Finding Selah

There is a beautiful word that occurs 71 times in the Psalms.  It is the word, ‘Selah’.

The Amplified Bible translates this word as to pause calmly and think of that. Other commentators define ‘Selah’ as to pause and praise. It may have been a Philistine word originally that denoted a musical solo or derived from a Hebrew word that means a division or breaks in the music.

When Selah appears in the Psalm, it is making room for a break,  an interlude, a pause that gives an opportunity for thought and consideration of the great truths that are being sung about or read.

And it is something I need more of.

Last weekend I headed off for a spiritual retreat with two of my dearest girlfriends.  We drove for the morning, ending up on top of a hill near the coast of Wales.  The retreat centre was beautiful with traditional grey stone buildings and carefully landscaped grounds with overflowing baskets of summer flowers.  It was a little piece of heaven.

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When we arrived we signed in and headed off to the whitewashed Chapel, our arms full of Bibles, notebooks and expectation.

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Inside there was an undeniable sense of a place that has been soaked in prayer.  The stillness and peace struck me immediately and my heart soared with the anticipation of meeting with God.

But there was a problem.

You see although the atmosphere around me was still, I was not.  And this proved to make ‘retreating’ quite hard work.  Like a naughty puppy, my busy mind did not want to cooperate.  It ran rings around my quiet time, distracting me with thoughts about lunch or the noisy page-turning of Bibles across from me.

Pausing is clearly a skill I need to work on.

And so I did.  And by the next afternoon, I was beginning to win the battle with my wandering thoughts.  And the spoils of that little victory were very rich indeed.

I walked in the summer sunshine to a large wooden cross on the grounds and I felt God’s grace to lay down my fears and to leave them there.  I read my Bible in the sunshine, highlighting passages that spoke so beautifully into challenges I am facing and I thanked Him for every blessing I could think of.  I hiked to the highest point, a meadow up above the stone Chapel, and I declared God’s goodness over things I didn’t understand as I looked down over the lush Welsh valley with every shade of green you can imagine.  I sensed God’s still small voice.  And when I prayed I knew I was heard.

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And I came away from the weekend free, light and full of faith.

But I also came away with one niggling, uncomfortable thought.

How often do I miss out on hearing God because I just can’t be quiet enough, for long enough?

I am afraid of the answer.

You see, I am designed to pause.  

God created day and night so that within every 24 hours of our lives there would be a natural cycle, a reset, a fresh start.

Then, He modelled for us the weekly cycle that encompasses Sabbath rest.  This is not legalism, but our Good Shepherd leading us to green pastures of refreshment within our busy lives.  And we are not designed to go more than seven days without it.

And God also gave His people regular feasts and holidays.  These were opportunities for pausing, remembering, commemorating and celebrating.  They were chances to gather as a community around shared values and history and to pause normal domestic life regularly throughout the year for spiritual and physical refreshment.

I need pauses in my life.

I have been created that way.

I need stillness and space in my day.  I need time when I am unplugged from the endless, mesmerizing stream of information and entertainment that I struggle to control. I have to be brave enough to put technology in its place or it will continue to quietly steal from me.  In modern life, a quiet soul will not happen without a fight.

And, I need church every week.  This pause is nothing less than a God-ordained command for my good.  A Sunday Selah is my weekly reminder that I serve a God who deserves my full attention, not just the dregs of my busyness.  It is an opportunity to think about others, to serve and love them and to remember that I am part of a family.  And it is my weekly reminder of what is true and what really matters as I consciously turn down the volume of my internal noise and lean into God’s voice instead.

And finally, I need more celebration in my life. I need times to be with family and friends as we leave behind mundane life to remember what ties us together. I need Christmas Carol services and Easter hymns and communion wine.  I need summer festivals with lively worship and I need quiet weekends at prayer retreats where stillness is the goal.  I need family gatherings where Christ is the centre and testimonies of His goodness are on our lips.  And, I need church get-togethers where I laugh with brothers and sisters as we serve each other and share the Good news to those who haven’t heard.

I need a whole lot of Selah.

I need it after long, difficult Tuesdays and after wonderful, fun Fridays, after bad news and after good news, after victories and defeats.

I need it every Sunday when the weekend is waining and the new week is looming.  I need that weekly exchange of leaving behind the burdens of the last seven days and picking up God’s grace for the next seven.

I need Selah when I am disappointed or elated, or everything in-between.

Because I need God.

And He is found in pauses.

And it is hard work but it is worth it and the spoils of that victory are rich indeed.

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Lingering Legacy

 

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There is something deep inside human beings that wants to leave something of importance behind after we are gone.

This innate desire has inspired architects and musicians, artists and scientists to create, invent and discover.  Museums and history books are filled with artistic, political, military and scientific legacies that still impact the world today.

My husband is an architectural technician who worked in the town of Windsor for the first years of his career.  I like to walk past the buildings that I know he did the drawings for and sometimes I feel a tinge of jealousy.  It is a wonderful accomplishment to have created something that stands for others to see and admire, something that will keep standing probably long after you are not.

But whether you are a world-famous artist whose creations are appreciated by millions or a stay-at-home mom whose accomplishments are less tangible, we all produce legacies.

