You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin. Selah
Psalm 85:2 [NRSV]
The illumination of the Word of God takes many forms in and outside of the Incarnation. In the gold, the silver, and the rare colors found in elaborate calligraphy from the ancients, to the archaeological, etymological, and scholarly explorations of language, history, and context, to one's prayerful, mystical, and personal relationship with the Bible - be it in a particular passage, a chapter, a verse - we, who engage with it, find a light on our path, a resonance within ourselves, and also, fairly often, more questions than answers.
There have been, are now, and are yet to be innumerable studies of the texts, resulting in so many interpretations, so much knowledge, and fresh understanding and yet, with all the work of highly educated researchers and religious scholars, professors, and world class preachers of varying denominations and cultures, Christian and non-, there is one tiny little word that no one, ever, anywhere has truly figured out: Selah.
Selah is found 71 times in the Psalms and 3 times in the book of Habakkuk.There are many theories about it - it may be a musical direction, a liturgical pause, perhaps it connects thoughts. It occurs at the end of some verses and most often at the end of the psalm itself.
You won't find it at all in the psalmody of the American Book of Common Prayer, or in the New Zealand Prayer Book, or even in some Bible printings. But it is in most Bibles. And it is a mystery. We simply don't have an absolute definition. As a North Carolina United Methodist Minister, James Howell, says, "I find myself fond of the fact that we don't really know. We never master the Bible, and I suspect God chuckles a bit when we're befuddled. When we join that angelic host for worship in heaven...then we'll get it and do the 'Selah' thing ourselves."
Holy and Mystical Lord God of Heaven,
In this Advent season of sacred waiting, I will seek to find Your Voice in the small words as well as the grand, in the quiet as well as the thunder, in the commonplace as well as the extraordinary. As I anticipate a boisterous and joyful celebration of the birth of our Savior, I will also revel in the Mystery of You who can not always be fully known, but who is always fully present in every moment to me. Remind me to look for You through your Word in every form, in every way, in every day and, experience again, the illumination of and for myself. Selah. amen.
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