One of the themes of jubilación is this:

Gather it up. Give it away.

When your vocation is learning and teaching, it’s good to gather up mentors and give them away.

Here’s a mentor of mine:

Christopher Dock praying for his students. Artist Tom Schenk. Goshen College Mapleleaf 1933.

Christopher Dock praying for his students. Artist Tom Schenk. Goshen College Mapleleaf 1933.

Christopher Dock (c.1698-1771) was a remarkable Mennonite schoolmaster whose book,

School Management, was the first educational philosophy and advice manual written in the colonies before the Revolutionary War. Dock’s innovation was in stressing gentleness rather than force in the classroom.

He made beautiful illuminated manuscripts called “fractur” and gave them as rewards to students who were diligent.

A Christopher Dock fractur. Original would have been in color. Public domain photo.

A Christopher Dock fractur. Original would have been in color. Public domain photo.

What makes Christopher Dock my mentor, however, is not his book nor his fractur.

Instead, I love the image above and the story behind it.

The story behind the painting worked its magic in my life. Share on X

I first saw the oil version of the painting of Christopher Dock above when I was a college student fifty years ago.

I was told that the venerable schoolmaster died in the classroom

on his knees at prayer.

So the image above portrays his last earthly act.

The viewer knows the master is dying. But the master just continues his daily practice.

The paper in front of him on his desk in the painting is, I believe, his student roster.

Since first seeing this image and hearing the story,

I’ve prayed over many class rosters.

The class I’m teaching now feels a little different, however.

It might be the last class I teach to undergraduates.

And so, I have made my own student roster in my journal, and I’ve memorized the names.

As I walk across campus, I pray for each student in my class.

There are only eleven of them. Just a few more than the colors of the rainbow: ROYGBIV.

I’ve promised them that my “office hours” won’t end after this semester.

If they need me, I am here for them until I am no more.

Teaching in its purest form is service. Service to students and service to truth. Share on X

Christopher Dock’s greatest gift as my mentor was to give me a visual image

of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

A life consecrated in service to God, the truth, and others.

Dock’s legacy lives on in the school named for him in eastern Pennsylvania.

It lives on for the student in my class who is now praying over her own student roster after seeing this image in our class.

It lives on because a Mennonite schoolmaster lived the idea of “satyagraha” without knowing the name.

Another one of my mentors, Mary Eleanor Bender, professor of French at Goshen College, was named here last week by a former student from India as Mennonite embodiment of the concept of satyagraha.

I’ll never forget the image Mary offered forty years ago in a speech about mystery.

“When I enter the classroom,” she said, “I pause under the threshold for a few seconds

just to remind myself that I am entering sacred space.”

Who are your mentors? How are you gathering them up and giving them away?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Richard Gilbert on February 21, 2017 at 11:26 am

    My teaching mentor is a woman just a few years older than me. I admire her passion and her dedication to students, and the tactics she tries and teaches me. But an important quality is that she’ll admit to failure, like getting mad and expressing it. I’m sure that hasn’t happened much, but her admission of such professional and personal imperfection is about as important as her shining example. She’s affirmed my efforts, given me confidence to try to emulate her best, and to forgive my lapses and move on. If giving her away is trying to enact her example in the classroom, then I am.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 21, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      Yes, one way we give away what we have been given is by emulation. I am so glad you brought up self-forgiveness and imperfection as elements of mentorship. Your mentor sounds like a great combination of talent, continuous learning, and compassion mixed with very human traits of anger and occasional impatience. I’m glad you have a woman mentor, Richard.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on February 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Shirley — Oh, what a wonderful piece for me to read today. It’s touched my heart, as has Richard’s response. The eleven people on your student roster are blessed to have you lifting them up in prayer.

    An aside… as a holistic health practitioner who incorporates color therapy, I appreciated your inclusion of ROYGBIV.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 21, 2017 at 11:41 pm

      You are like my daughter, Laurie. You love all the colors all the time. 🙂
      I’m the lucky one who gets to teach these eleven people. Thanks for saying Richard’s response touched you. It touched me too.

