If you rubbed a magic oil lamp and Aladdin offered you only one wish, what would it be?

Lighting a candle between two wise women, July 27, 1992

Lighting a candle between two wise women, July 27, 1992

I’d ask for wisdom.

The story of King Solomon, who famously chose wisdom, made a deep impression on my in my youth, and later I prayed often for wisdom as a mother, teacher, and college president.

In my life, however, wisdom has never jumped like a genie from a magic lamp.

Rather, it has trickled in. Gurgled up. Sprinkled down.

Have you ever heard this quote often attributed to Will Rogers?

“Good judgment comes from experience. And a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

I have learned a lot from my mistakes in life, but, fortunately, I have not had to rely solely on them. I’ve been blessed with an abundance of mentors, wisdom figures, who have shown me what it means to walk humbly while also excelling at the art of living.

Today’s magical memoir moment starts with a birthday party. Daughter Kate and I often celebrate our birthdays together. In the year 1992, when she turned 9 and I turned 44, we threw a multi-generational tea party, complete with candles and party favors at each place.

We invited nine women from College Mennonite Church, all of whom were old enough to be grandmothers. Secretly, I called them the Wisdom Women and told Kate I wanted to give her the gift of being with Wisdom for an afternoon.

Birthday girls, 1992.

Birthday girls, 1992.

I invited each guest to bring Kate a gift of words or a story to light her way.

Mary Eleanor Bender played a song. Pauline Fisher recited a poem and told us about the elocution lessons she took in her youth. Evelyn Kreider gave Kate a print of the famous “Girl with Watering Can” by Renoir. It was a print that hung in her daughter’s bedroom. We framed and hung the print for Kate. The print still graces our walls, waiting to travel to Kate’s new home after renovations are done.

Renoir's girl with watering can still graces our walls, waiting to travel to Kate's new home after renovations are done.

As I look into these faces in the picture below, 23 years after it was taken, I thank God for each Wise one. Each has been blessed by a long life.

I am now close to the average age of the women on this picture.

Ethel and Helen have died, but all others are living today. I dedicate this post to them.

Ever hear the phrase “your presence is our present”? Truer words were never spoken of this group!

The Wisdom Women. Seated: Ethel Yoder, Helen Alderfer, Kate, Lois Schertz. Standing: Shirley, Pauline Fisher, Evelyn Kreider, Mary Oyer, Mary Eleanor Bender

The Wisdom Women party 1992. Seated: Ethel Yoder, Helen Alderfer, Kate, Lois Schertz. Standing: Shirley, Pauline Fisher, Evelyn Kreider, Mary Oyer, Mary Eleanor Bender.

Evelyn Kreider, in the light blue print in the back row, celebrated her 100th birthday two years ago!

We are all daughters of Sophia, Lady Wisdom, who speaks powerfully in the book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 8:22-31New International Version (NIV)

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,[a][b]
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30     Then I was constantly[c] at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

 I can’t wait to finish the book pictured above, Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise.

I’ve learned so much over the years from the guests on Krista’s radio program/podcast On Being and from Krista herself. One of the great features of the book is a list at the back naming all the people interviewed so that one can locate the podcast of that show. A compendium of wisdom indeed!

I plan to read this book meditatively, lectio divina style. You will hear more about it, since I see a strong connection between wisdom and Jubilación.

In the meantime, please share some wisdom about wisdom below. If you threw a wisdom party, who would you want to come? Which source of wisdom taught you the most — mistakes, mentors, music or media — books, films, art?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Richard Gilbert on April 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    I think the form of wisdom I’d seek is self-knowledge. I wonder how much general wisdom flows from that specific one?

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:16 am

      What a great question, Richard. I want to think about that as I respond to others and as I look at these photos again. That’s why we write memoir. It all goes back to “know thyself.” Thanks for starting the conversation.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on April 20, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Shirley — The gift of a multi-generational birthday tea party that you gave your daughter Kate when she turned 9 burst my heart wide open with joy! The celebration photographs that you shared are priceless. Simply priceless.

    My wisdom about wisdom?
    The quote that you shared—attributed to Will Rogers—is new to me, but resonates strongly with my youth and young adulthood. Interestingly, if I were offered the magical chance to change my past, I’d gracefully decline. Each and every mistake I’ve made has led to today, and I embrace the joy-filled life that I live.

