The Rev. Dale Turner, who began writing a weekly column on religion for The Times in 1983, is retiring as a columnist in January. Turner began his column after his retirement in...

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The Rev. Dale Turner, who began writing a weekly column on religion for The Times in 1983, is retiring as a columnist in January.

Turner began his column after his retirement in 1982 as pastor at Seattle’s University Congregational Church. In the ensuing years, he has written on a range of topics, from kindness and prayer to life’s difficulties, the power of humor and the loss of a pet.

We invite you to share your thoughts about Turner and how his messages have influenced you. Mail your comments to Judy Groom, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, or e-mail them to jgroom@seattletimes.com. Include your name and telephone number so we can verify authenticity. We will include a selection of responses in a special tribute to Turner to be published in January with his farewell column.

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Until then, we will republish some of Turner’s most popular columns. This column, on the gift of touching, was published Dec. 7, 1985.

God has given us many marvelous gifts, but none more wonderful than the gift of touch. Through the gift of touch, humans move toward the solidarity and closeness God ordained. Our deepest feelings are often expressed through touching experiences, being touched or keeping in touch.

Despite what the best of science, instinct and common sense tells us, many Americans cut down on the amount and quality of physical contact. After infancy, words replace touches; distance replaces closeness. Care is often taken to make sure youngsters don’t see their own parents touching each other affectionately. Many parents, who confuse the sexual touch with caring, restorative or sympathetic touch, are either afraid or ashamed to make physical contact with growing sons and daughters.

The need for physical closeness is ever present — and the neglect of it is regrettable and often destructive.

Touch plays a vital role in giving encouragement, expressing tenderness and showing emotional support.

Touch is a crucial aspect of all human relationships. However, except in moments of extreme crisis, we often forget how to ask for it — or to offer it.

Anne Davis, a contemporary writer, tells a poignant story of her childhood. She says the first time she ever spent the night with a friend, she was amazed when the little girl’s mother came in and hugged and kissed her daughter goodnight. In Anne’s family, this kind of overt affection had never been shown, but seeing it made her hunger for it deeply.

So, she said, the next night when she was back in her own home and it was time to be tucked into bed, she put her cheek up in a very prominent place, but nothing happened. Her mother simply went through her usual ritual of laying out clean clothes for the next school day. Anne cried herself to sleep that night and concluded that her mother must not love her as much as her friend’s mother loved her daughter. That disappointment sank deep within her and festered for years.

It was not until she was an adult that she related this experience to her mother and asked why she had not shown more physical affection. At that point, her mother’s eyes filled with tears and she said, “I didn’t grow up in a home where that was done. Since my mother died when I was 5, no one came to tuck me in and tell me goodnight.

“Also, there was no one who washed our clothes regularly, and I often had to go to school in a dirty dress, humiliated and embarrassed. I made up my mind that if I ever had any children of my own, the one thing they would always have would be clean clothes. This is the way I tried to show my affection.”

At that moment, there were two sets of eyes full of tears.

One of the fantasies that people have about love is that if someone really cares about you, they will know automatically what you want and like, and that if they do not give you what you want, it is a sign that they do not love you. Such clairvoyance does not exist, but the truly loving person does know the need that all have for physical closeness, and exercises good judgment in the expressions of caring.

One of the dangers of our fear about child abuse is that children will be deprived of the legitimate expressions of physical closeness that assures our love and caring.

Others who need this assurance are the elderly. Few people touch the old, yet they need it, too. Early in my ministry, while visiting in a nursing home, I sat by the bed of a 92-year-old friend. Death was not far away.

“I am not afraid,” she said, “but I am lonesome. Will you hold my hand?” I did, until she breathed her last. Perhaps she voiced for all of us our deepest need — the gentle, caring touch.

The Rev. Dale Turner’s column appears Saturdays in The Seattle Times