Circle of Support
Found In: Healing from Trauma & Abuse
By Meryl Crean Sternman | Complete Ceremony
The purpose of this ritual is to provide the individual with spiritual support before undertaking the difficult and painful task of facing the person who sexually, physically and/or psychologically abused them in the past. It is designed to give the individual strength an support to do the work that s/he has already decided s/he wants or needs to do. For example, this ritual could be done with a victim of rape who must face her rapist in the court proceedings. It may also be appropriate for a survivor of childhood abuse I facing the abuser is part of the individual's planned therapy.
One component of this ritual is the survivor telling the story of the abuse. The individual may share as much or as little as s/he wishes. This provides the individual with the opportunity to verbalize, in a supportive place, that which will be told eventually in a more public and/or threatening setting when the confrontation takes place.
The core of this ritual is a tallit katan which is given to the individual and used several times during the ritual to imbue it with spiritually protective energy. The ritual also centers around two biblical phrases: "Be strong and of good courage" Chazak v'amatz and "I am with you" Eh'yeh imakh.
This ritual should be done with a small and supportive group of friends and family members. It is important that the abuse be in the past and not still occurring. It is meant to offer spiritual and communal support after the decision has been made to confront the abuser. This ritual is meant to fit into a healing process in which the individual is already engaged.
- This ritual should not be used as a replacement for counseling or therapy.
- This ritual should not be used in cases where the abuse is ongoing.
- Neither is it meant to help the individual to make the decision to face the abuser.
The ritual centers around a tallit katan. It should be decorated beforehand with the following, by painting or embroidery. If possible, this should be done by the supporters themselves.
- The name of one of the four protective angels on each corner – Michael, Gavriel, Uriel and Raphael
- The words Eh'yeh emakh around the collar.
- The words chazak v'amatz down the front.
The ritual should be discussed with the individual in advance. Tell her/him about the significance of the tallit katan and of the words and names which will be written on it. In particular, show her/him biblical verses in which one is charged to "be strong and of good courage," and in which God promises to "be with" someone. Examples of the first are found in Dt. 31:6, Jos. 1:6 and 1:9, Ps. 31:25. Examples of the second are Isaac when confronted with famine (Gen. 26:3), Jacob on his flight from his brother and on his return (Gen. 28:15 and 31:3), Moses when he faces Pharaoh (3:12, 4:12 and 4:15), and Joshua on the eve of battle (Jos. 1:5). Discuss with her/him the outline of the ritual and its purpose. In particular, have the individual think about what and how much she/he will want to tell the supporters during the ritual.
The supporters should also be instructed ahead of time about their role as supporters. They should be told to write a few words of personal support or bring a copy of a poem, psalm, story with this intention. These will be read and given to the individual during the ritual.
Order of the Service
- Forming the Circle – Song
- Welcome and Introduction
- First Offering – The Tallit Katan
- The Telling – Sharing the Story
- Acknowledgement of the Loss – Kriya
- Second Offering – The Repair of the Tallit
- Third Offering – Returning the Repaired Tallit
- Ending – Opening the Circle
Forming the Circle
(Form a circle, leaving an opening for the survivor to enter. Chant the following song as many times as is comfortable and necessary to cohere the group, create sacred space and set the tone for the ritual. The survivor is accompanied into the circle by one of the supporters.)All the World is a Narrow Bridge
The whole of this wide world Is a narrow bridge (3x)
But take to heart this essential point
Do not have fear or be dismayed
Don't be afraid at all.
We have come together to give ____________ strength and courage to carry out her/his decision to confront her/his abuser as part of her/his self--healing and as part of the work of tikkun olam, healing the world. Healing of body and soul takes time. We know that you have already taken the first steps. This ritual is only one more step along the path. We pray that you will find it helpful now and in the days to come. Let us read together the anchoring and empowering words of the psalmist.
In You, YHVH, I seek refuge,
May I never be ashamed.
In Your righteousness, deliver me.
Incline Your ear to me.
Make haste, save me.
Be for me as a Rock – Refuge,
As a stronghold to preserve me,
For You are my Rock and my Stronghold.
And for Your name's sake,
You guide me and lead me to a resting place.
You extricate me from the net
Which they secretly laid for me,
For You are my Refuge.
Into Your hand I commend my spirit.
You redeem me, YHVH, God of Truth.
Chizku v'ya'ametz l'vavkhem
Be strong and embolden your heart
All whose hope relies on YHVH.
Our lives are not always in our control. Free will is given, but it is moderated by the will of others and by circumstance. We cannot change the past, but we can choose to heal the hurts imprinted on our souls. You, , have chosen to do this by facing your oppressor. With full recognition of the immense courage such a decision takes, we give you this tallit katan to be a spiritual shield about you. We also pronounce the words which Moses spoke to the Israelites on the eve of their crossing into the 'promised land' (Dt 31:6): (Survivor takes the tallit katan and puts it on.)
Chizku v'imtzu. Be strong and courageous, don't fear and tremble before them, for YHVH, your God, goes with you and will not abandon you nor forsake you.
You bring yourself to us today, with your whole past as only you know it. Your memory of what you have suffered is real and true. We are here with you, fully present, to listen to and share that truth.
