In the fall of 1998 or 1999, I spent a week in southwestern Finland. Until my visit, my knowledge and experience of saunas in any form only existed in my imagination. I had seen pictures of them. I had even looked at one from a distance. I had never been inside. While curious, I had no idea what enthusiasts were talking about.
My first experiences came at the hands of Finnish teachers. They were passionate about saunas and the rituals that came with them. They approached the subject with a level of puzzling reverence. News words were introduced. I was given instruction on their pronunciation and use. Social norms were introduced and discussed. My questions were respectfully answered with a patient spirit. Instructions were given in detail. To help me understand, daily how-to sessions followed.
During the course of that first week, especially on a fateful Saturday night filled with large soft snowflakes, I found myself in love with the experience.
As I introduce others to one of my loves, I realize how fortunate I was. I learned from people that believed and practiced their words. I was allowed to embrace saunas at a speed of my choosing. I was allowed to express my fears and uncertainties in a climate of openness and confidence.
In my first experience, I learned a piece of trivia. In a country of 5.2 million, there are more than 2 million saunas. My translation is that every individual in Finland has access to a sauna. I think I must be Finnish. The sauna at home is used more days than not. The reverence I found a decade ago is often refreshed and rediscovered.
I have come to realize that my experience follows an old model. When I read how “the Jews received Paul’s message with enthusiasm and met with him daily, examining the Scriptures to see if they supported what he said,” (Acts 17.11) I realize that their teacher was using the model my Finnish teachers used.
I enjoy saunas. I find it easy to share something this nice.