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O Lord, how many are my foes!? openMany are rising against me; ?many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.”? Selah

?But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,?my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. ?I cry aloud to the Lord,?and he answers me from his holy hill…? Selah

Deliverance belongs to the Lord; may your blessing be on your people!  Selah

Psalm 3:1-4, 8

My mother most always had good answers to my questions as I was growing up.  I remember asking her what the word “Selah” meant in the Bible, and she told me: “It means to stop and think about what you just read because it’s mighty important”.  In my years since, I’ve learned that my mother’s answer can be little improved upon.   Now I’m trying to pay more attention to those “i” in my Bible, and do just what they tell me to do: stop and think.  

The word “Selah” is used 71 times throughout the Book of Psalms and three times in the poetic literature of Habakkuk, often right in the middle of a sentence.  Selah comes from a word which means, “to hang”, as in hanging something up to be weighed.  In Bible times money, food, and various commodities were hung or suspended on scales to determine their value. I can remember as a boy coming to the end of a row of cotton and having my sack of cotton hung on scales to be weighed.    

Thus, in the Biblical text the directive “Selah” instructs the worshipper to weigh, carefully measure, and reflect on what has just been read or sung.  Just as the Hebrew word “Amen” comes at the end of a Biblical text as an exclamation of confidence, so “Selah” breaks right into the text, calling us to weigh what we are reading or singing.  The Amplified Bible translates Selah as “pause and calmly think of that”.  

It is believed that “Selah” was a musical notation calling for temple singers and musicians to pause to allow time for worshippers to weigh the depth of insight in what they are singing.  “Just think of that!”

In this New Year I am taking seriously “Selah Moments”.  I read quite a lot in the course of my work and my leisure, but need to make more time for weighing, reflecting, and praying on what I read and take in.   Truthfully, I read too much, I watch TV too much, and I ponder and weigh too little.  Our 2013 Advent Devotional about “Mary’s Song” has renewed my appreciation for Mary’s careful pondering and treasuring of Scripture and life.

Along this line of “too much” I am sobered by the words of Jesuit scholar and educator A. G. Sertillanges:

The first rule is to read little…What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefer familiarity with others’ thought to personal effort.

The passion for reading which many pride themselves on as a precious intellectual quality, is in reality a defect; it differs no wise from the other passions that monopolize the soul…The mind is dulled, not fed by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production (The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods).  

How about making some time today or tonight to look over Psalm 3 at the top of the page and create unhurried space to breathe and weigh God’s loving presence with you.  Follow the four steps of the ancient way of praying Scripture we call Lectio Divina:

  • READ the text prayerfully and slowly three or four times;
  • REFLECT on words and images that stand out to you;
  • RESPOND by talking to God about what you have just read;
  • REST in God’s presence and let Him love you.

I hope you will savor these Selah Moments!

Grace and peace,

photo by paul.orear

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