I’ve always been of the opinion that people who want to write—and recent surveys claim that nearly eighty percent of the American public would like to write a book someday—should take a few classes, a few, just a few. One. Maybe two. Okay, if the instructor is good, three.
An honest appraisal is one good reason. Most people believe that writing a book is something like biking—once you get the hang of it, you just do it. All writers, novices and veterans, need an editor, need an honest appraisal.
Tricks are another. A whole raft of little skills simply must be learned—what’s kosher and what’s not, how to punctuate dialogue, when to show and when to tell.
The word “selah,” if I have it right, is something of a writing trick, like, well, white space. In fiction especially, young writers need to figure out how and when to hit the enter key an extra time and use white space on a page, how to give the reader a break, direct him or her to the fact that there’s a scene change or an end to something. White space is just as valuable as the right word because sometimes silence speaks volumes. I don’t know if I’d call it a trick exactly, but making good, efficient use of white space is the kind of primary skill that can be taught. So much about writing can’t.
Check it out. If I fill this line with words, say anything at all, even if it has no meaning—let the apple core fall where it may—and then put in white space, you’ll see it.
As I was saying. See what I mean.
There are “selahs” in this poem, two of them, in fact. Twice David suggests white spaces, and one of them comes after verse seven, when David was extolling the beauty of Lord’s grace, a kind of perpetual surround-sound.
But “selah” suggests more than a scene change. Here, as elsewhere in the psalm—and in the Psalms—“selah” seems to be a means by which the Psalmist demands contemplation, silence, even judgment. “Selah,” here especially, seems to suggest that our best response to what’s been said is to meditate, to stop and think, something that’s increasingly not easy to do in our ever-connected world.
We’ve been with Psalm 32 for a long time already, but maybe our staying that long is only right. David has been testifying to the single act that some say most distinguishes the Christian faith from the other great world religions—forgiveness. He’s walked us through the lonely corridors of his own guilt to show us how leaving those close walls has made him, literally, a new man. He’s celebrated the immense love of the Father, and made it clear to anyone who will listen that such forgiveness is not only readily available but vitally essential for a life of joy.
And then there’s the line from which we’ve just come: “you, O Lord, surround my life with music.”
With that, we need a stop and think, stop and meditate—or so he suggests. We need white space. To get all of it in, we need silence because there are no words.
Selahs are not park benches or free water bottles; they don’t just give us a chance to breath. Here, David’s selah allows us to recognize the Spirit’s own breath within us.
Be still and know that I am God.
See?--not easy to do.