Sunday, November 24, 2013


I recently heard someone refer to the need for “Selah time” – time to process what came before. I’ve thought often about “Sabbath time,” but Selah time was new to me.

Selah is one of those words that has been a challenge for Bible translators, partly because its context, often appearing as a word, alone, at the end of a text, doesn’t offer many clues.
relief, Israelite musicians, Ninevah @ 678 BC

Sometimes it’s translated as a musical pause, like a rest note – a moment of silence.

Sometimes it’s translated as “stop and listen,” or “pause and think of that.”

In ancient commentaries it’s sometimes translated as “always.”

Or “so be it.”

Or “weigh this.”

Or “lift up your hands.”

It’s a reminder (as if we need one) that it’s sometimes hard to know exactly what scripture said, or meant.

A reminder to walk humbly when referring to an ancient text.

But also, a reminder that when we pause, look back, measure where we are, there’s often a note of ambiguity. Yes – the past is past. But what burden does that place on us? What does it ask of us? How do we  “weigh this” in the light of “always”?

We are in a bit of a Selah time, here at the end of the liturgical year, in this time of shortened days, longer nights, making our Thanksgiving preparations.

Lots of reasons to give thanks.

Lots of reasons to think, pray, grieve.

On a personal note, I’m coming to the end of several seasons.

I’ve been working on a committee research project about foodand farming. After two phone conferences a week for the last four months – and many many hours spent in writing and revision – that project is finally done.

I’ve also been helping a new organization, “Friends of ExtonPark,” work its way through incorporation and application for 501(c)3 status. That goal was just accomplished as well.

And a group that’s been meeting to work through Dan Allender’s“To Be Told” held what may be its last meeting. While we met and talked and prayed, the moving van holding one member’s household goods headed for a distant state.

I’ve been thankful for opportunities to grow, serve, share.

And wondering where God will lead me next.

Looking forward to a little more free time.

Prayerful that I listen well in the new season just ahead. 

As a nation, we’re also in a Selah time. Or should be.

We’ve been reminded this past week of two compelling anniversaries: Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (November 19, 1863), and the assassination of John F. Kennedy (November 22, 1963).

The Gettysburg address was given in the aftermath of a colossal American tragedy: in just three days, 50,000 young American men lost their lives in combat against each other. The battle was a victory for the North, and a turning point in the war, but also a bloody, wasteful demonstration of what happens when peaceful means are discarded in favor of  cannons and guns.

Lincoln’s speech was a masterwork of both vision and precision, and a reminder that the great experiment of freedom and equality continues: government of the people, by the people, for the people is never fully guaranteed.

When I pause to weigh Lincoln’s words, to picture those quiet fields, not so far from my home, where the work of growing crops was interrupted by the violence of war, I find myself wondering how committed we still are to Lincoln’s vision of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Some states are working hard to extend voting hours so working men and women can make it to the polls, or to offer alternative voting options, so college students or the elderly can vote by mail rather than show up to a polling place. Pennsylvania, I’m sad to say, is pushing hard in the opposite direction: trying to impose new restrictions, looking for ways to dissuade new voters from participating in the grand experiment.

Pause and think of that.

That other anniversary – the appalling death of our youngest president – resonates strangely with our current political climate. Discussions of circumstances surrounding the event churn up partisan accusations, unresolved anger, unhelpful labels, inflammatory language.

Are we wiser now than a half century ago?

More willing to listen to ideas different than our own?

More gracious? More compassionate?

Pause and think.

And pray?

Globally, as well, we are in need of Selah time.

Typhoon Haiyan dwarfed Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, stirring questions about climate change and the economic and environmental factors that merge to push the globe toward ever deadlier storms. What does it mean to love my neighbor, when my neighbor lives in a plywood house on a narrow strip of sand? Or farms a fragile shelf of dirt on a deforested slope, one mud-slide away from disaster?

Typhoon Haiyan, Reuters, Erik De Castro, 2013
Or lives in a metal mobile home, in the path of the next tornado?

Pause and think.

And pray.

Life is rarely simple.

We can pretend it so – focus on the immediate task, tune in to the programs that tell us what we want to hear, hold tightly to easy answers and close our ears to the questions.

But life is a richer, more savory stew. Sometimes hard to swallow.

I notice that the most recent NIV translation has “lost” the word Selah. The text is simpler without it.

 So – the quote below is from a different version (NIRV).

God is our place of safety. He gives us strength.
    He is always there to help us in times of trouble.
The earth may fall apart.
    The mountains may fall into the middle of the sea.
    But we will not be afraid.
The waters of the sea may roar and foam.
    The mountains may shake when the waters rise.
    But we will not be afraid. Selah

God’s blessings are like a river. They fill the city of God with joy.
    That city is the holy place where the Most High God lives.
Because God is there, the city will not fall.
    God will help it at the beginning of the day.
Nations are in disorder. Kingdoms fall.
    God speaks, and the people of the earth melt in fear.
The Lord who rules over all is with us.
    The God of Jacob is like a fort to us. Selah

Come and see what the Lord has done.
    See the places he has destroyed on the earth.
He makes wars stop from one end of the earth to the other.
    He breaks every bow. He snaps every spear.
    He burns every shield with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be honored among the nations.
    I will be honored in the earth.”
The Lord who rules over all is with us.
    The God of Jacob is like a fort to us. Selah
       (Psalm 46)

Selah: Pause and think.

Weigh carefully.

Take time for a moment of silence.