Our morning prayer acknowledges the power of words to create reality when we say, "Barukh she-amar v'haya ha-olam," "Blessed is the One who spoke and the world came into being." In your speaking the past, you bring a new world into being where you are not alone. In return, we give you strength and courage with our prayers and our presence.
In the name of Dina, daughter of Jacob, who, after her rape by Shechem, was denied her voice and given no chance to tell her story nor to affect the justice meted out, we affirm your right to tell your story, to participate in the pursuit of justice and to direct your own healing.
We are ready and prepared to listen to you, to hear, to affirm, to uphold, to validate, to sustain and to support your version of the past.
(The survivor is given the opportunity to share as much or as little with the supporters as s/he wishes. The supporters should pay attention to the pain and loss, the brokenness, and the rupture that the incident caused in the person's life.)
Let the words with which you confront your oppressor create for you a new world.
B'rukhah she-amrah v'hayah ha-olam. (for a woman)
Barukh she'amar v'hayah ha-olam. (for a man)
Blessed are you who speaks your world into being.
(This section is specifically for one who is confronting the oppressor in a court of law.)
We realize that human justice is imperfect, but it is our duty to pursue it, as far as we are able. We support you in making this difficult choice to face your oppressor and bring him/her to justice. We honor you for your courage in pursuing justice. We pledge our support for you regardless of the outcome of the proceedings.
Listen to Me, pursuers of justice, seekers of YHVH.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
To the quarry from which you were dug.
Look back to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who birthed you.
I, I am The Comforter who comforts you!
Who are you that you should fear mortal man who must die,
A human who is given over like grass?
And you have forgotten YHVH, your Maker
Who spreads the heavens and makes firm the ground.
You constantly fear every day
The rage of an oppressor who intends to destroy you.
Yet, where is the rage of the oppressor?
I am YHVH your God
And I will put My words in your mouth
And in the shadow of My hand I conceal you.
I put My words in your mouth
And conceal you in the shadow of My hand.
My words are in your mouth
And you are secure in the shadow of My hand.
(excerpts from Isaiah 51)
Leader to the Survivor:
When life is lost, Jews come together with elaborate rituals for mourning the loss and for supporting the mourner. You have not suffered physical loss of life, but a part of your life was lost through the experience of this abuse. You now symbolically acknowledge this loss by performing kriya on the ritual garment, the tallit katan, we have given you.
(The survivor now performs kriyah on the tallit katan.)
We, as Jews, together submit to the reality of this loss by reciting these traditional words:
As I was with Moses, so will I be with you.
I will not abandon you nor forsake you.
I charge you: Chazak v'ematz. Be strong and courageous.
Be not terrified nor dismayed, For YHVH, your God, is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:5,9)
Supporter (take turns reading paragraphs) :
In the name of Tamar, who was oppressed by Judah and almost burned at the stake for taking charge of her own destiny in the face of her oppression, we affirm and support, maintain and profess, advocate, advance and uphold your right to take charge of your destiny and to affect your own healing.
Fear not, for I am with you.
Be not afraid, for I am your God.
I will encourage you. I will also help you.
So too, will I uphold you
With the right hand of My righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10)
We are here to encourage you and help you and uphold you through this difficult time of repairing your life. As a tangible symbol of this support, we will each help repair the tear you just made in the tallit katan. As each of us makes a stitch, we also offer you words of comfort and care which you can read or recite in your times of need.
(Each person makes a stitch and offers their words. These can be poems, prayers, psalms or personal words. They should be given orally and in written form. The stitching continues until the tear is repaired. The Chaverah/Chaver puts the last stitch in and ties the knot, thus affirming her/his active role in the healing process. She/He may also offer words to the group of what it means to her to have their support.)
In the names of Ruth and Naomi who, while trusting in God, took charge of their destiny to heal the disasters of the past and create a better future, we encourage you in your striving to do the same:
When God, The Healing Power, sees how determined you are to go with Her, She leaves off warning and dissuading you. And the two of you proceed together. (based on Ruth 1:18)
Your tallit katan is decorated with the words 'chazak v'amatz' on the front and the words 'eh'yeh imakh,' "I will be with you" on the collar. These words contain the essence of our blessings for you today. In our closing song will evoke the ever-present supportive power of God, with the name EH'YeH, together with the names of the four guardian angels which are also written on the four corners of your tallit katan. We evoke their presence for you now and pray that you may continuously feel their presence whenever you wear this tallit katan. (The supporters all take hold of the tallit katan and raise it above the head of the survivor as they chant the following song once through. While chanting the song a second time, the supporters put the tallit katan on the person for her/him to wear during the future confrontation and any other time its healing and supportive energy is needed.)
In the name of God, EHYeH, the God of Israel
To my right, Michael
To my left Gavriel
In front of me Uriel
At my back Raphael
And over my head, yes over my head, Sh'khinat El.
(The circle opens as the chanting ends and a predesignated supporter accompanies the survivor out of the circle.)
Blessed are you in your coming and blessed are you in your going.
Chazak v'amatz, ki eh'yeh imakh. Be strong and courageous because I, the Ever-Present One, will be with you.
(Each person may repeat the last blessing "chazak .. with you" as a parting greeting to every other member of the group.)