Selah: and the close of the Summer

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

The summer is drawing to a close and students are already beginning to return to Asbury to start the Fall semester. I hope those reading this blog found time for rest and renewal this summer. Earlier this summer, I took a week just to do some physical labor around the house. I know, for many, the ultimate vacation translates into a cruise through the Bahamas. For me, a vacation is swinging a hammer.  It is amazing how renewing it is to build something, or bring some project to a close. This last week I took an entire week just to think. I know that may sound a bit bizarre in today’s world. Julie (my wife) and I headed up to Massachusetts and spent a week just thinking. I read quite a bit, and I did get some writing done, but I also just spent time thinking. Spending time thinking and reflecting is one of the most valuable things in my life. As President of Asbury, my life is filled with meetings, budgets, teaching, preaching and running between gates in airports. My schedule (last I had the courage to look) is booked out about two years in advance. So, it is not always easy to carve out thinking time.

One of my favorite words for “thinking time” or “reflection time” is that word which pops up in the Bible, selah. The word selah occurs throughout the Psalms. The precise meaning of the word selah is unknown, so someday I may find out that my association of the word selah is inaccurate. However, for now, many scholars believe that it signifies some kind of musical pause or interlude. This is precisely what I have in mind. Like any healthy heart, we must have a proper balance between the active pumping of blood (diastolic) and the brief period of rest (systolic) where the blood is being re-oxygenated and prepared to be pumped out in ways that give life and nourishment.  All of us need to find time for rest, for reflection and for a change of pace.  For some, this might be camping in the Ozarks, or scuba diving in the Ocean.  For others, it might mean swinging a hammer or, perhaps, swinging in a hammock. I admit I did climb into a hammock in July on the banks of Lake Hartwell, though it only lasted about five minutes. We all need to discover what it means for us to maintain long-term vitality. We can’t always put our finger on exactly what it looks like for each person. It is a bit like the word selah, in that it is ambiguous and no one knows precisely what it means. But, whatever it is for you, I hope you had a selah this summer, for Fall is coming fast and then…the real fun begins!!


  • It sounds like the word “Selah” wants us to pause and consciously breathe in the oxygen that keeps our human bodies healthy and alive.
    Jeannie Belgrave

  • Scott says:

    In an ever increasingly fast paced world it can become easy to just keep moving without proper time left for reflection. Selah is a good reminder of the need to pause and reflect upon the events of the day gone by.

  • Clint Fink says:

    It sounds wonderful to take time to breathe in fresh air. I enjoy your letter. It makes me dream of a time long ago; or perhaps of a time soon to come. I have just finished my studies at Anderson University and I am working full time at Caterpillar while serving two churches in the Indiana’s Northwest District of the United Methodist Church. I start online classes at Asbury next month. I feel at times that I need reminded to breathe but it is good to huble ones self by aknowledging that I am not capable of life without my Lord.

  • Hello, Timothy (and readers)! Knowing how we’ve prayed together for our respective ministries over the years, I particularly enjoyed reading your thoughts on Selah. It is indeed about rest, and reflection. Further, this: In the Selah Certificate Program in Spiritual Direction that I lead, we identify a few additional aspects of Selah: it is a reflective pause that comes in the midst of a Word-crafted space, held in community (the psalms being sung communally), in which we listen more attentively to something weighty that’s happening in our prayer–in the back-and-forth between God and us. (In our Selah program we define this as what happens in the practice of spiritual direction/ spiritual companionship, when together in community we listen to God.) It may begin on a hammock, or while wielding a hammer, but as we settle into the rhythms of attentiveness we begin to notice God’s presence, and his Spirit’s reflection in and with us, and we return to our labors with a renewed sense of being companioned by the One who continues to shape us into his image, for his glory. May your return to the rhythms of ministry be rich in that companionship!