A Circle of Healing

I recently learned about a Rabbi by the name of Sharon Brous, a founder of a Jewish Community in Los Angeles. Rabbi Brous recently wrote a book entitled, “The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom to Mend our Broken Hearts and the World” in which she writes about a circle of healing and underscores the importance of our presence to one another with tenderness and care not only when we are joyful but especially when we are in pain.

A Holy Practice

Rabbi Brous writes in her book that “showing up is a holy practice.” As I consider her words, I realize that showing up is more than being in the presence of someone. It is being present with someone, seeing them deeply.

The Rabbi describes an ancient pilgrimage (going back at least 2000 years) in which hundreds of thousands of faithful Jews would come to the temple in Jerusalem, their most sacred place and on the most holy day of the year. They would enter through a giant arched entry way, turn to the right, and circle around the perimeter of the courtyard and then leave through the same archway they had entered.  

Another group also came to the temple, up the stairs and through the same archway. However, they would turn to the left, walking in the opposite direction of the crowd. These were the bereft, the grieving, those to whom something terrible had happened in the past year.

Each person moving in the direction of the crowd was asked to do something simple and yet profound—to look into the eyes of a person who was broken-hearted and say something like, “Tell me what happened.” “Tell me about your heart or your grief.”

This person would answer. “My loved one just died.” “My spouse left me.” “I’m worried about my child.” And then he or she would trust the community of strangers to hold their broken hearts with care. The stranger would receive this person’s grief or brokenness, look into their eyes and offer them a blessing. “May the one who dwells in this place hold you in love as you navigate this difficult period.” Or, “May you know you are surrounded by care.”

Making Ourselves Vulnerable

I can imagine that it was difficult, for either group of people, to participate in this ritual, this circle of healing. Those suffering had to leave their homes, come to a public space and be vulnerable in their grief. And yet there is something healing about acknowledging your reality honestly and trusting your broken heart into the tender care of community.

Perhaps it felt awkward for those in the crowd to encounter someone, or so many, going through grief. And yet they may have realized this as a sacred moment, seeing another in their humanity and brokenness.

It is in this moment, when our natural instinct is to pull away from each other, that it matters most that we incline towards one another.

Rabbi Brous writes, “This timeless wisdom speaks to what it means to be human in a world of pain. This year, you walk the path of the anguished. Perhaps next year, it will be me. I hold your broken heart knowing that one day you will hold mine.”

Opening Our Hearts

Rabbi Brous teaches that this ritual offers lessons about the sacredness of being present to the others in your life. As she says, “Asking, with an open heart, ‘Tell me about your sorrow,’ may be the deepest affirmation of our humanity, even in terribly inhumane times.”

In truth, none of us is immune from pain. And we will neither protect nor heal ourselves from the heartbreaks of life if we refuse to recognize it in ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, or the world around us.

Although few of us will walk a formal, holy circle, I wonder what we can do to be more present to so many grieving souls, to be part of their circle of healing?

Who is suffering in your circle? How might you broaden your awareness, your ability to notice? What might you do to expand your empathy and care, to hold a space for this person? Perhaps you can ask and quietly listen without the need to rescue or solve, trusting that healing comes from within (and above) and so much more easily when someone else cares.



  1. Russ Kyncl

    Great illustration and thoughts. Diane and I have been more intentional about related ideas after reading How to Know a Person by David Brooks.

    • rogerkallen

      I love the writing of David Brooks and his emphasis, recently, on seeing people deeply. Thanks for your comment, Russ.


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