Column: Selah: Stop and take a breath

Summer feels like a sprint to me.

I know time marches on at a steady pace, but the days and hours between Memorial Day and the start of the next school year feel like they pass faster than any other period of time in a given year. In theory, summer is supposed to be the season when our time is freed up from some of the demands and obligations of daily life due to school being out of session.

In a twist of irony, the season of freedom ends up becoming even more bloated and overscheduled than the rest of the year. As a result, we find ourselves trying to shoehorn in a vacation day or two, which often serves as yet another leg in our summer run. It’s no wonder we end up looking forward to school starting in the fall.

The measured pace of the everyday and ordinary, as exhausting as it can be, often becomes a welcome respite. The hard truth is we need to learn to slow down, to make time to pause and take a breath. Whatever the season, we need to insert a Selah or two into the routines and rhythms of life.

Selah is a transliteration of a Hebrew word found in the Bible. Of the 74 times it occurs, 71 are in the Psalms (the other three are in Habakkuk). If you’ve ever read through the Psalms in an old KJV Bible, there’s a good chance you’ve happened upon this word. You may have noticed the word often appears at strange places in the text.

Psalm 46 provides us with a good example. The word occurs at the end of the song, but it also occurs in the middle. While scholars aren’t 100% certain of the meaning of this word, they do have some thoughts that are compelling and worthy of our consideration.

It is fairly common knowledge that the Psalms were a book of songs. Many of the Psalms are prefaced indicating to whom the song is addressed, generally the director of music, and who authored said song.

The prevailing belief among biblical scholars is the term Selah served as a musical notation. It is quite possible the word Selah is much like a rest on a piece of sheet music. It was simply a moment of pause to allow the vocalists to take a breath but also to allow the truth and beauty of the Psalm to breathe into the hearer.

Rather than serving as a rigid, hard stop to contemplate and consider, it is simply a natural moment of peace in the flow and rhythm of the song to allow the worshipers to rest and to reflect all while being moved forward by the meter of the melody.

We can’t stop the passing of time. It presses on to its swift and steady beat, and we are compelled to march along to the melody it makes.

But even the most aggressive of songs has rests to allow the musicians to catch their breath, and the best composers provide strategic pauses for dramatic effect and to allow the performers and hearers alike to rest and reflect upon what they’re hearing and experiencing. It is a natural and necessary feature of good music, and I would argue it’s both natural and necessary for life in general.

One author writes, “The word Selah causes us to pause, reflect and ponder what God is saying to us. It allows us the opportunity to remove ourselves from all the business and craziness that’s happening around us and just give ourselves a momentary pause.”

In our frenetic and fast-paced world. we need moments of rest and reflection. We need to write some Selah’s into the song and dance of life. We need moments of peace to catch our breath and recover from the difficulties of life.

We need moments to intentionally contemplate and celebrate the victories and joys we experience. We need quiet pauses to allow us to reflect and remember God is good and faithful and that he is with us through it all. We need to stop to rest and take a breath.


The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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