Featured, Slowing Down

Selah: Learning to Pause and Take a Breath

Nothing shuts the South down like snow.  Nothing pushes the pause button quite like those seemingly magical white flakes floating from the sky.  It’s like our little world here gets tucked in to bed, whether we feel tired or not.  Nature itself tells us, “It’s time to stop for now.”

And we do, we stop.  Not without some juggling of schedules and agendas, but then when the snow comes, we settle in and enjoy a slower pace.

When you can’t get out to continue plowing through your schedule and agenda, you are force to finally pause a bit.

All this snow, this amazingly beautiful blanket of snow that I am watching fall outside my window, it has me thinking about this idea of pausing.  My #oneword for 2018 is savor, a word that means slowing down long enough to enjoy something fully.  So slowing, pausing… it’s all stuff on my brain right now.

As I thought about the slower pace snow days bring us here in the South (I know all you people up in the North keep going most of the time in weather like this), my thoughts wandered to this word I love, a discreet, often unnoticed word only found in our sacred texts of the Old Testament.


You feel like you should say it with a whisper.  The very word is like a breath itself.

It actually means breath or pause.  With only one other exception, this word only shows up in the Psalms and it is used throughout this songbook of prayer.  It is used 71 times in fact, as a musical notation to signify when the musician was to pause, perhaps to take a breath or to allow for a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm.


It reminds the musician when it is time to stop for a moment.  It signals when it is time to rest.

Hmmm.  When it is time to stop for a moment.  When it is time to rest.

That’s why this word has come to my mind on this snow falling day.  On this day where nature has told us, it’s time to stop for a moment.  On this day when, even if you are out frolicking in the snow for a time, you come inside to warm up and drink some hot cocoa, and catch your breath from the fun.

Rest is always built into snow days.

This word Selah, this musical notation that exist in the songbook of prayers of our faith, it reminds us that we do indeed need to pause.

Stopping to catch your breath, it is essential to the song that we are singing that is our life.

The snow has reminded me of this today.  The necessity of pausing.  The need to take a breath.

Maybe we need to institute snow days more often, with or without snow.  Maybe we need to enter the rhythm that snow offers our lives and carry that into life, whether white is covering our world or not.

Maybe we need Selah, we need to learn to pause and take a breath.

For those of you living in a Winter Wonderland right now, I don’t know what got pushed off your agenda today.  I don’t know what stress was created in this day when nature said, “Pause.”

But do you feel like, now that it has happened, that you actually needed to take a moment to catch your breath?  Did stopping for a moment, even if you felt like you had no time for stopping today, did stopping for a moment do something to renew your soul?

There is a reason this word Selah is mixed into the prayers of our faith.  There is a reason David and the other brilliant minds behind the Psalms intentionally put pauses into one of the most raw and honest words our sacred Scripture have to offer.

In a book filled with “Where are you God?”  And “Save me from trouble” And “I am drowning here, Lord.  Help!”  In a book filled with glimpses into real life, into the joys and struggle, into the hardships and pain, into the full gamut of emotions that life brings us, over and over again we see this word: Selah.

Over and over again, in the midst of the singing of these raw emotions and crying out and rejoicing, musicians and singers are reminded: Pause.  Stop for a moment.  Take a Breath.

And what do we do in the pause?  What do we do in the Selah?

Selah is a strange word that has baffled every scholar out there.  No one really knows the root of where this word comes from.  But if it comes from anywhere, it probably comes from the Hebrew word “salal” (saw-lal’), which means to “lift up” or “exalt.”  So when we get to the word Selah we are exhorted to lift up.  When certain words are sung or read in the Psalms and then are followed by the word Selah, we are invited to pause and to lift up those words and think about what they mean.

Almost every time, the Selah invites us to pause and remember who our God is, the God who holds our life while we pause.

So friends, whether it is snowing in your neck of the woods today or not, Selah.

Take a moment to pause and take a breath.

And in the pausing, remember who your God is.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Psalm 46:1-3,10-11



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