There is a word so seemingly insignificant that newer translations are relegating it to the footnotes. It is the Hebrew word “selah.” You can find this word 74 times in the Old Testament: 3 times in Habakkuk 3 (verses 3, 9, and 13) and 71 times in the Psalms. In all of the instances it is used in the context of Hebrew poetry and probably has musical significance, like we would use a rest – a pause. It is a break in the music.
I know what I am about to do isn’t solid exegesis in terms of what Habakkuk or the writers of the psalms had in mind when they used this term but I want to use the idea of a break in the music to make a point for our world today. I think it is time that we take a rest. We take a break in the music, or even from all the noise. In that silence we focus on what is most important before we speak and break the silence again.
I believe the wise live in extended moments of the Selah.We are seeing more and more people who are taking a break from the social media conversation. Many will never come back. The wise understand that not every opinion must be shared, not even every bit of wisdom must be shared – this is part of what it means to be wise. The wise discern not just what to say but when to say it and more often than our world seems to understand today the answer to when is either “not right now” or “never”. But silence doesn’t stoke the flames or properly engage our adrenal glands in our pursuit of the adrenaline rush. Silence is not our go to response. Silence is often assumed as complicity not wisdom but that doesn’t have to be the case. When I am wondering why someone doesn’t respond to my “genius” comment online it may be because they are wiser than I.
Let’s take some time this month to embrace more silence and more listening. This is a spiritual discipline in and of itself. And let the words we do speak come out of deep places of reflection so that we do not simply disengage from the conversation but re-engage our hearts, minds and mouths in a healthier way.
Before we make that ignorant or unhelpful comment – Selah
Before we get into a reactionary feedback loop of negativity with another person – Selah
While we are seething with anger over what someone said or wrote – Selah
While we are contemplating doling out justice – Selah
While we are harboring bitterness and rage in our hearts – Selah
When we have already lashed out and are about to do it again – Selah
I am appreciative of Jan Johnson’s work that sparked the idea for this month’s them.