"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not." So says Jacob, after his dream, in Genesis chapter 28:16.
Fear is an emotion. Like all emotions it can be best understood as a passive experience - it's something that happens to you. We are not our emotions. We might feel joy, or anger, or sadness, or fear, but those are experiences that we feel. It's like feeling something rough or soft or painful or hot or cold. We're not cold or hot or painful. Those are things we feel. All of our feelings are passive in that way. This is an important thing to remember because too often we can identify ourselves as our emotions.
Fear is that kind of passive emotion. It's something we experience. And the Heavenly Doctrine, in Arcana Coelestia 3718, tells us about different kinds of fear and why we experience what we experience. Think about any emotion for a moment. Any emotion is experienced of some affection that we have for something or someone being stimulated or stirred in a particular way.
If you love a child, for example, and that child is given something wonderful and they laugh, you experience the emotion of joy. If that child is harmed then you experience the emotion of sadness or anger. And when a child is threatened -- a child that you love -- you might experience the emotions of fear and anger.
Fear is when something that we love or have an affection for is threatened, is in danger -- that's when we experience fear. A simple illustration of this is why people are afraid of heights. They have an affection for their own health, and for their own life. And when they're at the top of a height, look down, think they might slip and fall, then naturally they think, I could lose this thing that I love -- me! It's a normal thing. They are not their fear. But they are their affection behind that fear. They do genuinely love themselves. And they are that love. It's an appropriate love that they have for themselves. This is why so often our fear does tell us about who and what we are. We are not our emotions, but our emotions tell us who we can or can't be.
In our reading we heard about two kinds of fear, holy fear and un-holy or natural fear. Natural fear is like the fear we just talked about, the fear that you have that you might be harmed. It's the fear that keeps most people in line. It's the fear that you might get a ticket if you speed. It's the fear that any kind of punishment or harm might come to you or to those you love, and it's felt as fear. The Writings say it's felt primarily in the body and in the natural man. You can imagine this fear; it's an unpleasant, physical feeling. It can tighten your stomach and send chills up your spine. We have physical things that we identify with fear, such as darkness, cold, screeching noises, a note out of key. These are the things that trigger the physical feeling of fear. They are all natural feelings of fear.
Holy fear, we're told, doesn't feel the same as natural fear. It doesn't feel physical in that way. We're also told that holy fear is when we have a fear of harm coming to something good or true outside of oneself. Returning to the example of a child: If you love a child and you're afraid for that child to be hurt, that's a kind of holy fear, and you might feel that fear as a knot in your stomach. But this is still a natural sort of holy fear and is not true spiritual holy fear.
We're told that good holy fear, spiritual holy fear, is felt as awe. In a moment we'll discuss love to the neighbor as it relates to holy fear. But first think about times when you have experienced awe or wonder -- Divine awe -- maybe you've been up early in the morning and you saw a sunrise and you thought, My God! What a beautiful sunrise! Literally thinking, Wow! The Lord made this amazing thing! And I've been given the blessing and the opportunity to see it. You are awed by that creation. That sense of awe is the feeling that accompanies holy fear.
But it's even more than that. A breathtaking sunrise is an example of a natural experience, a trick of aesthetics. Think to the moments in your life when real spiritual experience (not something visual) brought you awe. Maybe at your wedding. Or at the birth of your child. Or the death of a loved one, if you were there at their side. In these moments of real spiritual meaning when we experience a sense of awe and wonder, we think My God! We know that something more than our life has occurred here. We are struck by that wonder. Jacob experiences in his dream. That awe is what he's feeling when he wakes up. He realizes that the Lord is in this place. And he had not known it.
Often in our lives we'll have a sense of clarity, a moment where we truly understand that the Lord is God of Creation and is behind all the most meaningful moments of our lives. Maybe it is one of those important life experiences mentioned earlier -- your wedding or the birth of a loved one or the death of a loved one -- or maybe it's another important event, where acknowledgment and recognition of the Lord becomes clear and powerful, almost overwhelming.
We all acknowledge that on the average Tuesday morning, for example, when we wake up, awe is not the feeling we have. What should we do in those moments? How do we capture that sense of awe and clarity?
What does Jacob do? He sets up an alter. As we discussed with the children, you can set up an alter to the Lord in those moments of clarity and awe, when you feel a spiritual holy fear. You can do this with a mind meld, with your imagination, building literally an alter in your mind, setting up a stone and pouring oil on it. These images from the Word have powerful correspondential spiritual truth behind them. And your application of these kinds of images in your imagination can help order your mind.
The Heavenly Doctrine tells us time and again that we should meditate on the Word. This process applied to the story of Jacob's dream is the kind of thing that the Word is talking about: meditate on it. Really think about it.
If you're sitting there in front of a beautiful sunrise and you suddenly realize truly what it means for the Lord to be guiding you and your life, pause, close your eyes, set up an alter and pour oil on that alter, and pray to the Lord. Realize that He is with you.
These images have even more power when they are physical and tangible. This is why it is so useful to come to church. It's why we have an alter with the Word on it. It's why it's useful in your home to have an alter with the Word, a place set aside to remind you of the awe and wonder of the Lord.
Think back now to our original example of our love for a child. People love putting photos up of their children on Facebook. And when you go into a retired person's home, one of the things you may see are pictures everywhere, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the living room, on the refrigerator, why? These are physical reminders of the things that are important to that person. They are like alters to the objects of their affections. We put up pictures because we want to be reminded of the things that mean the most to us, and because we want to be reminded of those people for whom we have great affection and love.
Because we're natural, because we're here on earth and we're not perfect, often we'll experience a fear for the well being of those people. We feel this as worry in our stomach or chills up our spine. We might think, Oh, no, what could happen to my son or my daughter or my husband or my wife or my cousin? That fear can happen.
There is another fear. It is the spiritual holy fear of awe and wonder, for instance, when we can look at a picture of a loved one and we can say, My God! He has given them into my life. They are the son or daughter of the Lord, and they've been put into my life. This is like the true holy fear of angels. Angels do not worry about bad things that happen to other people. Their stomachs do not knot up and chills do not come up their spines, because they have faith and confidence in the Lord. And what's more, they know where their power lies.
We too can have that faith and confidence in the Lord, and that feeling the angels have, if we remember where our power lies.
We do not have the power to prevent terrible things from happening to the people we love. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks, or firebombings, or accidents or serious illnesses. We cannot. We can only do our best to mitigate against them.
Where then does your true power lie?
The answer to that question has to do with fear. True holy fear -- the fear that we as individuals might cause harm to those we love -- the fear that a parent has, the terrible fear, that maybe they are parenting poorly, that maybe they've done something wrong. It's the fear that we can have at work when we worry, "Maybe I've offended one of my colleagues." Or it's the fear we can have in our relationships and friendships when we think maybe we have offended someone or caused someone harm, or maybe we might. That is true holy fear, because in that we can trust the Lord. We can ask the Lord for help in being a good friend and worker and parent and spouse. We can know and have confidence that shunning evils as sins and loving the neighbor is in our control and within our grasp. That's where we can have awe and wonder at the gift the Lord has given us.
Remember the Lord told Jacob that he would be a blessing to all nations. Remember we, each of us, can be a blessing to everyone in our lives.
In keeping holy fear, we acknowledge that we are the one who has power over our own sins. That is where our true power lies. We can shun sins. We can do better. The Lord has given us this power. This is the blessing we can be: we can treat our neighbor with love and kindness and honesty and faith. When we love the neighbor, we love God.
Have confidence. Set up an altar to the Lord in your mind, and the Lord will make you a blessing to all nations.