I can only recall two things from third grade. The first is that my teacher really needed to invest in a better deodorant. The other was spending time facing the corner for being a little too sassy. Mrs. Thomas had said, “Words mean something” to which I abruptly replied, “Of course they mean something, isn’t that why they were invented?” All that was missing from my corner encounter was the dunce cap.
Years later I started to understand my third grade teacher’s Zen-like words of wisdom. I began to appreciate the importance of words when I couldn’t find one to express the way I was feeling. I am fascinated by words and phrases that mean something different when translated – like how the english “Got Milk” ad became the spanish “Are you lactating?” A simple word change can also affect the way you view the world. Instead of thinking “I have to go to work” think “I get to go to work.”
I recently had another one of those words matter moments and I can’t stop thinking about it. I was listening to a beautiful Newsboys song called The Orphan. In it was a word I had seen many times in my biblical studies but never knew what it meant – selah. After years of blindly accepting the word, I decided to look up its meaning. Selah is a word of Hebrew origin that doesn’t have an english equivalent. It takes several words to fully translate.
Selah was used several thousand years ago to instruct one to “pause, and think of that.” This was often written in an important part of a Psalm where the writer wanted to allow time to ponder the deep implications of what had been written. Much like “amen” its goal was to keep you from advancing to the next passage until you fully grasped what had just been communicated.
We are now living in a world where information comes at us faster and more abundantly than ever before. It’s incredibly tiring. As more and more noise enters our lives it becomes difficult to find which information signals are important. Our signal to noise ratio is quickly approaching zero. It’s as if we are told to find that needle in a haystack while a profusion of dump trucks are unloading more hay on our head. The notion of selah seems more distant than ever. Who has time for selah? That’s precisely why it means so much to me.
What a beautiful phrase and way to live our lives. Selah has so many practical uses in our daily lives. You are in a conversation with a dear friend when she tells you her latest cool idea. In normal conversation you would just jump right in with your thoughts. What if instead, selah? Look at the emotion on her face after you just took the time to truly ponder what she had just said.
You are watching an incredible TED video about how schools are killing creativity. After a few minutes, Ken Robinson gives you some information that was quite surprising. Since most Ted talks are 18 minutes or less, you decide to plow on through to the end and then take it all in, munging that one idea in with all the others that Ken produced. What if instead, selah? You stop the video and think about how that one piece of information affects your life or how you could use it to better someone else’s life.
You are giving a big presentation to some very important people. At the end you ask if there are any questions. A gentleman from the back asks you a rather difficult question. Having become rather famous for how fast you think on your feet, you quickly respond to his challenge with rather weak sauce. What if instead, selah? You pause for a few moments, rub your chin to prove to others that you are indeed thinking, and then a good 10 seconds later respond with a well thought out answer. Everyone appreciates you taking a moment to answer.
Selah allows our brains to absorb and discriminate. It allows us to commingle the generalities of what someone else said with the details of our own life. It personalizes the teachings of others. Its what allows our response to have greater meaning or our understanding to become more profound.
Selah also fills the heart. I have the word attached to my monitor at work. Every time I see it, I feel peace. I’ve come to believe there is always time to pause and think. Sometimes it may only be ten seconds to respond to a question from the audience or several hours as I contemplate the future. I own the pause button, whether I acknowledge it or not.
We are caught in world of expected movement – one where movement is confused with progress. We glorify action yet nearly all of the greatest ideas have come from pausing and thinking about something. Don’t wait to pause. Your future depends on it.