  3. Marian Beaman on February 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I most certainly must have prayed over the students in my class roster during my internship at Christopher Dock High. Since then the names Rosenberger, Derstine, or Stoltzfus have been replaced by names from nearly all cultures during my career in a secular college. I am familiar with the image of the schoolmaster kneeling but not with the fractur gifts.

    Kneeling is a noble posture for praying. I appreciate this reminder today and the magnanimous spirit I sense in this post. Thank you, Shirley.

    P. S. Remember Sister Matthia in the Nun’s Study who called out the names of over 4000 former students in prayer every evening!

    • Shirley Showalter on February 21, 2017 at 11:50 pm

      Thank you so much, Marian, for reminding me of Sister Matthia. I was amazed by the devotion of that nun and thought immediately of Christopher Dock. How did you remember her name? You have a fantastic memory.

      I am sure you have made the names of your students more significant to both them and to others by your careful, creative, and compassionate teaching over the years.

      Christopher Dock High School has an original oil painting by Tom Schenk. If you have a moment, click on the live link under the image above and learn the artist’s fascinating biography.

      • Marian Beaman on February 22, 2017 at 2:18 pm

        Ha! It’s not so much recall as retrieval. You may remember I wrote a blog post on The Nun’s Study not long ago and found her there.

  4. June Alspaugh on February 21, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    My mentor is a dear friend of mine. She has helped me grow as a Christian, as a woman, as a mother, as a friend. It was so hard on me three years ago when she moved away. Yet even with her far away, she still is a support to me, and is spreading her gift to others.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 21, 2017 at 11:53 pm

      June, thanks for paying tribute to your mentor and friend. You remind me of so many mentors in my life who are no longer living close by. A powerful presence can overcome even the barrier of great distance.

  5. Carol Bodensteiner on February 22, 2017 at 11:14 am

    A teacher I’ll always remember taught high school speech and theatre. She introduced me to skills and experiences I’ve used constantly throughout my life. “Mentor” implies to me an ongoing contact and relationship, which this teacher and I have not had. Nonetheless, I apply the mentor title to her because she’s been frequently in my mind – and definitely in my practice – throughout my life. Thanks for giving me another reason to remember her fondly.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 22, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Carol, for sharing this memory with the rest of us, who now are reviewing the cast of characters from our own educational histories to see who emerges there.
      And you raise an issue about time and space we have touched on briefly in the conversation above. How mentors continue to influence us long after our direct contact with them has ended. Last night I was part of a storytelling event to prepare for the celebration of 100 years at Eastern Mennonite University. Simple statements spoken at the right time by the right professor influenced the entire trajectory of lives. Scary to think of when you are a teacher, especially since it seems the reverse could also be true!

  6. Sherrey Meyer on February 22, 2017 at 11:46 am

    I currently have two mentors, both women younger than I by about 20-25 years. It so happens we met in church, and each of these women has been by my side through my struggles this last year and before.

    One of them shared a story with me about mentoring she heard from another friend. As women, as we grow older, we should have a woman a decade older and one a decade younger from whom to learn, with whom to study God’s Word, and to teach. I found this particularly intriguing and totally unlike any other description of mentoring.

    These friendships are growing into somewhat mother/daughter relationships for me. Both young women are without their mother in one sense or another. And they too have had recent struggles which I hope I have helped them work through.

    Besides enjoying your post and learning of your constant prayers for your group of 11, I enjoyed Richard’s comments and your reference to fracturs. When visiting in PA years ago, we visited Ephrata. This was the first time I had seen fracturs up close and personal. I was fascinated and enamored with them all at once. Fortune was with me that day as the gift shop offered gifts of counted cross-stitch kits of fracturs. We have three hanging in our bedroom evoking memories of that time in history and of our visit to Ephrata.

    Thanks for a wonderful start to my day.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Such a rich collection of offerings you have given all of us here, Sherrey. Thank you!

      The idea of being mentored by both older and younger people is so appealing, and the more we enter into the potential of age segregation in our society, the more important it becomes. I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to be mentored by my own students and by the other professors who are younger than I but older than them. Students are often unaware of the fact that they are teaching their teachers, but I can testify that most of what I learned about teaching, and even some of what I learned about my subjects, I learned from my students.

