Gandhi once said, “When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.” It seems to me that a simple way of doing a daily Examen is to ask ourselves, What did I do today that made my soul expand? and What did I do (or fail to do) today that made my soul constrict? Unlike our waistlines, which we struggle to prevent from expanding, our goal should be to have an ever-expanding soul! The key to this expansion is the virtue of hope!
We live in a world that too often tempts us to despair instead of hope. To be a follower of the Risen Christ is to take confident hope (because the promise comes from a reliable source: the Risen Christ) into places of despair so that life may be transformed and have meaning. Christian hope recognizes and acknowledges pain and suffering (the perceived absence of God) but believes in a future that overflows into the present with the presence of God. When our present is filled with pain and suffering, we become insecure and preoccupied with self-preservation. Such insecurity causes us to be fearful, anxious, and greedy—all qualities that force us to operate out of a narrow space (the pusilla anima, or small soul) and prevent us from truly loving others. Hope, on the other hand, embraces the promise of security, which in turn expands the soul (magna anima, or great soul) and breeds selfless love—a magnanimous love that reveals the face of God. Christian hope is buoyed by the seeds of a new world already taking shape in this life. It is a hope that energizes us to live differently and compels us to spread the word that life is indeed worth living.
The word magnanimity literally means “greatness of soul” and to be a magnanimous person is to strive for that which is honorable and great rather than that which is petty and shallow. Someone who is truly magnanimous is humble because she or he is motivated, not to draw attention to her or his own greatness, but to the greater glory of God (thus, the Ignatian concepts of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam and Magis).
How do we cultivate a spirit of hope that leads to magnanimity? By engaging in activities that expand the soul while avoiding activities that anesthetize us. In my book, 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness, I offer a list of things we can and should feast on to expand our souls, increase our hope (and the hope of others), and grow in magnanimity. What would you add?
- Turn off the TV.
- Read good literature. (A good place to start is Pope Francis’s On Hope.)
- Focus on humor.
- Draw or paint a picture.
- Go on retreat or a pilgrimage.
- Peruse works of art.
- Work with your hands.
- Listen to music and sing when possible.
- Get a hobby.
- Get regular exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep.
- Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
- Practice a specific Fruit of the Spirit each day.
- Break your patterns and be illogical on occasion.
- Keep an idea notebook, or write in a journal.
- Attend theater.
- Rearrange your workspace or living space.
- Reflect on the Beatitudes.
- Do deep breathing.
- Learn a new language.
- Associate with creative people.
- Cook or bake something creative.
- Do some decorating or remodeling.
- Travel, or do armchair traveling.
- Interact with children.
- Play board games that require strategy.
The Easter Season is a perfect time for feasting on the above, all of which will make your soul expand without adding a millimeter to your waistline!
P.S. Gandhi, whom I quoted at the start of this post, is known as Mahatma or Mohandas, both of which are variations of the Sanskrit word for—you guessed it—magnanimous!