I wonder aloud: "Is ritual, removed from the context of community, a distortion of the purpose of ritual?" Jews require a minyon--a community of ten--for most prayer and ritual. Kanaka Maoli gather into a communal circle for ho'oponopono.

Is 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani, when he is performing a ritual without another human being in sight, alone? Or is he a part of (and acutely conscious of) his shared community, the deep breath in all of nature, and his ancestors? When a Hawaiian prays--before, for example, he throws a fishing net-- he is invoking the largest of community: All of creation.

I suggest that ritual is about the conscious communion between every speck of the natural world. I offer that ritual, removed from a conscious community, descends into something quite other--superstition--as in, "Something terrible will happen if I don't..."

The distinction is one of intention, and it is not very subtle.

Ritual is not always about comfort. Often ritual is about the sacrificial, support of others needs. Even if I don't feel like praying, I do it because you might need it. Meditation, as ritual, hurts my knees and back--but there may be the necessity of a greater good.

Here is what prompted these thoughts.

Our friend Cris is an accomplished writer, the wife of a remarkable man, a lovely woman with a delightful sense of humor. She is also an outspoken atheist. She offered this comment to our last essay, "Ritual."

"I LIKE INETTE'S THOUGHT: 'Naturally, ritual lay at the heart of both ‘Iokepa’s culture and mine. It is the message which Return Voyage, in its heart of hearts, celebrates: The voyage home to our deepest spiritual, cultural, and community connections.'

"I REWORDED IT TO REFLECT MY CONNECTION TO KAUAI'S 2008 CULTURE: Naturally, ritual lay at the heart of my experience of living on Kaua'i. I feel the deepest spiritual, cultural and community connection when I ritualistically wander through Walmart, where I buy chic clothes, and Costco, where I buy blueberries and consume kosher hot dogs. I used to feel connected in Borders, but since Inette and 'Iokepa left and the cafe morphed into Starbucks, I feel a bit disconnected."

Cris does not believe in a singular Creator. She believes, nonetheless, in the profound ritual connection among all of nature. We take comfort in our common ground.