I would like to suggest that there are three reasons why ritual is important, whether or not we believe in anything supernatural about it – it reminds us to stop and be aware of the world around us, it has an effect on us internally and it helps us to connect to something bigger than ourselves.
How many of us think about all the plants and animals around us when we walk down the street? How many of us eat a meal without thinking about the fact that something had to die so that we could eat and live? Many of the spiritual practices of the worlds religions have at their core, the practice of Mindfulness. They call to us to take time out, amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, to forget the baggage and distractions, and to stop, to be, to focus, to listen. They call us to be mindful and aware of the world around us, to be aware of other people and of nature. They put the important things in life at the centre of our attention – the sacred things, and give us the chance to focus on them.
Ritual is a powerful tool. It effects us in a way that mere intellectual thought and debate never can – it taps into our psyche in a very strong way because it allows us to experience something. Experience can have a very powerful influence on our thinking and behaviour and is a key factor in forming who we become. The ritual experience can change us at a deep level, it can help us to form and ingrain habits and to build character so that we can become the type of people we wish to be.
There is something “more” to life, there is something “bigger than ourselves”. That thing is nature, it is the universe. Through ritual we can come to realise that, to realise that there is more to life than “my ego.” Ritual helps to teach us to be humble, to be reverent and respectful and to celebrate life. It teaches us that we are just one part of a greater and awesome whole. And it can help us connect to that whole, to honour our relationship with it, in a way we couldn’t do otherwise.