Korean Washcloths: Messengers of God’s Nearness and Love
For years when I was young, my mom took nightly baths, and I would join her. We would pile our thick, black hair on top of our heads, so strong and stiff it would shoot up like onion sprouts. We scrubbed each other’s backs with neon-colored, nylon washcloths, as if we were scrubbing potato skins being prepped for dinner. While skin was let loose, we let our muscles and the details of our days unwind and she told me stories. It was another kind of womb, this safe spot, hidden from the rest of the day.
Bath time was one of the only times my mom was relaxed and slow moving (minus the scrubbing). It was the closest thing to a mother-daughter heart to heart that I knew of. But at some point I stopped going into the bath with her. It probably happened after telling a friend that I took baths with my mom and getting a wide-eyed response in return. I would still join her in the bathroom and scrub her back when she asked me to, and then I’d sit on the floor outside the tub, fully clothed, wound tight with the awareness of how this practice would be perceived by my peers. I slowly learned to hide cultural traditions like this⎯moments of needed connection and storytelling, clues to the imago Dei in me⎯under a blanket of everyday clothing.
After her bath, my mom would step out of the water, her entire body dripping and beet red. She slathered herself with lotion, making sure to cover the vertical, X-marked scars from her belly button down, courtesy of my sister and me. Then, covered with the scent of gardenias, with a tightened brow and pointed finger, she would remind me that it was imperative for a woman to take care of her body, and she told me stop hiding mine.
While living abroad as a missionary in Germany years later, after remembering the baths I’d come to refuse, I found myself searching for pieces of those early memories. I occasionally perused Indian-German grocery stores, studying ingredients that were foreign to me yet brought me a little bit closer to home. I scrubbed our bathtub clean and soaked in it that year, then asked my mom if she would send a care package that included a nylon washcloth.
It was in those baths of remembrance, and the stores that weren’t quite the same as home but were close enough, that I began to understand the sacred and secular overlap. God is over all, and all belongs to God.
My own racial reckoning began with this kind of remembering.
In snapshots and moments of realization, I was faced with past pain and my own choices to reject parts of my legacy. From trying to squelch my voice in cross-cultural ministry to dumping miyeokguk1 down the drain as a brand-new mom, I began to realize that I couldn’t know God’s love for me unless I accepted and uncovered all of who he has made me to be.
I had to go back to those moments of practicing my handwriting, moving to Indiana, rejecting my identity, deciding to no longer join my mom in the bath, and every other attempt to sew my own fig leaves in shame, and let God meet me in those places. Each memory is a wake-up call, a second chance that points me toward hope, wholeness, and healing.
These days when I feel lonely in my Asian American body or when the world feels too harsh and violent toward Asian American bodies, I intentionally go back to my memories. I remember the moments when I felt most at home. I remember what it felt like to sweat while frying mandu in an eighties-style German kitchen while the oil popped, interrupting our conversation.
I remember moments when shalom wasn’t just something to long for but something that wrapped itself around me, reminding me this is the body God gave me, with a biracial Asian American heart, mind, and soul, where the Holy Spirit dwells. It was never meant to be a barrier to being whole and at home; it was through this exact vessel of veins and genes, through the precise distance between my eyes, and through every thick, textured hair on my head, that God intended for me to understand that I am known and that Immanuel is with me.
Adapted from Tell Me the Dream Again: Reflections on Family, Ethnicity, and the Sacred Work of Belonging by Tasha Jun. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
- miyeokguk is a Korean seaweed soup
Tasha Jun is a melancholy dreamer, a biracial Korean American storyteller, wife to Matt, and mama to three little warriors: two wild boys and one little lady. As long as she can remember, she’s lived and stood in places where cultures collide. Writing has always been the way God has led her towards home and the hope of shalom. Tasha’s first book is was published in 2023, Tell Me the Dream Again: Reflections on Family, Ethnicity, and the Sacred Work of Belonging. Find more of her writing on Instagram at at tashajun.com.
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