Friday, July 29, 2011


Recently I read an interesting discussion about the term "Selah." I was reminded of a great short story I had read many years ago in the Dutch book, Peper en Zout (Salt and Pepper) by Rev. M.E. Voila. I read it again this afternoon, laughed out loud, and did a quick translation of it thinking that others, too, would enjoy it. 


Lately, you can find articles about church liturgy and related topics. I am happy about that for sometimes truly scandalous things happen.

   Would you believe that recently people in my church laughed out loud during the service? I want to publish this scandal worldwide in the hope that my readers will join me in grieving over this. That would already be somewhat of a victory.

   There is a Mr. De Boer in my congregation, who is the local greengrocer; however, if he is not within earshot, people call him “Selah.” He earned the nickname this way. He is a singer with a mighty voice which he does not hide under a bushel, especially in church.

   As he is an elder, his turn came up for visiting the young men’s society as a delegate of consistory. He attended the annual meeting of the club and was expected to say a few words.  He strayed from his subject and found a chance to address his favourite topic, singing. Seizing the opportunity, he held forth on how the word “Selah” means “stop.”

   Since that time he has had the nickname “Selah”—especially among the more flippant part of the congregation. People would say that the greengrocer’s horse would stop immediately as soon as its master ordered “Selah!”

   But on to the scandal.

   Our church organ was undergoing repair and, in the meantime, we were using a small house organ which could, at least, be heard reasonably well during the preludes and postludes.

   I don’t want to say anything bad about the organist, but he does belong to the more flippant part of the congregation, to which I earlier referred. Understandably, he was terribly irritated by Mr. De Boer who always sang one note ahead of the organ.

   Psalm 68 was on the liturgy board that Sunday morning.

   Those who know the Genevan tunes know that the stanzas of Psalm 68 consist of two halves and that the second half begins on a very high note. It is as if you silently climb a full flight of stairs after the first half, and then you start again a storey higher.

   The congregation sang. The organist played with his whole body to squeeze every last little bit of sound possible out of the surrogate organ.

   Selah was in fine form. No wonder, with Psalm 68!

   I could see both of them from my vantage point on the pulpit. Mr. De Boer sat in the front elders’ bench right across from the organist. He had his eyes closed and gave, as he always did, the note for each line. However, he had not noticed that I had included the last stanza of Psalm 68, which [in the old Dutch version of the Psalm book] is only half as long as all the other stanzas.

   I saw the train wreck happening before my eyes.

  The stanza was finished, but Selah was preparing himself for the next half. I saw him, in his thoughts, walking up the flight of stairs to the next storey. His chest swelled and his mouth opened. His voice echoed all alone through the whole church. What he sang, no one knew, not even he himself. It sounded something like, “Waa!” or “Blaa!” In any case, it was a long drawn out, unfathomable cry of jubilation, that scared everyone.

    In the eerie silence that followed the organist shouted at the singer, “Selah!”

   And then it happened: A large part of the congregation laughed out loud.

  That’s what I meant when I referred to the scandalous behaviour of some parshioners. Terrible! Just terrible!

   I was so grieved by it all that I did not dare laugh aloud until I was safely home.

   Anyway, let me stop here. Selah.”

“Sela” in Peper en Zout by M.E. Voila, Kok: Kampen, n.d. Trans., George van Popta