Three times in the Book of Habakkuk (sort of rhymes with tobacco) the word Selah is used. In some ways it means what we mean when we say Amen, carrying with it an invitation to appreciate more fully what is being said. It could easily be translated: Wow! Stop and Listen! Selah is used 71 other times in the various psalms and there, as the psalms were typically sung, Selah is a rubric of sorts for the instrumentalists to follow. When the word occurred, a musical interlude was to be offered, to allow the meaning of what had just been said to sink in a little further.
If we keep rushing on with things, it’s hard to see what has actually taken place. Pausing to reflect is vital to the spiritual journey. Experience, in and of itself is not much of a teacher. But reflection is.
Each time the prophet Habakkuk uses the term, it comes after some declaration of awe in the face of God’s activity. “His glory covered the heaven, and the earth was full of his praise. Selah.” (3.3) The prophet seems moved to appreciate God’s great work in creating all that is and his continuing way of revealing himself to worshipers. Following verses 8 and 9 of the same chapter, Selah appears again, this time after speaking of God’s power over the rivers and seas, as well as enemies in battle. The last time it occurs, still in the 3rd chapter, after the 13th verse, the reader is urged to ponder the great mysteries of God’s salvation itself. “You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed. You crushed the head of the wicked house, laying it bare from foundation to roof. Selah.”
Written well before the Christ event, Habakkuk expresses some of what we come to know as the Trinitarian being of God. God creates all that is; God redeems and saves all that is. God continues to sustain all that is. Selah. Wow! Stop and Listen!
God didn’t just spew out the world and then leave it on its own to see what might happen. God continues to be involved in every little detail of his creation. His saving justice corrects things that have gone amiss. His continuing spirit seems to soothe and comfort, as well as empower us to take new risks and move forward in life.
I once attended a retreat led by a monk who insisted in our corporate worship that we pause after each half verse in reciting the psalm. We didn’t get it at first and jumped ahead with the next half verse. But he continued to teach us to pause. “Don’t move ahead too quickly. “Let it sink in.” He acted out for us what Selah meant in the Old Testament. Wow! Stop and Listen!
Sometimes life is very fast. Sometimes we just run everything together and there is no space in between anything that we do. Some people talk on and on, running sentences together so that no one else can speak and, after a while, it seems like the speaker isn’t even listening to what he may be saying. Our bodies force us to lie down periodically and rest but even there we may just collapse in a heap and leap out of bed the next morning to attack another day.
How much pausing is being done in your life? Have you noticed and truly appreciated the gift of creation lately? How you seen how the little details of your life are surrounded by grace? Have you noticed that things turn out far better than they have a right to, far better than your actions merit or deserve?
Advent approaches. We will talk much about awaiting the birth, awaiting the second coming of Christ. It’s a good time to pause and let things sink in. Our actions are but a tiny fraction of what is leading the world. We are invited to recognize grace itself and participate in something larger than ourselves.
Selah. Wow! Stop and Listen!
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.