“Your soul is all that you possess. Take it in hand and make something of it!” – Martin H. Fischer, 1879-1962, a University of Cincinnati professor of physiology.
The mysteries of the soul are among the most contemplated and perplexing enigmas of life. Anyone who pauses long enough to reflect on such an elemental conundrum usually winds up with more questions than insights.
Perhaps it’s no wonder then that an annual Cincinnati conference has quietly become one of the most well-attended events of people interested in recharging their soul power. The daylong event is called “Refresh Your Soul,” and, last week, about 700 souls filled the conference hall at Xavier University’s Cintas Center for a daylong immersion in how to live a life of meaning, a day that included nationally recognized speakers, exhibits, book sales, and food.
The project began in 2006 and was created by Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS), which operates senior living communities, including the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community and Deupree House, both in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
The conference is an outgrowth of ERS’ Parish Health Ministry, which the not-for-profit began in 1998 as a way to support and strengthen the connection between faith and health. The event has become a major fundraiser for the Parish Health program, which is available to church congregations of any denomination. It works with church communities to improve their members’ overall physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
“The conference aims to inspire and engage health professionals, caregivers, and anyone looking to live well with meaning and purpose,” says Laura Lamb, president and CEO of Episcopal Retirement Services. That encompasses quite a few people, as the conference sold out this year in record time, she continues.
In 2011, the conference featured an appearance and keynote on “The Joy of Caring” by Patch Adams, the doctor, social activist, and clown whose life was portrayed in a movie of the same name starring Robin Williams.
In 2015, the conference, with a theme of “Living with Purpose, Hope and Healing,” featured Mitch Albom, the author and journalist whose books Tuesdays with Morrie, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven were runaway best sellers.
And last year, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the best-selling series of books on The Five Love Languages, keynoted the event based around the theme of “Positive Aging.”
This year’s theme was “Living Well With Purpose” and featured Rabbi Abie Ingber of Cincinnati, who related lessons he learned from his parents, survivors of the Holocaust, and Leah Sarris of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine in New Orleans. She spoke on food as medicine, and was followed by Kay Frances, a motivational humorist and author.
The keynoter was Kathryn Spink, an author who cultivated a long-term relationship with one of the world’s great souls, Mother Teresa. Spink’s own 18-year service to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity order strengthened her relationship with the woman whom many long considered to be a saint and who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.
Spink was granted permission by Mother Teresa to work with her on the book, which became Mother Teresa: The Complete Authorized Biography.
Spink’s story of how she was able to receive the permission of Mother Teresa, who was renowned for her humbleness and unpretentiousness, to participate in the book is interesting. She relayed it in an interview after her keynote at the Cintas Center.
Following a book of meditations she compiled and edited with Pope John Paul II called The Things of the Spirit, a publisher had suggested she write about Mother Teresa and her work with the poor in India and elsewhere in the world.
She wrote for help to Malcolm Muggeridge, the English journalist who had converted to Christianity late in life and wrote a biography of Mother Teresa. He put Spink in touch with Ann Blaikie, who had helped form Mother Teresa’s “Co-Workers,” laymen and women who helped expand the mission of aiding the sick and poor.
In Blaikie’s attic was a trunk containing the unofficial archives of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order that Mother Teresa formed in 1950 and which became a worldwide community of people devoted to caring for the old, the sick, and the poor.
“If you get Mother Teresa’s permission, you can publish these,” Blaikie told her. “How do I do that?” Spink asked. “You ring her!” was her answer.
So Spink stayed up three nights trying to reach her by phone halfway around the world. On the third night, Mother Teresa herself answered.
“She said, ‘No, no, no, there’s been enough written,’” Spink recalls. But she offered to meet the writer on her next trip to London and by the time they met, Mother Teresa had relented and agreed to participate, leading her first book about the saint, For the Brotherhood of Man Under the Fatherhood of God.
That was only the beginning. “Once you’re under Mother Teresa’s wing, she was convinced that the only way you really understood is to be put to work, touching the poor,” Spink says. So she was put to work in soup kitchens, homes of the dying, and orphanages in Calcutta, London, New Delhi, and South Africa.
That was Mother Teresa’s life and purpose, which became a model and inspiration for so many. But can the rest of us find a purpose so life changing and extraordinary? Mother Teresa had an answer for that, Spink says.
Those sound like actions that could refresh anyone’s soul.
“Her message was always that it’s not the magnitude of the action, it’s doing small things with great love,” she said. “Taking a flower to a grieving person, being fully present to people who are lonely. Love begins when we make our homes centers of compassion and forgive endlessly.”