    If you threw a wisdom party, who would you want to come?
    Mother Teresa
    Pema Chodron
    Jane Goodall
    The Dalai Lama
    The Pope

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Laurie, I love your attitude toward the mistakes in your life. I know that my mistakes have made me more empathetic, more grateful, and more forgiving, and for that I give thanks. If we all could find the freedom to embrace our mistakes the way you do, this world would sing with joy.

      And what a party you are throwing! I had the great honor of sitting next to His Holiness the Dalai Lama one time and heard him speak several times. The most amazing thing about him is his child-like openness to life. He is curious, full of laughter, but also filled with compassion for those who suffer. If he came to the party, all of you would have a great time.

      Doesn’t it fill you with hope to know that such human beings, each with their own mistakes, exist? The theme I see in them and in you, Laurie, is kindness.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on April 20, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    Shirley — I had to return and share with you what I read on my “Transform Your Life” (a year of awareness practice) app today. I ties in with your wisdom question:

    “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” —Lin Yutang

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Thank you. Love this.

  4. Melodie Davis on April 21, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Such a marvelous idea for a birthday celebration. It was fun finding faces to match some names I have known but not the women. I would guess that “bridal” showers and baby showers often serve in this capacity of passing on wisdom from one generation to the next. What does your daughter remember of the day?

    Who would I invite? My mother, my female pastor of 24 years, my sister-in-law, several other women from church.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Melodie, so glad you could match names and faces. Some of these women are famous to many. All of them are loved and respected for the way they have lived their lives.

      I love that you asked about Kate’s memories. I’ll get a chance to ask her next week when she comes to visit. This is the kind of event that washes over you when you are very young, becomes a little annoying when your mother makes it public, starts to make sense after age 40, and brings tears at age 60. Since Kate isn’t 40 yet, and because I love her and respect her right to privacy, I sent this post to her before publishing. She gave me thumbs up. Next week we’ll party like it’s 1992. 🙂

      You have a great wisdom circle. We are so fortunate to have our own mothers here on earth while we ourselves begin to enter the last stage of our lives. Party on!

  5. Carol Bodensteiner on April 21, 2016 at 10:19 am

    A Wisdom Party is a fabulous idea, Shirley. Much of the wisdom I possess comes from the school of hard knocks tempered by the perspective of loving and supportive friends.

    Who would I invite? My mother and her sister, a university president I worked for, several of my writing buddies, and a couple of close friends.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:44 am

      Carol, your party sounds wonderful. Your memoir told me that saw the wisdom in your loving family and community as you were growing up. But I also sensed the truth of what we might call “earned wisdom.” You describe it so well: “from the school of hard knocks tempered by the perspective of loving and supportive friends.”

      Your party also sounds wonderful. What a tribute to a boss that you would include her or him.

  6. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on April 21, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Thank you for this wonderful look at a Wisdom Party and all the wise faces.

    I feel as if I am going to a Wisdom Party in one month.
    At the end of May five women (and some spouses) are gathering for most of a week for our 3rd annual reunion. Each year it has been in a different state and hosted by a different person. We women all shared a house on 8th Street in Goshen, IN, while attending college (1976-77), and we have other convergences. This year we gather in Ohio, and we are coming from California, Montana, South Dakota and Indiana. It is like a fiesta to be with people of ‘my tribe’ who share cultural backgrounds and adventures in childhood and youth.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Eighth street! In Goshen! These pictures were taken at 1615 St. Eighth St., our address for about 20 years. Our children grew up there. Mary Oyer lived across the street. The year you lived together was the year we arrived in Goshen.

      I’m so glad you can get together with friends of your college years. I do the same. And they are another source of wisdom in my life.

      Have a wonderful fiesta. Culture for Service takes us many places. So glad you are making space in your life now for sharing stories, laughter, and, yes, wisdom you gained from each other and from life.

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on April 22, 2016 at 6:34 pm

        I love that you lived on Eighth Street…my address was 1413, the lower floor.

