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Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on faith and fear

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner shared this ‘Pause for Thought’ on BBC Radio 2’s Vanessa Feltz programme on Friday 9 November.

This week I went to see my rabbi. I was preparing for a meeting that filled me with dread and fear. I wasn’t sleeping and I could feel the fear spreading across my chest and in my arms. He gave me great advice: “put your feet solidly on the floor Laura – be grounded. When you feel the fear, feel your feet on the floor and let your emotions go down into the earth rather than surfacing so they don’t scupper your thinking”. It worked. I started the day by praying with rabbinic students at the Leo Baeck College that trains progressive Rabbis. This calmed me a little, but sitting in the meeting with my feet solidly on the ground is what really anchored me, channelled my fear.

It was only a meeting so I was surprised I was so wound up, so full of fear when I should have known it would probably be fine. I should have been able to trust in myself and others. I know some people seem to have a faith that is so strong that it will sustain them through almost anything, but my faith is not like that. Whether it is faith in others, faith in myself or faith in God, it’s never a ‘sure thing’.

But with my feet on the ground, I remember that here and now is what matters. Religion is about holy moments, grand ideas and ultimate transcendence, but it is also about everyday life, boring meetings and how we treat each other. When faith is too grand, it almost seems unachievable and something that only others have. But when it is less sure it is somehow richer and more authentic, perhaps, paradoxically, somehow more reliable.

And so, I think I almost have a fear of faith, or at least the sort of faith that knows no doubt. I need a faith that is not all-or-nothing, that struggles with God, like the Biblical Jacob who wrestled with God throughout the night to discover in the morning that God was there all the time and he hadn’t known it.

We may just need to respond to our fears by placing our placing our feet and faith firmly on the ground.

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