Selah: A Word to Live By

Monday, July 2, 2012 - 9:16 pm

Selah: A Word to Live By

When I lived in Israel, the air felt denser, heavier. In such a small space, words (and worlds) piled up with such intensity, you felt yourself using muscles you didn’t know you had, straining to make sense of all the war and death and beauty contained in the land.
I think that is why, years later, when I finally read the Psalms, the word selah held such meaning for me. Its original definition is unknown, but there is some agreement that selah signifies a moment of reflection, an invitation to “weigh” or “measure” the singer’s words.
For me, selah is a prayer within a prayer. It means “may the ears hear and the eyes see.” It is a word that asks us to stop and listen, really listen, to the song.

On this, first morning of my life,
hosannas are not enough.

I walk and walk,

up streets with Jewish names,
down streets with Arab names —

all in celebration of great poets
or killers.

Men who were both poets and killers.
May my pen draw blood and pour wine.

I walk through old monuments,
tombs of alabaster, car soot.

Slogans half hid
behind green bombs of melon,

grenades of black and purple grapes.

In the end, who will history anoint?
I forget who was Isaac, who Ishmael.

I walk and walk,
forgetting my own language, my alphabet,

the one carried by Phoenicians
from port to port —

trading letters aleph bet

that were rounded like stones
by a lapidist alif ba

and passed from mouth to mouth
until they lost all but essence a b

and continue to be worn and smoothed,
until, as jewels,

only their memory is left —

as I limp through harbours,
the bilge of refugees —

in this, last moment of the day,

when the sky burns purple
and the ocean breaks black,

when the streetlamps tremble and,
all around,

the noise of guns and worship —

Selah. Enough.

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Contributor

is a writer, traveler, researcher, and educator. She has an BA in International Relations and Education from American University in Washington DC, and an MSc in Philosophy & Public Policy from the London School of Economics. She is also interested in finding connections between education, social justice, and creativity. Andréana has lived and traveled throughout the United States, UK, Europe and the Middle East. She has worked with Ashoka, the Institute for Educational Leadership, Eastside Educational Trust, the European Press Prize, and The Guardian. She has also worked on documentaries for broadcast on National Public Radio and the BBC. She recently designed and taught course at Central European University on “Voice and World” exploring the intersection of self-expression and social justice.

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