      I’m sure you will keep the virtuous circle in motion, Sherrey, helping to “mother” younger women when they need you and to “daughter” older women as they prepare for the last stage of life.

      I smile when I think of you in Portland with your own contribution to fractur on the walls. I must admit that I purchased all the ones I have.

      But I would love to learn how to make those lovely letters and add the beautiful birds, flowers, and fruits to the paintings!

  7. Audrey Denecke on February 22, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Shirley this post touches my soul spirit. Your mentor, Christopher Dock, with his full-hearted intentionality, as well as Mary Ellen Bender’s threshold moment are so profound.
    When I was a nervous first-time trainer many, many years ago, our master trainer, Marlena Asher, suggested we focus instead on the participants. She took that a step further by cautioning us that when participants seemed angry or contrary or otherwise disruptive to consider that this person(s) may be dealing with life challenges (a fight with a spouse, a sick kid, or any number of other things). It brought compassion into my work in a new way.
    Later, I was attracted to circle council training (dialogue-based). I met and trained with Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, authors of Calling the Circle and founders of Peer Spirit. The center of the circle is always sacred space which holds the intentions and spirit of circle members. Now, when I’m coaching someone, I envision both of us in a circle together. The early phase of coaching focuses on clarifying intentions and end state outcomes. As a coach, one of my sacred duties (beyond the technical capabilities) is to hold their intention in my planning for our sessions as well as when I’m with them while bringing my intention to support and animate it through our partnership.
    Mentors are earth-based angels, in my life.
    How fortunate for your students to have you as their mentor, if they so choose, so early in their professional life.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 22, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Audrey, thanks so much for sharing these practices. You have indeed found ways to honor the sacred task of teaching and guiding other people. I love this sentence: “Mentors are earth-based angels, in my life.”

      I also like that you recognize that choosing mentors is not automatic. I have taught many students, have been a formal mentor to a handful, and have informally mentored many others. But they have to choose. I can’t, and don’t want, to choose myself.

  8. Merril Smith on February 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    The painting is fascinating and powerful. I can see how it mesmerized and influenced you, Shirley. I’ve seen samples of Fraktur, and that was quite a lovely physical gift he gave to his students, along with the gift of wisdom, and I hope, joy in learning. I think both students and teachers do not always realize the less tangible gifts they receive from one another until later.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 22, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Merril, you are so right about what we can absorb in the teaching relationship as it transpires in the classroom and the office. I have myself remembered phrases from professors many years later. And have forgotten many of the things my former students claim I said to them. 🙂

      Enough to make one humble!

  9. susan scott on February 23, 2017 at 9:23 am

    This is such a lovely tribute to Christopher Dock Shirley. The oil painting of him exudes calm, grace and peace.

    Interesting to read that Marian Beaman taught at a school named after him!

    I’ve never been in a teaching position apart from my volunteer work at a primary school, helping a few pupils whose English (their 2nd Language) is poor. I love going into school as the bell rings for class changes, and seeing all those lively and lovely bright young faces. Sometimes pupils I don’t know from Adam say hello Miss and give me a hug. Or a group hug! My heart just melts.

    I’m not sure I can say who stands out for me as a mentor – freedom fighters, men and women; writers (usually of a psychological, soulful bent); those who rise in spite of awful personal circumstances –

    • Shirley Showalter on February 23, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Thanks, Susan, for offering your mentor thoughts. I too am attracted to freedom and peace and justice advocates and those who withstand suffering for the sake of the larger good.

      I think you are a teacher!! Not only do you volunteer at your local school but your very presence teaches students that some adults, at least, care for them and are kind. Every child should have this heritage.

      I read the parts about South Africa in my books about Gandhi with you in mind. Just knowing you are there is important to me.

