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To finish off our book club this year, my best friend and I are reading Casper ter Kuile’s The Power of Ritual. The book is all about incorporating ritual into your everyday life and rethinking how we engage with the world in meaningful ways.

Ter Kuile notes how grounding rituals can be for both individuals and communities and how they can help us get in touch with the spiritual and create deep meaning in our lives. And he proposes an expansive definition of ritual: these rituals could be religious practices that individuals and communities have been using for thousands of years or could also be something traditionally considered “secular” that can become a grounding and meaningful ritual in someone’s life.

He invites us to reimagine the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.

We’ve been taught that there’s somehow a line that makes a church building sacred and a supermarket secular. That vertical line is an invention. Instead, imagine a horizontal line between the shallow and the deep…When we sink below the blur of habit, we can be present to that portion of our experience where we find deepest meaning.

The spiritual, then, is about our connection with ourselves, with our community, with nature, and with the transcendent, in both traditionally sacred and traditionally secular spaces.

While much of his writing is targeted at those who might no longer be part of a religious community or church, the lessons in the book also apply to those of us who are still part of a church and practicing our faith. That’s because his message is one of deepening our awareness of our daily lives and the rituals that are already a part of it and finding ways to connect with the sacred in these everyday practices.

Now that things are returning to some sort of normalcy and activities are picking up again after nearly two years of the COVID pandemic, I’m realizing how little time so many of us have for ritual. It seems every minute of our day needs to be productive. The demands of work, parenting, running a household, and maintaining appearances make it hard to carve out any time for ritual.

After two years living through the disruptions of this pandemic, I know I find myself wanting to live a simpler and more intentional life, a life that’s not focused on the career grind or on being as busy and social as possible. Like many others I now have a deep desire to reconnect with what matters most in life and with what I find the most meaningful. This in turn has made me look with new eyes at the rituals in my own life: a mindful walk around my neighborhood, a trip to the ocean, another read of a favorite book or listen to a favorite album. From those early days of the pandemic, when there wasn’t much else you could do, I realized these simple rituals are such a sacred gift.

What better time of year to reflect on the role of ritual in our lives than with Advent and the sacred rituals leading up to and surrounding our celebration of Christmas. Last year, I started an Advent ritual for myself of choosing a book to read and reflect on during the month of December—sacred reading for a sacred time. This year I’m planning to continue the tradition, returning to a favorite book of poetry. What will you do this year, to deepen and extend your sacred practice, whatever it may be?

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She earned her doctorate in history from Boston College, Her research explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence in subsequent years. Though she swore she'd move back to the Midwest after grad school, Allison still resides in the Boston metro area and now works in academic advising at Tufts University.


  • Erin Eggebeen says:

    I picked this book up right when it came out because I have enjoyed listening to Casper on the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podacast and also found the book to be thought provoking. I also really appreciated the Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren– another book that has some similar vibes to it.

  • Kit Shepherd says:

    Today I heard an interview with Casper on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC); the program is called Soul Search, with Meredith Lake. I’ve just returned home to my small unit after spending Christmas in a family household where we ‘do’ Christmas in a very low key way.

    Living alone I feel the lack of traction around ritual – though I do have a number of rituals as part of my daily structure. I guess they insert oneself into channels that are occupied by many people around the world, and that feels like a virtual community. For example, a daily yoga practice, eating slowly and mindfully, writing in a journal at the bedside before sleep, changing into ‘gardening’ clothes to tend the local laneway garden.

    Play and parlour games have become a valuable way of connecting with people in a ‘non-verbal’ way, transcending differences between people. They approximate ritual in my mind: contain a shared sense of the ‘rules’; offer the opportunity to participate equally and with good will; have an end point, and are more about ‘being’ rather than achieving anything.

    I do yearn for connections in my neighbourhood and despite years of offering small gatherings and other gestures of neighbourliness, I am repeatedly aghast as how it doesn’t seem to be a very common appetite. During COVID I created an online activity, a ‘mental health tonic’ called Breaking the COVID bubble – creative play for an hour. This incorporates activities and exercises tailored to my interlocutor, based on drama games, drawing activities, mindfulness exercises, small storytelling techniques and imaginative and sensory play. Listening to Caspar talk about ritual has given me more ideas to include in this project, as I work toward relating to people in a deeper, less verbal and more improvisatory way.

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