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Nail Polish and Spiritual Discipline

I read the books on spiritual disciplines and tried to learn from them – Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, other earlier great mystics, and more contemporary writers. Yet unaccountably, none of them mentioned the benefits of nail polish as an aid to spiritual disciplines!I discovered it accidentally.

Some time ago I was quite sick and eventually diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. All of a sudden my life was full of people whom I had never needed before.I was seeing lots of my general practitioner, and also spending regular time with my oncologist, and seeing a palliative care doctor: I had an accountant helping me sort my finances and a lawyer ensuring my affairs were in order. Surrounded by helpful and highly qualified professionals, I needed someone practical also. So I accepted with gratitude when my daughter offered to be beautician and paint my fingernails.

This wasn’t a discipline I’d ever taken up before. Too much time, I make a mess when I paint them, and the polish keeps chipping! But it was fun, and it helped my morale. As medicine gave me some more lifetime and energy, I wanted to continue with the nail polish.If the colour extended a bit beyond my nails, I found the truth of my daughter’s comment that it quickly came off with a wash or two. As for the chipping and the time – that was where I began to encounter the spiritual gains of regular nail polish.

It doesn’t take very long to apply: the time comes in sitting still while the polish dries. And as for the chipping that happens each day – I now keep the bottle of nail polish on my desk and touch up the gaps first thing each morning. And there is the spiritual benefit! As I apply the nail polish, I am immobilized for 15-30 minutes while it dries.I can’t dash into all the things that await me that day, whether housework, emails or whatever other urgent tasks demand to replace the important in my life.I have to sit – and all I can do is pray, and read my Bible. With care, even with freshly-painted nails, I can still turn over the pages or tap the device, without colouring the pages. I sit, my nails dry, and I read and pray.

I notice now, that when I neglect the nail polish, my Bible reading is less regular. The day can more easily begin (or end) without the spiritual disciplines that I need to sustain it.

So I enjoy this new discipline.It brings more colour into my life (and perhaps the occasional splash to the burgundy of the bonded leather cover of my Bible!). And it immobilizes me each day, pushing me beyond all the other things that demand my attention, to be attentive to God and His Word speaking into my daily world. I’m not about to write a book on spiritual disciplines. But I hope that the next person who does so will mention the practical benefits of nail polish.


Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specialising in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and mentors students, with a focus on Islam and cross-cultural understanding. Moyra holds a ThD (Melbourne School of Theology), and PhD in Education (La Trobe University).

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