      I guess I’m a little like those students in your school. 🙂

  10. Gerry Fix on February 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Your post that talked about Christopher Dock brought back some memories for me. I was born in the area near Christopher Dock School. My family home was a mile or so from that school. We moved out of the area when I was 1, to move to Long Island where my father became a Mennonite minister, in a church there. I still have many relatives living in the Eastern PA area where I was born. Two sisters among them. Skippack School is a children’s book written by Marguerite de Angeli. Christopher Dock is a part of that story. She wrote and illustrated many more books. I loved her books growing up and still do. Recently I heard a wonderful interview with our Library of Congress librarian, Carla Hayden. Her favorite childhood book was written by this author. It’s a great interview. I will try to link to it here but I’m nit sure I have the tech smarts to succeed. You can likely google it. I think authors and books can be mentors for me.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 25, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      Gerry, how fascinating that you have this personal history with Christopher Dock. Thanks for reminding me of Skippack School the book. And Marguerite de Angeli the author. I too remember her books, and I just ordered a copy of Skippack School — thanks to you.

      And now I’ve just watch Carla Hayden talk about Marguerite de Angeli. Found the link here:

      You gave me two gifts today, Gerry. I am in your debt.

  11. Elaine Mansfield on February 25, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    “When I enter the classroom,” she said, “I pause under the threshold for a few seconds just to remind myself that I am entering sacred space.” I’m deeply moved by this quote. It’s essential to know I am in sacred space in bereavement groups. My husband Vic was a teacher until his last days, interested in touching and transforming souls of students, family, friends, and doctors (especially the young interns who often came in to talk with him at the end of their shift). He had that magic. I know you do, too.

    I hadn’t heard of Christopher Dock, but now I know a little and a little more about the kind of teacher you are. Thank you, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on February 25, 2017 at 8:40 pm

      You are so kind, Elaine. I am moved by any association with your own experience as a teacher and with Vic’s incredible legacy.
      I didn’t feel like a great teacher this week. So I’ll do a little mid-term check-in with my students to ask how I can serve them better. The whole point of satyagraha is to keep loving and believing in the truth!
      Much love to you and to your mother-in-law.

  12. Raj Biyani on March 4, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Shirley, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog post and your commitment to teaching. What I find amazing is that not only did you discover your genius for teaching so early in life, but you also brought such an inspiring and powerful concept of teaching as a prayer from Christopher Dock into your class-room. And the world is a better place because of that.
    While I wasn’t formally your student as I was never enrolled in one of your classes, I certainly have fond memories of the privilege of working as one of your student/research assistants at GC.
    Since you’d brought up Gandhi and Satyagraha, I reread the Gandhi book by Eknath Easwaran that I’d recommended to you. And the vignette I was most touched by was the description of Gandhi’s assassination. On January 30, 1948 as Gandhi walked through the waiting crowd in Delhi on his way to his daily prayer meeting holding his palms together in greeting, a young man blinded by hatred placed himself in Gandhi’s path, and fired a gun point blank into Gandhi’s heart. Gandhi was such a fine exemplification of satyagraha with no inconsistency between his personal and public life that as his body fell from the gun shots, his final words and message to his assassin was “I forgive you, I love you, I bless you.” Wow!
    Thank you also for sharing the beautiful words of wisdom from Mary Eleanor Bender. “When I enter the classroom,” she said, “I pause under the threshold for a few seconds just to remind myself that I am entering sacred space.” Beautiful!
    Mary Eleanor Bender was my first mentor in the United States. But she was so much more than that. Over the years, Mary Eleanor has been my teacher, guide, cheerleader (to lift me up when I’ve been knocked down), and of course, role-model exemplifying satyagraha.
    It’s such a nice coincidence that I am penning these remarks today on Mary’s 90th birthday. I am heading off to call and wish her next – while these sentiments and words are still fresh in my mind.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 7, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      I loved the Eknath Easwaran book on Gandhi. So many mesmerizing photos and such clear biography with good quotes from primary sources.
      How wonderful that Mary Eleanor is 90 at almost exactly the same time as my mother. My last post was about the March 4-5 weekend which featured a birthday bash for Mother and baby shower for my daughter Kate. Now Stuart and I are in Miami, relaxing.
      So good to see you here again, Raj, and to reconnect profoundly after many years. I shared your speech with my class. I hope they are challenged and encouraged by your vocational story.

Leave a Comment