Last Thursday, two days after Election Day, I made a visit to my doctor’s office. In the elevator I said hi to a woman who had joined me for the ride. She was pushing a stroller, and inside was a sleeping newborn baby dressed in pink. I asked about the baby’s name, and she told me, “Her name is Selah.” Then she started to tell me where the name came from. A little shyly, she said, “It’s in the Bible.”
“Yes, in the book of Psalms,” I said.
She smiled. “You know!” And when I nodded she went on. “No one knows exactly what it means, but the way I understand it, it calls for a reflective pause during a song.”
The elevator stopped and we walked out, headed in separate directions. “It’s lovely,” I said. We both smiled and that was that.
And it wasn’t until the following day that I realized how much I had needed that small encounter.
As a self-employed author and leadership coach, a mom of teenagers, and an authority figure for two enthusiastic dogs (one of them a puppy), natural opportunities for selah are rare. I tend to keep moving. Even my times of personal Bible study and prayer tend to be times of disciplined activity. But that afternoon I silenced social media, didn’t read the news, spent some time in prayer, and let myself shed some tears that had been hanging around waiting for an opportunity to make an appearance. I allowed myself to acknowledge before God that I felt overwhelmed by people’s pain and fear–the pain of friends, that of strangers, and my own. That I was struggling with some losses that were piling on. That I had almost nothing to offer–few words, no good solutions, very little understanding. The best I could do was pause and make an attempt at reverence and reflection.
My fellow elevator passenger was right. No one knows for sure what selah means. That’s why Bible translators typically don’t translate the word; they merely change the original Hebrew word into an English form. Here’s a basic definition from Easton’s Bible Dictionary, which you can search on Bible Gateway. And here’s a more complete analysis that explains why the idea of a pause makes sense. The term appears not only in the Psalms, but in Habakkuk as well. It’s used so often in the Psalms, it actually appears in Scripture twice as many times as “amen” and triple the number of times as “hallelujah.”
Regardless of its specific meaning, the notation was important enough that it was recorded. And it was preserved as part of Scripture. Although some modern translations have relegated it to a footnote, my guess is, these songs were not complete without selah.
Neither are our lives. We need rest, and we need reverent reflection. Our words and actions can hurt. We need to pause. More than ever, we need to intentionally carve selah into our lives. We live in a world where it is easy to cram our lives so full of musts, shoulds, and wants that we lose touch with the only one who can offer true rest to all those who are weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28-30). In times like these, pauses are wise. Reverent pauses in God’s presence are vital.
This is my blogging version of selah. Will you join me today?
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
© 2016 Amy Simpson.