Coughs and Sneezes Spread Embarrassment
I was a snattery child... One of those children who had a constantly runny nose. From September through to May I had cold, and from May to September I had hay fever. As a result, whatever I was wearing I had tissues secreted all over my body... In my pockets, up my sleeve, and on one occasion I even remember my Mum tucking a tissue into my sock. I think she had shares in Kleenex. I was also one of those children who never blew their noses quietly. I still don't. When I blow my nose today, fishermen in nearby ports turn around and scan the horizon for the fog bank they presume must be rolling in. But every week we went to church as a child, my Mum would warn me that I was not, on any account, to blow my nose during the prayers or Bible readings. So for at least four years I never sang the first line of any hymn. All through the prayers and readings my nose ran like a river, and as soon as the organ started up I would let rip. It was like having a tuneless trumpet fanfare at the beginning of every hymn.
But if that wasn't a big enough embarrassment to my poor mother, worse was yet to come. One Sunday, because I was particularly heavily smitten with the cold, she passed me a throat sweet. Two minutes later, in the middle of a prayer (needless to say) the peace of the church was rocked by a series of sneezes which must have measured at least 6 on the Richter Scale. After I stopped there was complete silence for a minute or two, and then the person leading the prayers, his train of thought irreparably broken, hurridly finished off his prayer. Was I allergic to long prayers?
The next week my Mum, tempting fate, gave me another throat sweet. But this time there were no cataclysmic sneezes. The next week another throat sweet (other mothers bring mints or fruit pastilles to church... mine always brought throat sweets... I don't know why), and this time the sneezes were back. It was then that the connection was made. It was only when the sweet contained menthol and eucalyptus that the sneezing occurred. So in order to save my Mum's embarrassment, menthol and eucalyptus throat sweets were thereafter banned from church.
As a child I was never embarrassed by my own coughing or sneezing or any of my nasal trumpet voluntaries. But parents seem to be mortified by these (and other) noises emanating from their children during worship. Perhaps it is because of the disapproving stares of people around them. Often parents feel it necessary to take their children out because of such noises or (horror of horrors) because a young child won't sit at peace or stay quiet. It isn't the child's fault... It can hardly be said to be the parents' either. If anyone has a problem it is anyone who feels that their worship is being disturbed by such children and make the parents feel uncomfortable... Or at least they will have a problem if I hear about it!
I love to hear the voices of children in congregations, and we have reasonable grounds in scripture to believe that Jesus does too.
Curiously, I also love to hear their coughs and sneezes, because it is a sign for me that the parents actually want to be there. Many a person avoids coming to church when they catch a cold... ostensibly to avoid giving it to anyone else, but I suspect that, at times, it may just be an excuse to "escape" Sunday worship. More worryingly, as people develop more serious problems, routine Sunday worship doesn't seem to be the place for them... be it due to mobility difficulties, nervous ailments, and other life-threatening diseases. The reasons for staying away can vary, from the danger of infecting others or being infected, a reluctance to face people, accessibility issues, embarrassment or the tendency of worship to reflect a rose-tinted view of life when it seems to be far from the case for some.
Yet when Jesus was here on earth. people with physical and mental ailments flocked to him for blessing and healing. If that were to happen in churches today... not just in special "healing services" but Sunday by Sunday... then that would be a sign that the Spirit of Christ was truly at work within them.
By the way, I think I AM allergic to long prayers.