  7. Joan Rough on April 21, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Oh, what a lovely gift to your daughter as well as to the women you chose to share their wisdom. We all carry little bits of wisdom we’ve collected over the years, as we’ve walked our path and made tiny and huge mistakes. We reap wisdom on a daily basis, by being curious and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to what is.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Joan, this is so true. Your soon-to-be-published book Scattering Ashes: A Memoir of Letting Go is a prime example of creating art out of bits of wisdom, walking the path with courage, being curious even in the face of rejection, and refusing to give up. I’m a great admirer.

  8. Merril Smith on April 21, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I love this post so much! It is such a wonderful idea to have such a party and double birthday celebration. The party has almost a fairy tale/mythic flavor–the wise women or fates or fairies bearing gifts. Did Kate enjoy the party at the time? I love that you’ve remained friends with these women, and that most of them are still alive.

    Like Laurie, I don’t think I’d re-do my past, but one thing I wish I had done–asked my grandfathers and father about their lives growing up–and wrote down their answers. They would have given me more knowledge about the past, and that is wisdom.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      Merril, so glad you enjoyed the party. Thanks for sharing this post on Facebook. It would be fun to hear if anyone takes the idea and runs with it. Yes, any inter-generational group of women has a mythic quality to it. I can’t wait to hear what Elaine Mansfield has to say about that subject!

      You would naturally point out the connection between history and wisdom. That’s one of the gifts I wanted Kate to have. A sense of her past. She didn’t live close to her own grandmothers, so these women were special to her, especially Ethel Yoder, who lived very close to us.

  9. MarylinWarner on April 21, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Such a lovely post, Shirley.
    My dad loved the Will Rogers quotes–he kept a list of them in a little notebook–and to this quote he always nodded and said, “At least we’ve been trying when we make mistakes, and learning from them is valuable education.” My mother and grandmother were the women in our family who helped each of the grandchildren and children figure out how to correct mistakes AND learn from them.
    My aunt gave me a framed print of “Girl With A Watering Can” for my 13the birthday. One the back she’d taped a lovely, loving letter. She said I was the girl with the watering can, and my words would bless a needy world.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Oh Marylin, I love that message on the back of the print. Your aunt knew how to support a girl just becoming a young woman. And she knew YOU and your gifts. I have a few framed pieces that have letters taped to the backs of them also.

      And I’m glad your parents and grandmother not only knew the quote but lived it. Such a valuable lesson.

  10. Ann L. Bomberger Watson on April 21, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    What a wonderful party you had and such a great idea!

    Wisdom for me has always had such a heavy connotation. The word conjured up images of dusty leather volumes and patriarchal sermons to be mastered with great effort.

    However, in my spiritual journey, wisdom and truth has often come from a familiar comfortable voice, many times from a woman that has had a little more experience in living than I have had. It has also emerged as gentle thought that comes through spiritual practice.

    Thanks for this wonderful post! I am inspired to invite some wisdom and some wise people into my home this spring!

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 5:05 pm

      Welcome to this space, Ann. And thanks for your comment. I particularly liked your observation about associating wisdom with patriarchy in the past. Have you read about the wisdom tradition of the Bible? I included the Proverb here because of the powerful role Wisdom (clearly identified as a woman) plays in this creation story. It changed the way I thought about many other passages.

      I think you might enjoy the book Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. You have already described finding spiritual friendship with other women. The idea of wisdom as a “gentle thought that comes through spiritual practice” is lovely.

      If you have a party, make it your own and come back here and tell us about it. Would love to know what happens.

      • ann watson on April 23, 2016 at 1:25 pm

        Thank you for the book recommendation! The concept of Anam Cara is familiar to me, but I was unfamiliar with that name. Finding so many favorite topics here on your space! Sophia, Spiritual formation, Wisdom, Mary Oliver, Marian Woodman. I love the Poem, We stitch the very heart of God and Joan’s observation that “We reap wisdom on a daily basis, by being curious and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to what is.” Thank you for sharing and Blessings for the Journey! Ann Bomberger Watson

        • Shirley Showalter on April 23, 2016 at 2:52 pm

          Likewise, Ann. I feel as though I am meeting a kindred spirit.

