Words fill our days, from conversations in the neighborhood to discussions around the dinner table. The average person speaks seven thousand words daily, hears twenty thousand to thirty thousand words, and thinks sixty thousand to eighty thousand thoughts. With words constantly around us and within us, we might be surprised whenever a word causes us to pause and rest.
The word "Selah" appears many times in the Bible: seventy-one occurrences in the Psalms and three appearances in Habakkuk. Although the exact meaning of the word "Selah" remains unknown, most scholars interpret the word to mean pause and rest, stop and listen – a contemplative interlude. The intentions behind the word are to encourage one to experience the moment.
As a prayer and song book, the Psalms contain 150 poetic prayers and spiritual songs varied with praise, lament, and raw emotions. In the Psalms, readers find Selah moments to pause and rest in divine love.
Selah often appears in the Psalms during times of great distress or dark struggle. “How am I ever gonna find peace, Lord?” asks local singer and songwriter Scott Miller. Like a modern-day Psalmist, Miller’s honest song lyrics lead me to pause in life’s trials and reflect on God’s peace.
In Psalm 46, the author repeats the word “Selah” three times, enabling us to experience the word in its greatest form. Regardless of shaking mountains, roaring waters, or nations battling at war, the Psalmist stands still and remains calm in the chaos because God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
In a recent pastoral visit, I introduced a contemplative prayer practice using Psalm 46:10. In contemplative prayer, we move beyond words and thoughts to dwell deeply with God. The prayer begins with speaking the first eight words of Psalm forty-six verse ten aloud and resting in silence after the last word is spoken. The prayer continues with removing the last word before repeating the verse until only Selah remains. The prayer ends in stillness with God.
Be still, and know that I am God! Selah [rest]
Be still, and know that I am Selah [rest]
Be still, and know that I Selah [rest]
Be still, and know Selah [rest]
Be still, and Selah [rest]
Be still, Selah [rest]
Be Selah [rest]
We experience God's presence by resting, reading, praying, and singing the words of scripture through both the calm and the chaotic seasons of life. The holy words and the sacred rests overflow into our everyday life, thus reshaping our posture of faith and deepening our relationship with God.
In her book, "Finding Selah; The Simple Practice of Peace When You Need It Most," author Kristen Kill prayed through the rests and pauses in the book of Psalms and began to see that Selah in her own life often felt like Selah in the Psalms.
Kristen wrote, "I was living Selah, beginning to see in the moments where I thought God was most silent; he was never absent. The stillness offered me more of him. These moments were simply a rest in his larger composition; praying the psalms have become a way to enter into music with him."
Like Kristen and the Psalmists, we experience Selah in our everyday moments. We rest and dwell with God between the words we say to others, hear in the world, and think to ourselves.
As seasons change, may Selah weave into the fabric of our summer, leading us to pause between the words, rest in divine love, and pursue the higher calling of experiencing and proclaiming God’s goodness and grace in every holy time and sacred place.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. Selah
(Psalm 68:19, New Revised Standard Version)