SELAH – סלה – A Holy Interruption ~ Cindy Elliott

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’Womb to world’ is a startling moment for a baby. After months of being surrounded by warm amniotic fluid, cuddled in a strong protected sac and limited by the walls of the womb, the little one is suddenly pushed forth from this safe, familiar place and thrust into light. Baby is bombarded by stimuli, and startled by how far he can stretch his limbs. We as parents are there to help our little ones through this transition. We swaddle them, hold them close, coo to them, comfort, and to our best effort meet their every need. We hush and woo them to their new world, holding them in a soft, patient embrace telling them of the wonders and delights – the sights, sounds, smells, taste, and the love, oh the overwhelming soul hugging love that awaits them.

Rest – Pause!

For the mother the birthing process can be both intense and beautiful. For myself, I found the hardest part in the long laborious pushing stage was the rest, or pause. I’m not talking about the natural wax and wane of the contractions, but those times when for various reasons we are told to stop. Stop – breathe – rest. Yet our muscles and brains are screaming push, push, push. A painful, at times burning rest – not done in vain but one that is for life. A rest that helps lead to that moment when the flood gates open and out bursts an indescribable gift! It’s a gasp of breath moment – that first moment you see your child. Holy… holy… holy.

This “womb to world” / birthing process is something I’ve experienced more than once as I have made a deliberate effort to rest and pause while reading Scripture. That being still before G-d and, at times, being hushed and held in the patient embrace and relentless tenderness of G-d as our Source of all Wonders, startles my mind and delights my heart. Sometimes it’s a painful moment as I am pushed out of a place of comfort. But, every time, it is a holy moment. A moment that transforms my life entirely, a moment in which there is nothing but a gasp of breath – a gasp of worship.

I can best understand this transformational pause in one intriguing Hebrew word – Selah.

Selah – a word seen frequently in the Psalms and less than a handful of times in Habakkuk – is challenging to translate. The Talmud (Eruvin 54a), as demonstrated from Psalm 48:9, says that selah means forever. Ibn Ezra [1] understood selah to mean “true and certain,” functioning in a similar vein to an Amen –  “so be it”- to what preceded it. Radak [2] saw selah as a musical notation – a lifting up of the singer’s voice. Rabbi Raphael Hirsch comments: “Selah is a notation at the close of a thought directing one to reflect upon its enduring significance.” [3]

Any and all of these understandings of selah make it a holy interruption – a threshold for change. A place where you pause, reflect, ponder, and let G-d’s living word flow deep into your soul and allow yourself to sink deep into His heart. Sometimes it is this deliberate quiet, this intentional stillness, that lifts your heart toward Heaven.

Many times when we read Scripture we come with preconceived understandings and expectations that stifle the flow of Living Waters. Other times we come with a familiarity that dulls our heart and crowds out our curiosity. Making a practice of a deliberate rest breaks up the breathless flow and allows us to breathe and create space for G-d to reveal His truth to us. These deliberate rests allow the Living Word to shape our souls and set deep realities and understandings within us.

The pictograph for selah – סלה  is astounding:

Selah – what comes from lifting up something of VALUE.

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Be Still And Know That I am G-d. (Psalm 46:10)

Selah is a holy invitation to stop – breathe – rest. It is a whisper from G-d to not miss out on what’s important. Selah is a moment that births transformation – being both undone and remade.

We have a beautiful example of “selah in time” with the weekly celebration of Shabbat. Every 7th day the Creator of the universe invites us to stop – breathe – rest and spend 24 hours breathing in His word, His presence and celebrating and delighting in His creation “expressing glory in the presence of eternity.” [4]

Proverbs reminds us to number our days – not because our days are short [they are] but because time is sacred. When my daughter was born I felt the Lord urging me to take off my watch – as if in that holy moment He was whispering to me – don’t miss out on one precious minute – time is fleeting. How thankful I am that I listened and, 28 years later, my wrist is still absent of a watch. For me that absence is a reminder – a selah – to stop – breathe – rest – to slow down and be present in every moment – to not miss out on what’s important.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel had it right when he said, “Labor is craft, but perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination.” Selah is a holy rest – a sacred art.

Blessed are you Lord our G-d, who created rest. Abba may we learn to stop – breathe – rest and know the wonders and beauty of being your child. Abba may we embrace the sacredness of rest and welcome holy interruptions.  Selah

 

Photo Credit:

* Yarkovoy/Shutterstock.com
** Copyright Marla Jean Clinesmith, used by permission. www.hebrewwordpics.com

1. Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164)
2. Rabbi David Kimhi (1160-1235)
3. Noted in From His Holy Mountain, SELAH, by Dr. Eugene Narrett
4. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Shabbat

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