  11. Audrey Denecke on April 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Shirley, I was so touched by the pictures of you and your daughter and your wisdom women.
    I have also been so blessed by wisdom women. Today, I want to highlight the women of Wellstreams, a Center of Feminine Spirituality in Chicago. The center birthed into existence by Barbara Flynn, a married lay woman, and Mary Ruth Broz, a Sister of Mercy, was a treasure. Barbara Flynn was my spiritual companion through over seven years of my life in the 1990’s. Wellstreams was also a place where a circle of ecumenical women met to explore our spirituality through the Feminine dimension of God, as we sat in a circle of mutual wisdom. We employed metaphors such as Weaver-God or Baker-God to connect to our spiritual wisdom.
    As the Wellstreams Center came to a conclusion, Mary Ruth and Barbara co-authored a book, Midwives of an Unnamed Future, which offers a series of reflections and rituals which can be used by individuals or groups of women. One of my stories is hidden in this book (under a pseudo name since it came from a spiritual consult). I was also privileged to lead several reflections for Lenten Wellstreams circles; it took me deeper in my spiritual ponderings.
    Sitting in a circle with a group of diverse women, sharing life’s raw moments and spiritual insights, an experience of profound wisdom I will always carry with and within me.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      Wellstreams sounds wonderful, Audrey. I hope Ann (above) will get to read your comment. You found not only a refuge away from patriarchy but a source of strength in the lived experience of other women. The metaphors of weaver and baker as well as the rituals described in Midwives of an Unnamed Future obviously made a deep impression on you (and vice versa, I’m sure). I hope you are still sitting in a circle with other women. Surely you are in your memory.

      • Audrey Denecke on April 21, 2016 at 5:32 pm

        Yes, so many conversations around the well of life I will always hold in memory. Now I have a small circle of “Sister Friends” (from my coaching community)who are a wisdom blessing. And I am finding another wisdom community in the sister and brother family of writers.

        Here’s a beautiful excerpt from a chapter entitled, “Gathering the Fragments” … this time reflecting on Quilter God. God as Quilter, now she hands us the needle and the thread and whispers the following invitation:
        Continue to stitch, my sister,
        be easy with the needle,
        trust the fabric.
        Let the pattern come
        and surprise you, delight you,
        speak to you of visions not yours alone.
        See the visions of all whose lives are in these pieces.
        Touch the peace in each piece.
        You stitch for more than yourself.
        We stitch for more than ourselves,
        We stitch for the world, for the future
        Perhaps we stitch the very heart of God.
        – “We Stitch the Very Heart of God” by Juliana Casey, IHM

        Thank you Shirley!

        • Shirley Showalter on April 21, 2016 at 5:49 pm

          Thank YOU, Audrey. Love the poem and I’m sure my many quilting friends will love it also. Trust the fabric.

  12. Tina Barbour on April 21, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Shirley, I love the fact that you had a wisdom party for your daughter. I have to admit, though, that reading this brought forth a yearning for a past that included a mother who would do such a thing for her daughter. It’s a grief for what I never had that is so strong since i realized that I cannot have a relationship with my mother and be healthy. But…with the grief has come so much insight and even what I would call wisdom. I believe any wisdom I have comes from experiences and time. Time helps me find the meaning, the truth, the lessons. And I hope that wisdom grows as I grow older. Who would I have at a wisdom party? I would have Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama, a professor from grad school. And I would invite you, Shirley, because of all that you have learned and so generously shared.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 22, 2016 at 7:42 am

      Such a poignant sentence, Tina: “It’s a grief for what I never had that is so strong since i realized that I cannot have a relationship with my mother and be healthy.” I am so sorry that you carry this grief. I applaud you, however, for knowing what you must do to be healthy and for maintaining boundaries that support your health. I’m honored that you placed me in such distinguished company. Thank you. I also hope you have some local wisdom women to help with your grief and with whom to share your own wisdom. Krista Tippett uses this felicitous phrase: “spiritual geniuses of the everyday.” Keep an eye out for them.

  13. Marian Beaman on April 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    If I come here a little late to the party, I benefit from two posts, your original and all the comments that build from it. I love the idea of God as Quilter, handing us the needle and thread to stitch His wisdom into our lives. You mentioned a passage from Proverbs 8. I’ll add Proverbs 4:7, a verse I memorized as a girl – “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom and with all thy getting, get understanding,” which I translate to mean right judgment and discernment.

