I blush easily. It may sound a small thing but in some ways it’s been the single most incapacitating thing in my life. At times my inability to control my face hue has left me feeling weak, stupid and inferior. Half man half idiot.
Concentrate – here comes the sciency bit. It must be true, I found it on the worldwide interweb. Apparently blushing is linked with the old fight-or-flight syndrome. Something stressful happens and our blood vessels get pumping in order to move a truckload of oxygen round our system in readiness for some responsive action. In so doing they pump blood to our face. We don’t have to think about it, it’s an instinctive reaction. Bang! You’re red in the face. Or rather… I am. And if you have paler skin tone then the reaction can light you up more obviously. Apparently it’s controllable by pills, and some folks even have an operation − a sympathectomy − to reduce their facial flushing.
It’s odd to read about a straightforward chemical reaction like this. It makes it sound so matter of fact and natural. And yet to me it feels anything but. I hated school because when I was asked questions in class I would blush. When I talked to certain people I blushed. I really respected my drama teacher, but couldn’t engage in a lengthy conversation without my cheeks turning traffic light red by the end of it.
And the worst part of all this was not knowing why. Not understanding why certain things triggered this crimson nightmare. Sometimes the fear of blushing in a given situation triggered the reaction in me. Knowing that I might blush became the very thing that made me blush. The self-fulfilling prophecy. It stopped me doing so many things.
I find myself wondering if the Old Testament prophets ever got embarrassed. Especially with all those rather public shenanigans they got up to.
- Did Isaiah’s cheeks shine (all four of them) as he walked around naked for three years?
- Did Micah glow like a stop light as he copied Isaiah’s lead and joined the prophetic naturists? Especially at those moments when he howled like a jackal and wailed like an ostrich. (How does an ostrich wail?)
- Was Jeremiah a little flushed as he traipsed around in a pair of worm infested, slug-stuffed, mildew-manky boxer shorts that he’d dug up from his garden?
- Did Ezekiel’s face burn as much as his dung did when God told him to do some MasterChefing with poo?
Was Jesus ever in embarrassing situations? Certainly. He was often insulted in public and accosted by strangers. When he visited Simon the Pharisee, hot and dusty from the road, he was offered no form of ritual washing. This was embarrassing enough but to compound this toe-curling scenario a ‘sinful’ woman sidled up to Jesus, cried all over his feet and then dried them with her hair. An excruciatingly intimate act. Have you ever tried drying someone’s feet with your hair? It’s extremely up-close and personal. And in Jesus’s day women just did not behave in public like that. It was provocative and disturbing.
Whether or not Jesus looked embarrassed through any of this we do not know. But he certainly felt it. When Simon the Pharisee was clearly looking down his nose at Jesus and this woman, the man from Nazareth went into great detail about the way Simon had insulted him. And about the way this ‘sinful’ woman had come to his rescue.
When he visited his friends in Bethany, not long before his death, Mary poured expensive oil on his feet and wiped them with her hair. The same highly intimate act, and again, one that no woman should have done in public. Especially surrounded by so many men. This was a hugely embarrassing scenario, and Judas blurted out his protest about the wasting of the oil. He was probably grasping for something − anything − to say to make it all go away. Whether or not Jesus felt embarrassed he was not fazed, praising Mary for this highly meaningful act of devotion.
Thought for the day: in the book of Hebrews in chapter 4 we are assured that Jesus understands our weakness and can sympathise with us. Whether or not Jesus turned a hazy shade of crimson in Simon’s house or in any other situation, I’m convinced he knows what it’s like to suffer from this problem. I’m sure too that he felt acute embarrassment at times when he was mistreated, insulted and misunderstood. Not least when he was crucified naked on a hillside. Those excruciating hours when he took our pain, guilt, crimes and embarrassments into himself. Absorbing them into his being, like a soldier throwing himself on top of an exploding bomb in order to protect others from the blast.