Friday, April 22, 2011

Jesus at the sauna

John 13:1-15
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Someone asked me recently, after I’d written my last post, how it is that my life lines up with the liturgical calendar. I replied that really, it’s probably more likely that in my awareness of what is happening in the liturgical calendar, that I notice when things happen in my life that are relevant to that. Something like that happened today.

One of the things that I love (and I mean LOVE) about Korea is the public bath or tchimchilbang.  Not only can you can sit and soak in the various tubs, shower, scrub and sit in the different temperatures of sauna in the women’s (or men’s) only area. You can also, in the common area, wearing gender assigned pink or blue shorts and t-shirts provided by the sauna, eat at the restaurant, work out on the weight equipment or cardio machines, watch tv, go online, sit in a massage chair, get your nails done or any other variety or personal services.  And more.

It is an awesome place to relax and so much better than my cramped shower room at home. I try to go at least once a week. I never feel self conscious about my body or about being naked; after you go once you realize that bodies – even Asian women’s bodies which are sexually idealized by western media – come in all shapes and sizes. But I do feel a little conscious of being a very pink and western woman in the otherwise all Korean setting. This is never more true that when I bring Naomi. Who also loves getting naked and wastes no time stripping, jumping in the tubs and playing, often with joyful noise – in the water, hopping from pool to pool, slipping and splashing and otherwise drawing (completely obliviously) as much attention to her noisy, adorable pink and blond self as possible.

So…when I go on my own I try to blend in, keep to myself, take advantage of not having to watch like a hawk a child who has no qualms about slurping the draining water off the floor (I know…so gross). Today was no exception. After a very satisfactory run and 20 or so minutes spent in the hot water, I found a stool and shower in a corner and started my scrub.* It’s pretty common for women to come together and when one can’t get her own back, her friend will scrub for her and then vice versa. It’s definitely preferable to trying to scrub your own, and when I’ve gone with my friend Rora and it works out nicely. No awkward stretching, no missing the area right in the center where you just can’t quite reach.

This morning I was doing the awkward stretching and reaching but in spite of that was quite happy with the scrub experience. I was thinking, in my corner, that I was inconspicuous, but I was surprised in my ablutions when a young women approached me and gestured to me an offer to scrub my back. Almost before I could indicate an assent she’d begun the best back scrub I have ever had and at the end poured the cool water from the basin in front of me over my back to clean all the suds and dead skin off the freshly scrubbed area.

I thanked her as fully as I could with my small vocabulary, then I gestured to return the favor. She refused. As I was about finished, I did a final shower rinse, collected my various soaps, hair products and scrubbers, wrapped up my hair and went out to change. And as I got dressed and brushed my hair and packed up my belongings, I could think only of Jesus. Specifically of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Maundy Thursday was yesterday and I didn’t do anything to mark the date. I didn’t even remember it until my encounter today. Yet Jesus managed to take the form of a Korean woman offering to scrub my back as a reminder of the day. Like him, she refused to let me wash her. She made a pure act of service to someone whom perhaps she saw as a stumbling and struggling foreigner, or perhaps was just a simple thing she’d have done for anyone. In any case, I came away with new and grateful skin and a new and grateful heart. Thanks be to God!


* In the Korean spa, there are four or five pools in the center of a large, stone tiled room. All around the room, in addition to a few stand-up showers surrounded by stations, are low shower stations along a marble shelf about a foot off the ground. Each shower station has a detachable shower head, a mirror and usually a plastic basin or two and a short plastic stool that nicely forms to one’s butt. Women go to the sauna several times a month to soak and scrub every inch of their bodies with small abrasive mitts. The cutest is when moms bring small babies. The last time I went there was a family with the absolutely fattest and happiest baby ever with her mom and older sister. That splashing baby totally made my week.

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