Someone once told me about this Korean sauna — he was absolutely obsessed with it. It was a place where one could disappear for hours and hours and emerge refreshed, restored and pampered. It piqued my interest, and after a while, I scheduled a day to go with a friend. I knew very little about what to expect, except for there being an area of this sauna where full nudity was required.

My friend and I pulled into a shopping center boasting a small noodle cafe on the corner, but the strip was overwhelmingly taken up by the spa. We found the grand entrance to the side and walked in, greeted by a man at the front desk. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, and he kindly explained the full experience. We would receive a set of clothes (eerily resembling orange prison jumpsuits), a locker key, and a towel, all for the entrance fee of $30. We were able to make additional purchases of massages, food, or other spa treatments once inside. We received our bundles and headed into the locker room.

Immediately we were assaulted by the steamy texture of the locker room air. We found our way through the maze to our assigned lockers and began shedding our shoes. As I began to undress I noticed there were women from all different races and ethnicities and sizes and shapes — truly, there was no common thread among the spa-goers except for the complete lack of clothing.

I can’t say that I’m very comfortable with nudity, or the more Biblical term, “nakedness” (which makes it sound more icky, in my opinion). I grew up in a very conservative home, and modesty was prized. Our bodies were meant to be covered at all times, save for with our chosen partner in marriage. Yet I found myself in a Korean spa locker room, stripping down to my birthday suit in front of dozens of complete strangers. My first instinct was to keep myself covered. But I quickly discovered that the towel provided was no larger than a kitchen hand towel — which doesn’t cover much ground. I suddenly had a keen understanding of the dilemma of Adam and Eve — were there any fig leaves around?

The next option was to just embrace it. It seemed like everyone else in the locker room had absolutely no problems walking around in the buff, or at least they were very skilled at hiding their discomfort. It seemed that for everyone else, this was a perfectly normal occasion. I tried to go along with it — fake it til you make it, I guess.

The first step in the locker room was to enter the spa room, where you were presented with several large pools to choose from, all of varying temperatures, as well as a hot sauna and a dry sauna. In one corner there were several cushioned tables arranged as if in a hospital ward, where patrons were lying on their bare bodies, getting scrubbed from head to toe by one of the Korean women. I consulted the signage to find that one offering at the spa was a “body shampoo” and immediately decided that I must partake. When at the Korean spa, do as the spa-goers do.

I put my name on the list for a “body shampoo,” and then my friend and I decided to explore the other areas of the spa. We learned that the provided orange outfit was to be worn in the shared areas of the spa, like the food court and the group sauna rooms, so we donned our cotton t-shirts and baggy pants and entered the shared area.

Milling around a large room were a few dozen other patrons, men and women alike, some chatting, some reading, some dozing lazily on the benches, some eating from the food court, some listening to music. We got some dumplings at the food court and sat to eat while taking in the fantastic opportunity for people watching. There were no windows inside, and I hadn’t seen a clock on any walls. Everyone was dressed the same, so it was like being in a strange dystopian future, except everyone was actually happy and relaxed instead of secretly planning a rebellion. We weren’t sure why there were people literally napping inside some of the sauna rooms, until after we had checked out a few of them and found ourselves nodding off in the sweaty, warm embrace of the clay sauna room. This was a bizarre place, completely disconnected from the outside world, where it was easy to lose track of time and leave behind many of the social norms we cling to, specifically about nudity and sleeping in public spaces.

Finally it was my turn for the body shampoo. I reentered the locker room to disrobe myself, and then found myself face-up on a squishy pink table, looking up at a Korean woman who seemed mildly uninterested in my naked body on her table. Before I could really settle in, she was dumping warm water on me in bucket-fulls, and then she began scrubbing me with scratchy washcloth-mittens on both of her hands. I had not in recent memory been bathed by another human, and the sensation was unsettling but also soothing.

Lying there naked, I couldn’t help but wonder how many bodies this woman had scrubbed, and all the skin and fat and love handles she had seen and caressed (well, more like pumiced). She seemed completely unfazed by the sight of my nudity, and as she scrubbed I began to see the dead skin flaking off as she exfoliated my entire body. It was actually pretty gross — I couldn’t believe the layers upon layers of dirt and dead skin that she was scraping off my body. Before I could get too horrified, she covered my eyes with a towel, so I could only get quick peeks and glimpses of her at work.

We didn’t talk much, but I felt her constantly moving and working, scrubbing away, peeling the layers of skin off. The scrubbing wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t completely agonizing either. It was just uncomfortable — the back and forth of the scratchy rag scraping over my raw skin. Occasionally, she would grunt out a command, telling me to turn on my side, or flip to my stomach. So I just listened and obeyed.

As she finished off my backside, I had a revelation: that aggressive scrub-down was a better lesson in sanctification than any other I’ve heard. Listen, sanctification is a one-Person job. Lots of people might tell you that you need to stop watching TikTok or wearing leggings or voting a certain way to be holy, but lying on that table, I understood it perfectly: becoming holy is lying down and letting Jesus scrub off the dead parts of us to present us new, scrubbed down and washed clean, before the throne of God. In that process, God often graciously shields us from seeing the ugliest parts of ourselves, yet God Himself is never fazed by our nakedness, or our sin. We’re the ones walking around trying to cover it all up with kitchen towels while He’s just waiting for us to lie down and get clean.

Although it felt like a human car wash, I walked out of that locker room glowing. I felt refreshed and renewed — which, I guess, is exactly the point of going to a spa. I think a lot of people approach faith like they are signing up for a military boot camp instead of going to a Korean spa, and that’s why we’re all so exhausted all the time by faith. At the spa, our only job is to lie still, listen, and obey when it’s time to move. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a deep-tissue massage appointment.

 


Featured image from Texas Monthly.