There is no small amount of discussion and even controversy over the meaning of the Hebrew word Selah. There are those who are firmly in the camp that believe the word is simply a term which gives musicians directions, such as adagio. On the other side, there are many who ascribe a more literary meaning to this word, which appears more than three times as often as Alleluia and twice as often as Amen. This literary camp is further split into factions supporting meanings as various as “be still,” “exalt” and “lift up.” When reading the Psalms, where the word Selah most often appears, it is noteworthy that a change seems to occur in the mood and direction of the Psalm after its use. It may move from a lament to a renewal of trust in God, or from a list of petitions to praise of God’s goodness. A mental and even spiritual shift seems to take place with the word.
Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
Therefore every loyal person should pray to you
in time of distress.
Though flood waters threaten,
they will never reach him. (Psalm 32:5-6)
While all of this makes for interesting reading and pondering, I don’t think it matters that much what the ancient writers meant by it. What matters is what Selah has come to mean to us today. This, I believe is as subjective as the reader, or rather, the pray-er, who is being asked by God to Selah. Reading the Scriptures, and especially the Psalms, is meant to be a prayerful experience of the soul conversing with God, learning about God, loving and being loved by God. God speaks to each of our hearts through Scripture, telling each of us Selah. Only in our hearts will we know what our deepest Selah need is.
In Conversation or Just Plain Crazy
It is my daily practice to read the day’s Mass readings during my prayer time. After reading them through once, I prayerfully ask the Lord which verse He would like me to focus on. Reading again, I am usually led to a verse of Jesus’ own words from the Gospel of the day. I copy this chosen verse in my journal and write a bit about my own thoughts and feelings about it. Sometimes I have none and simply write, “What do you want to tell me through these words today, Lord?” He always answers. Sometimes the answers are short and to the point. Sometimes He goes on for pages, ministering to my heart, correcting my thoughts, inspiring my soul.
I am not a prophet, just a Christian who prays. There has been an interesting discussion about this in the media of late, because our Vice President Michael Pence spoke about his daily prayer and how he hears from Jesus. This basic Christian practice was mocked by a talk show personality as a symptom of “mental illness.” Though she later apologized for the comments, they struck me as terribly sad and impoverished. To believe that God does not speak to His beloved children, does not desire to converse with them, is to completely misunderstand our all-loving God.
And yet, reading over my journals, seeing how often our Lord has repeated the same things to me over and over: trust, let go, give this trouble to Me, be patient, you don’t have to act on this, I will take care of it, shows me that perhaps I don’t even fully believe in these conversations that God and I are having. So which do I believe? Am I hearing from the Lord, or do I have a mental illness? Do I believe God or do I believe the world? Whom do I trust in?
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). The tradition of Christians praying in the manner I have described above, or some variation thereof, goes back to the earliest days. It is a practice I can trust in, and indeed, have been greatly consoled and instructed by it. So why is there this sliver of me that stills says, I don’t trust You, Lord; I think I’m a little bit crazy and the world is right?
How Big Is My Trust Bucket?
At the end of almost every prayer time, when the Lord has finished speaking with me in this way, He says, “Selah. I love you.” As what I have been hearing from Him has not been in “Psalm form,” I think it is pretty safe to conclude that He means something other than a musical term. I think when the Lord tells me “Selah,” He is asking me to relax, to let go, to trust Him.
The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is – trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts. (Jesus to St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 1578)
Reading these words of Jesus to St. Faustina, I have always pictured myself coming to Jesus’ font of mercy and grace with a thimble, but yearning for it to be an overflowing bucket. The truth is whichever I bring, Jesus will fill it to capacity and I will be full. But because, as Christians, we are all called to be not just containers but fonts of His mercy and grace, I want to bring that overflowing bucket! And so He keeps cooing the same words over me, encouraging me with each trial He overcomes in me, to trust Him more, to try to control things less, to let go of useless manipulations.
Each time Jesus has such a victory in me, and convinces me with His constant love and patience, I trade in my vessel for a bigger one. Perhaps now the thimble is gone and I have a nice, round soup bowl. I still desire that overflowing bucket, but am content to let God be in control of how much mercy and grace I am ready to handle. The important thing is to always return to Him, to the Source, to converse and commune with Him, and thereby strengthen my love and trust in Him. Without this, even my thimble will have holes drilled in it by the constant contradictions of the world. It is trust alone that opens the floodgates of God’s mercy, allowing it to come rushing down.
Trust Is a Struggle, Not a Garden Tea Party
Trust is a battle, and the mind is the battlefield. The many fearful things in the world constantly tempt us not to trust, but to try to grasp control to our bosoms in any pathetic and futile way we can. Anxiety can become a way of life much more easily than trust can. Trust is a struggle that requires us to live in a posture of praise and thanks in all things. But often we find this posture, this lifestyle, difficult.
Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name (Hebrews 13:15).
It’s a sacrifice to give praise when we are feeling fearful. But we must learn to press on despite our feelings. When conversing with our Lord about this recently, He reassured me, saying:
There is no fear in the Kingdom. Perfect love casts out fear. I do not say, “Don’t be tempted to fear,” but rather, “Do not be afraid.” The difference is small, but crucial. You may frequently be tempted, because of circumstances, because of temperament, because of training, to be anxious, to worry, and to be afraid. But you must not give in to this temptation.
Do not condemn yourself because of the struggle, the battle, which ensues because of the temptation. The only guilt you have is giving in to it. As long as you are begging Me for the grace to surrender, you are not giving in. With each battle fought you grow in strength, My strength, and true wisdom. This wisdom will show you when and how you are being tempted and in what way you should fight. Getting to the point of Total Abandonment with no anxiety takes years of prayer and training, but the peace in this, My Kingdom, is beyond anything the world, or human initiative can give.
I must be patient with myself, kind to myself, and trust even that when I fall, all Jesus asks is that I get up again, and run to Him. Selah means letting go of my timetable for spiritual progress as much as it does letting go of the problems and trials in my life. He loves us, just as we are, anxiety warts and all. He desires for us the true freedom of knowing we are His children, and that we can trust Him and His path for our lives.
Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to holiness (St. Therese of Lisieux).
As Fr. Michael Gaitley says, “St. Therese trusted completely in Divine Mercy, she believed that God’s mercy would surely rush to the lowest – her little soul – and fill it to overflowing!” This is the trust that I need to nurture in myself. This is the mercy I need to trust in.
It seems, however, that I am tempted to imagine my spiritual life as a long series of peaceful, mindful successes; an imperturbable garden tea party where I always know and do God’s will perfectly, streaming God’s love and light to all whom I meet. The reality is more like that battlefield, with an occasional quiet coffee break at the canteen. However, the more that I stay in conversation with God, the more carefully and lovingly I guard that sweet hour of prayer, the more I listen to Him and rebuke the world’s contradictions, the more frequently will those coffee breaks come, and the more bravely will I face the battle.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus]. Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
I continue my struggle, my battle in pursuit of that freedom, that peace of total abandonment to God’s will, knowing He wants what is eternally best for me, and will walk toward it with me, one step at a time. I trust that when I stumble and fall, Jesus will reach down His hand and help me back up. And I look forward to the day when I come running to Him with a big, overflowing bucket, big enough to catch a Niagara Falls of grace.