We tend to think of legacy as what is left behind after death like keepsakes, photos, heirlooms or trust funds.  But even during our life, we leave things behind all the time.  We just aren’t always aware of it.

Every time I open my mouth, I leave a kind of legacy.  The words I speak are sometimes remembered long after they have been spoken. Words have the power to build up or tear down.  They can restore hope or dash it.  With just a sentence I can encourage a friend to believe again for a miracle or lift the spirits of a tired leader.  Words can reassure someone who is feeling left out and make them feel like they belong.  Or words can cut someone’s legs right out from under them.

And either way, I am leaving a legacy.

I can be known as a woman who thinks the best of people or one who likes to assassinate characters over coffee.  I can build a reputation as someone who welcomes and includes newcomers or as someone who always plays it safe and sticks with my usual gang.

I can give this world one more professional griper, always critiquing others as part of my Sunday lunch, or I can extend gratefulness, grace and understanding of which there is a great shortage.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my grandparents on the East Coast every summer.    I can still remember watching my grandmother get ready to go out for dinner, choosing clothes and jewellery and scent.  She was a quirky lady and loved men’s cologne and the woody, musky scent would linger long after she left the room.

You and I have an essence, a fragrance, and we bring it with us wherever we go, whether we are aware of it or not.  It is who we are and it lingers after we leave a room.

 It is how people are left feeling after they have spent time with us. 

And it is totally within our power to choose what this fragrance is. We choose what we are known for.  We choose our legacy by how we spend our time and energy and how we treat the people in our lives.

We decide each and every day whether we are loyal or flaky, kind or brittle, empathetic or cold, forgiving or offended.  We will be known by our character and our character is being formed by each and every decision and reaction we have.

Let’s decide today that we will choose a legacy that is worthy of the King we follow.

And let’s determine that every time we leave a room, we will leave behind the essence of Jesus and nothing less.

 ‘The memory of the man or woman who is righteous is a legacy to the world.  The name of the wicked just decays.’  Proverbs 10.7

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Heavenly nostalgia

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Last weekend our family snatched a few precious days away.  It was the only time we could all get away together over the summer so we headed to the South coast of England near Chichester.

West Wittering beach is very special to our family.  It is isn’t the most beautiful beach in the world but it is very dear to us.  It was not only the location of my husbands family holidays growing up, but it also became our family’s go-to destination for last-minute beach trips, usually on the final Bank Holiday in August, to say goodbye to summer.

And this is a poignant summer for us, squeezed in between weddings and October changes that will leave our boy’s bedrooms empty again. So, we booked a weekend in a caravan, packed our towels and suncream and headed for the beach.

And I never even considered that it would be so emotional.

As my long-legged young adults vacated the cars, I suddenly remembered them as excited young children, their arms full of buckets and spades and nets to catch crabs.  We would arrive at the coast early enough to find the perfect spot to lay out our towels near the rock pools that my children loved. These mini sealife centres would entertain them for hours. All sorts of critters were collected and kept in buckets, as beach pets for the day, only to be released as the sun sank low in the sky and thoughts turned to dinner.

The memories of those happy days are vivid and bittersweet.  They make me cry and smile at the same time.

It is the human condition we call nostalgia.

And all of us suffer from it from time to time.  It is a combination of a kind of warm remembering and a bittersweet longing for happy times in the past.  It is the feeling you get when a song from your youth comes on the radio or you eat your favourite childhood candy.  It can be triggered by a particular smell, an old photograph or revisiting a place you once lived.  It is sometimes described as, ‘looking back with joy.’

When scientists first identified this mental state, they believed it to be a wholly negative condition, an illness that needed to be cured.  Remembering and longing for the past was considered unhealthy and dangerous.

However, as time has gone by and more scientific studies have been done we have discovered how important nostalgia is to our well-being.  We now know that reminiscing is comforting and it can relieve stress and anxiety.  It also reduces feelings of loneliness and makes us feel connected.  And, it can increase our sense of gratitude and make us less selfish.

Familiar music stirs memories in dementia patients and reaches them in a way that no other type of communication can.

And nostalgia can actually make us more optimistic about the future, more inspired and more creative.

The word, nostalgia, comes from two Greek words meaning returning home and pain.  It is that deep longing for home, for the familiar, for your family, your tribe.  It is a yearning for the past, homesickness for where you come from.

In Ecclesiastes 3.11, King Solomon says that God has set eternity in human hearts.  We are created with a spiritual memory, an innate nostalgia for a home we have never seen.  And this produces a forward-looking joy, a reminiscing about what is to come.  

It reminds us every day who we are and where we belong.  It can blow away anxiety and fear and fill our hearts with overflowing gratitude.

Maybe your life is really great today, the sun is shining and all is right with the world.  Be grateful but remember that it is only a shadow of perfection to come.  As CS Lewis said, ‘there are better things ahead than any we leave behind.’  

Or maybe life is hard and disappointing.  It is okay to be homesick for a place you have never been to.  Let the reality of your eternal home comfort you and bring you peace.

Either way, let Kingdom nostalgia fill you up with optimism, Divine inspiration and endless creativity to live life well.

In every beautiful moment of celebration, in every disappointment or loss, let eternity continually remind you of its existence.  This is not all there is.

There is a place where we belong.

Look forward in joy.

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