In addition to reading our sacred texts we must also become proficient at reading the text of the world, of our experience. It also has its characters, plot, themes, conflicts and truths. If we have eyes to see or ears to hear, look and listen.
We have two cats that frequent our house. One is our long-time house cat, Baxter, a large, tranquil, secure, affable boy who never met or feared a stranger, whether human or beast. The other is a tiny stray cat whose name, we were told, is Mary. She is obviously the runt of the litter. Her life outside, fending for herself among all manner of threats, has made her hyper-vigilant, bonkers, crazy afraid. It’s how she has survived.
Baxter is happy just being in the same room with you. If he has his food, water and litter box and he gets some attention between naps, he is good to go. Mary shows up at the door and doesn’t know if it is safe inside or out. She paws to get in out of the cold and whines to get out, to take flight, whenever she feels trapped. She is a mass of contradictions.
On the rare occasion that Mary feels safe enough to jump up on the couch and curl up and give herself a bath, she allows me to stroke her. I have learned that one touch does not fit all. The firm rub down I give Baxter would terrify Mary. She is not only smaller – a fourth of Baxter’s twenty-two pounds – but she is more emotionally fragile. I have to use a deft, delicate touch with her, almost letting her close the interval between my hand and her body.
In the same way that any two horses or two hawks require a different touch to handle them, so do these two cats. One is easier than the other. One is more high-maintenance. But if you are going to handle both you need to know the differences and change your approach accordingly.
People are like that, of course; one size response does not fit all. One person wants a bear hug while the next extends a handshake at arms length, a safe moat outside their castle wall. For one person only straight to-the-point talk will do. Their neighbor would be shattered by such candor and needs instead a gentle, gradual word. This person needs lots of attention and that person is just fine with a little. If you are a teacher you motivate one student this way and another that way. So it goes.
If you are a pastor and have served several congregations you know that a different touch is required for each one. Their distinctive personalities require different approaches, a special, acquired touch for each. Like Baxter and Mary, they respond differently to particular leadership styles, depending on who they are and how they developed.
And then there are different cultural sub-groups within a society. They come from different places and have different histories. Some are more like Baxter, having lived a fairly charmed life with access to most everything they need for safety and happiness. Others, like Mary, have suffered adversity out there in the world the likes of which the house cats cannot comprehend. Why would you assume that you relate to them in the same way?
Each cat, each person, each group requires its own touch. If love requires anything of us it is that we expend the time and effort to know what is needed. And then, as far as is possible, we try to make a home for both, for all, figuring out what it is that makes each one feel safe, loved, and valued. We will not always succeed or succeed to the same degree with every one. But the trying is the thing and knowing that we did try.