    Tomorrow I attend a party with beloved colleagues. I love them all, but some are more wise than others. Lord, give me discernment!

    Sophia is a name I’d give a second daughter; I savor the sound and the meaning as divine feminine.

    I had that Renoir painting once but may have given it to Crista. I love the idea that it is awaiting transport to Kate’s new space, another way of sharing your legacy with her.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 22, 2016 at 7:47 am

      You’re not late to the party, Marian. Always room for one more. Thanks for reading so carefully not only the post but also the comments. The conversation is the best part of blogging. I’m sure you agree.

      I too love the name Sophia. Apparently lots of people do. This is a fun exchange about the #1 girls name in 2015. http://www.whattoexpect.com/forums/july-2015-babies/topic/sophia-too-popular-nbsp.html

      We have a lot of art on our walls that originally belonged to Kate. Next week we’ll see how much of it she wants to take.

      Have fun at the party. You have great wisdom radar. Trust it.

  14. Elaine Mansfield on April 21, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    What a great birthday idea, Shirley. I hope to borrow it sometime. I bow to many mentors alive and in the written word. Illuminating teachers from Hinduism, Buddhism, Greek philosophy, Christianity, Jungian psychology, and science. I’m grateful to my first philosophy/meditation teacher who taught me and all his students to open to all wisdom traditions and become our own teachers. Now, I am most mentored by my closest circle of women friends, especially those who’ve been meeting to study and mediate together for 25 years. Then there is my beloved teacher Marion Woodman, a devotee of Sophia. At workshops, Marion opened and closed the altar each day with prayers to Sophia. And, at a distance, Pema Chodron.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 22, 2016 at 7:59 am

      Thank you, Elaine. I always learn so much from you.

      Marion Woodman must have been an amazing mentor. I searched for video so that I and my readers here can share in her wisdom. I loved this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA251K83RxA I can tell in this 3-minute conversation that she is very wise. I have seen her name before, but because of you, I want to get to know her in her writings. Where should I start? I’m particularly interested in wisdom and aging.

  15. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 23, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    When I turned 60 (oh my, that was 12 years ago!) my daughter made a surprise party for me. I thought I was just going out with her and a Korean friend, and there at the restaurant sat all my best friends, both young and old. What a party!
    A wonderful wisdom party is reading blogs of my blogger friends. Even more fun would be to have a real get-together with those I love but have never met. You, Shirley, Marian Beaman and Carol Bodensteiner.
    Shirley, I love the picture of you and your daughter, the way she is leaning into you. I treasure the special relationship I have with each of my three daughters. They all bring their own unique wisdom into the relationship.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 23, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Elfrieda, that party sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate the turn into Jubilación!

      And thank you for the idea that reading the posts of our blogger friends is a type of wisdom party also. Indeed! I have learned so much from you and from the others you mention as well as many others. I sense that we grow in wisdom the more we share stories, questions, faith, and doubt.

      Yes, I love the way Kate is leaning into me and the way we are both looking into the camera, ready to turn another year older. I also love the cozy way Kate and Lois are sitting next to each other on the couch. Lois has a beautiful way of helping children feel her respect and attention.

  16. Sherrey Meyer on April 27, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    What an amazing birthday celebration that must have been! I love the photo of you and Kate. So much love and trust there.

    If I had a Wisdom Party, I’d invite Jean Lutz (a dear friend from church), Kathy Pooler, the Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, and you. What a grand time it would be!

    I identify with the Will Rogers’ quote, especially the ending of it. I know I am where I am because of the mistakes I’ve made and learned from over time. I’m a believer in everything that happens happens for a reason and in that happening I grow from my experience. Where I am today is the point of my greatest happiness, a time filled with joy and the gift of doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and that is to put words into print and share what I believe I’m given to share by God.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 28, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Sherrey, thanks for coming to this party. I’m reading your comment while sitting next to Kate, a too-rare treat, since she lives in Pittsburgh.

      Thanks for inviting me to your virtual wisdom party! I love the company you put us in.

      So happy to read that you are today in the point of your greatest happiness. What a good example you are of jubilación! Write on!

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