Casper ter Kuile, a Harvard Divinity School fellow and cohost of the popular Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, explores how we can nourish our souls by transforming common, everyday practices—yoga, reading, walking the dog—into sacred rituals that can heal our crisis of social isolation and struggle to find purpose—a message we need more than ever for our spiritual and emotional well-being in the age of COVID-19.
“After half a decade of research and hundreds of conversations with people around the country, I am convinced we are in the midst of a paradigm shift. That what used to hold us in community no longer works, and that the spiritual offerings of yesteryear no longer help us thrive.”–Casper ter Kuile
What do Soul Cycle, gratitude journals, and tech breaks have in common? For ter Kuile they offer rituals that create the foundation for our modern spiritual lives.
We are in crisis today. Our modern technological society has left too many of us—no matter our ages—feeling isolated and bereft of purpose. Previous frameworks for building community and finding meaning no longer support us. Yet ter Kuile reveals a hopeful new message: we might not be religious, but that doesn’t mean we are any less spiritual.
Instead, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in which we seek belonging and meaning in secular practices. Today, we find connection in:
CrossFit and SoulCycle, which offer a sense of belonging rooted in accountability and support much like church groupsHarry Potter and other beloved books that offer universal lessons Gratitude journals, which have replaced traditional prayer Tech breaks, which provide mindful moments of calm
In The Power of Ritual, ter Kuile invites us to deepen these ordinary practices as intentional rituals that nurture connection and wellbeing. With wisdom and endearing wit, ter Kuile’s call for ritual is ultimately a call to heal our loss of connection to ourselves, to others, and to our spiritual identities.
The Power of Ritual reminds us that what we already do every day matters—and has the potential to become a powerful experience of reflection, sanctuary, and meaning.
Ter Kuile, cohost of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, demonstrates in his thoughtful debut how the nonreligious can "liberate the gifts of tradition" to foster greater spiritual connection in their lives. He argues that, while formal religious affiliation may be waning, spiritual practices remain relevant because they can cultivate bonds to the self, others, the natural world, and the transcendent. Ter Kuile explains the significance of a variety of religious practices, including pilgrimage, prayer, and meditation, and proposes ways to capture their significance through everyday activities ("anything can become a spiritual practice gardening, painting, singing, snuggling, sitting") by focusing on intention, attention, and repetition. This approach leads to inventive explorations of social trends; for instance, the famously cultish appeal of the Crossfit fitness program is explained in terms of vulnerability and community. In ter Kuile's understanding, religious traditions are "inherently creative" and therefore good starting points for considering personalized, meaningful spiritual practices. The Jewish tradition of Sabbath, for example, is reenvisioned by the author as structured "alone time" He also discusses ways to apply the devotional practices developed for reading the Bible, such as giving blessings, to engage with literature more generally. Those who are beginning to explore spirituality will find many rich ideas.