The Power of Ritual

Casper ter Kuile


Three Sentence Summary

The decline of religion in modern times has left a spiritual gap in many people's lives, which some have filled through diverse communities and practices. The author asks us to consider introducing aspects into our own lives, such as

Finally, he stresses that our own personal religions and rituals can be as fulfilling, or even more so, than traditional ones: the important thing is to intentionally practice ritual and engage with the world around us in a way that feels authentic and real.

Chapter Summaries


Although more of us are identifying as non-religious, the spiritual ritual needs that religion meets are still an integral and often overlooked part of being people. The author found during research that people met these needs through Cross Fit, social groups, secular meditation, cooking: so many diverse and seemingly non-spiritual activities became vital nourishing wellsprings. He suggests it is not so much to activity itself, but the intentional ritual of practicing it, that gives it this transformative nature and that we can use in our own lives.

1. Connecting with Self

Many of us have become disconnected from ourselves, unable or unwilling to recognise our feelings and spend time with our own thoughts. The practice of sacred reading can offer a mirror to ourselves — reading a text as if it held spiritual meaning, and asking

  1. What is literally happening in the narrative?
  2. What allegorical stories and images occur to you?
  3. What experiences in your own life does this make you think of?
  4. What action are you being asked to take?

The author also suggests creating a Sabbath, time in the week that you treat as sacred, and himself observes a “tech sabbath” for 24 hours each week.

2. Connecting with Others

In his research the author noticed a cluster of spiritual groups built around two things: eating together, and exercising together. He suggests ritualised group meals, and gives examples of groups who come together to share food and engage with each other on quite deep levels. Exercise can also be deeply spiritual, with shared sweat and motion heightening our connections with others as we all work towards a common objective.

3. Connecting with Nature

Modern society has become particularly disconnected from nature, often viewing it as an adversarial force to be dominated or commodified. Making pilgrimage on foot to some certain location, observing the world around you as you move, can be a way to reconnect with it: the author advocates circling your pilgrimage site and drinking in every source of sensory information. At the same time we can reconnect with the seasons by eating seasonally, or following a “liturgical calendar” of our own design and ritual.

4. Connecting with Transcendence

The author suggests prayer as a way to connect with the transcendent, and gives the broad definition of that ephemeral thing which is “greater than the self”: a higher power. He follows the traditional model of ACTS prayer:

Finally, he notes that prayer is often deeply personal and can take as many forms as we please: putting on makeup, cooking, walking the dog can all be a prayer that celebrates and helps us stay connected to higher calling.

5. Already Connected

Throughout the book the author has stressed that ritual can be as flexible and individual, religious and secular as we want it to be. The important thing is not the act itself, but rather the intention to connect with the real and the self through the act. He reminds us that the word “ritual” implies a practice, and that the greatest and deepest benefits come from simple actions, repeated intentionally and often.