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Ritual Science

A new field of research explores how diverse spiritual practices use the same scents, sounds, and movements to tap into our deepest selves.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Christian. But on a recent Saturday morning, I found myself in St. John's Cathedral, procathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. One of my dearest friends was being ordained as an Episcopal priest, and I was there to support her.The sounds of shuffling feet and soft murmurs echoed softly off the stone floors and pillars, swirling around the domed ceiling. The potent odor of incense seemed to have an impact deeper than "smell." A mosaic of Jesus behind the pulpit glowed blue and gold with a light that appeared to come from within the tiles. As we rose and sat, rose and sat, I felt my body start to relax into this ritualized movement. The sounds of our voices and the feeling of the hymns resonating in my own chest connected me to the hundreds of other souls in the church.I deepened my breath and let myself be drawn into the experience, much as I would do in my yoga practice. As the rite continued, I realized that this ceremony was not so different from any other aimed at deepening a spiritual connection. And a growing field of science is finding that, at their c …

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