
Despite the lack of support from the church, Barbara remains faithful to God and finds comfort in the beauty of nature. When she stops to admire a velvet rose, she thinks, “God had to be a woman to create such beauty.” She also finds comfort in the forest spirits believed to live in the surrounding jungle. She shows spiritual maturity in her devotion to God while being open to the message she receives from the forest spirit to “walk in the light of the moon goddess, … feel the wind caress (her) weary body” … and “refresh (her) wounded spirit in the bosom of Mother Earth.”
While Sister Barbara, being a well-developed character, is not perfect, I greatly admire her strength and perseverance and enjoyed cheering her on as I read the book. I also admire the author Rosaline Bacchus, a former nun and a native of Guyana, for bringing us this story with compassion and courage. It is an enlightening story that nudges spiritual growth.
To see more about The Twisted Circle on Amazon, click HERE.
Visit the author’s blog HERE.