The Power of Ritual: A book review by Bob Morris

The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices
Casper ter Kuile
HarperOne (June 2020)

How to increase and enrich a sense of meaning, reflection, sanctuary, and joy

Long ago, I realized that rituals tend to be the habits or customs that help to define most communities of faith, including but not limited to religious denominations with a faith in a deity. Many rituals reflect articles of a shared faith of a non-religious nature.

I thought about all this as I began to read Casper ter Kuile’s book in which he shares his thoughts about behavior with which I could identify. For example,  all of us can embrace rituals that we may call “spiritual practices” from which we derive nourishment in one form or another; also, we are free to enrich our modern practices with much earlier traditions, in my case from ancient Greek philosophy and portions of the Old and New Testaments. I follow several practices to which I am totally committed.

Life without them is unthinkable. Life with them has helped me to sustain an interdependent (albeit wobbly) combination of connections with self, with others, with my environment, and — at least to some extent — with what ter Kuile characterizes as “transcendence.”

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the score of this book’s coverage:

o Introduction: The Paradigm Shift (Pages 1-30)
o Harry Potter as a Sacred Text (35-37)
o Creating Harry Potter and the Sacred Text (41-45)
o Beyond the Page: Sacred Reading in the World (59-64)
o Sabbath from Work to Make Room for Play (74-77)

o A Ritual Before We Eat (89-93)
o Building Relationships Through Fitness Communities (96-98)
o Decentering Yourself (105-109)
o Prepare Yourself: Community Is Wonderful and Terrible (109-111)
o Retrieving the Art of Pilgrimage (117-126)

o Reimagining a Liturgical Calendar (133-138)
o Being at Home in the World (148-149)
o Prayer Isn’t What We Think It Is (153-155)
o Contrition (161-168)
o The Necessity of Community (179-180)

Casper ter Kuile makes effective use of ecclesiastical terms (e.g. sabbath, prayer,  adoration, contrition, supplication ) when explaining how he has been able to turn everyday activities “into soulful practices.” I seldom think and express myself with such terms in a secular context; at least I think I don’t.

However, there is one of special importance to me: [begin italics] atonement[end italics]. I struggle each day to be “at one” with myself, at one with my family members and friends, and at one with members of a few communities with whom I share at least some common interests and values.

Most people (at least most people I know well) struggle with paradoxes, ambiguities, self-doubts, tensions, and mysteries each day. I certainly do. For me and probably for many of them, rituals resemble training wheels that help  to maintain at least some balance during a never-ending  journey of self-exploration.  We need connections to keep going and the most important connection is with ourselves, for better or worse.

 

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