“Gesundheit!” part 2

“Gesundheit!” part 2

Jan 22, 2014

“Gesundheit!” part 2

by Leanne Lippincott-Wuerthele

       Last month, I wrote about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. Even something as outwardly simple as a sneeze involves many complex actions and several parts of the human body.

Although I stated that a sneeze can leave our body at 100 mph, I recently learned that a sneeze can actually travel 300 miles an hour or faster. The 40,000 infectious droplets from a sneeze can have “a spray radius” of about five feet.  Even though much of this spray comes out of our nose, we tend to sneeze with our mouth at least partially open. Thus, a considerable amount of these droplets are also emitted from our mouths.

As mentioned earlier, the Greek word for sneeze is “pneuma,” which means “soul” or “spirit.”

Many people automatically say, “Bless you” or “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes. However, no one says anything similar when people cough, blow their nose, or burp. Why do sneezes get special treatment, and what do those phrases actually mean? Here is some additional information not mentioned last month:

04 Reflections sneeze CLR

Many historians believe the practice of blessing a sneeze dates back to 77 AD. However, Pope Gregory I—also known as “Saint Gregory the Great”—is often cited for transforming that custom into an actual blessing.

Gregory, the first monk to become Pope, was born in Rome in 540 and became Pope in 590 after a year of floods and plague. [His predecessor, Pope Pelagius II, died of the plague.]

As the bubonic plague closed in on Rome, people thought sneezing was an early symptom. Pope Gregory called for litanies, processions, and unceasing prayer, asking for God’s help and intercession against the disease. Columns of believers walked through the streets chanting, “Kyrie Eleison”—Greek for “Lord have mercy.”

When a person sneezed, they were immediately blessed (“God bless you!”) in the hope the disease wouldn’t kill them. Some historians noted that “prayer apparently worked, judging by how quickly the plague of 590 AD diminished.”

Other researchers point out that the Romans said, “Jupiter preserve you,” when someone sneezed. They also said, “Salve,” which meant, “Good health to you.” The Greeks would wish each other “Long life.”

The German term, “Gesundheit”—which literally means, “Health”—was prompted by the idea that a sneeze typically precedes illness. German-speaking immigrants to the U.S. brought the word into the English language early in the 20th Century.

Virtually every country around the globe has its own way of wishing sneezers well. People in Arabic countries say, “Alhamdulillah,” which means, “Praise be to God.” Hindus say, “Live!” or “Live well!”

Some countries have special responses for sneezing children.

In Russia, the traditional response is, “Bud zdorov” (“Be healthy”), followed by, “Rosti bolshoi,” which means, “Grow big.” When children sneeze in China, they will hear, “Bai sui”—“May you live 100 years.”

Along with all the negative beliefs regarding sneezing (such as, it can open your body to evil spirit invasions or throw your soul out of your body) sneezing does have positive aspects. Many people used to believe it was a sign that God would answer their prayers. Nowadays, some people still believe sneezing is an omen of good fortune, or that a sneeze before breakfast is a sign that exciting news will arrive by day’s end.

In today’s society, many people simply say, “Bless you,” instead of, “God bless you.” Because of religious differences, this is viewed as more “politically correct.” You aren’t distinguishing who is doing the blessing.

By the way, iguanas are the “sneeziest” animals. It’s how they rid their bodies of certain salts while digesting.

“Gesundheit” and long life to you!

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