Today, friends, we’ll be extraordinarily etymological. I love this word: “selah.” It’s a word of ambiguous history and meaning, and the mystery only adds to its beauty. It’s a Hebrew word found frequently in the psalms, but it’s also a word in modern Arabic and Syrian Aramaic, and I’m fascinated by all of the ideas about what it might mean. (I haven’t done very scholarly research on this, but when you’re dealing with ambiguous words, precise meanings and careful citations are not desirable, I think, and in my case, they’re just not possible, because my brain is a vague and muddled place!) The psalms (also a lovely word!) were apparently sung and accompanied by music, and it’s possible that the word “selah” was a notation to the choir master, possibly to take a break in the music, to pause and reflect on what’s been said, to change the rhythm to signal a change in thought or theme. It also means to lift up, or hang, or to measure. So perhaps it means the person singing the psalms should lift up their voice, in pitch or volume. Of course, things were measured by being lifted and weighed against something else, so that’s part of the meaning, as well. (I wish I could express my thoughts more clearly – Isaac is having a distracting and inexplicable melt-down about strawberry chewing gum. He never gets to do what he wants! Never!) Back in the day, when I was in school, I read a lot of feminist film theory, and I found it very thrilling. It was difficult to understand, but it was frequently about language, about the language of film, and the language of vision, as well as the language we speak with. I think the authors used purposely obscure language, but I found this funny, it was a sort of joke, and it was a pleasure trying to decipher their meaning. Many writers spoke of the necessity of using the spaces between words or between shots to tell the story. To inhabit the silent moments to tell a more interesting story than the words or actions could tell. That’s what “selah” reminds me of – at least as I understand it. It’s about the words that have come before – it gives them more meaning and value, because you’re measuring them, and pausing to think about them. But it’s about the pause itself as well. I can picture meaning hanging in the air, floating just above our grasp, before it’s set down again and we can reach it. Apparently in Arabic and Syrian Aramaic, the word means “praise,” and specifically praise beyond expression or understanding. It’s a word to describe what can’t be described in words!!
Of course, I came to the word through The Ethiopians’ song The Selah. Because “selah” is also a word used by rastafarians. It gives weight and importance to the words that have come before, and it “seals them up.” I love the Ethiopians for their sweet voices and sweet melodies, and I love that I can’t always understand what they’re saying, which makes them mysterious and full of meaning. It’s funny how when the meaning is obscure or indefinable, it feels more like somebody is talking to you, or expressing your thoughts. Selah!
If you’re like us, and you’re having a hot patch of summer, all of your fruit is ripening faster than you can eat it. So you have some extra mushy bananas. Here’s a banana bread with tropical overtones for our tropical heat wave. It’s flavored with ginger, lime, and coconut. It’s very subtly sweet, and the ginger and lime add a little zing. Yes, it’s too hot to bake, but we’re baking anyway, because we can’t not!
Here’s The Ethiopians’ The Selah
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t ginger
zest of half a lime
2 very ripe bananas, smashed
1 cup flaked coconut
juice of half a lime
Preheat the oven to 375.
In a large bowl, beat the butter till soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat again. Beat in the egg. Add all of the dry ingredients, and mix till smooth and even.
Add the mashed banana, beat until smooth. Add the coconut and lime, beat again.
Pour into a buttered loaf pan.
Bake for about 40 – 45 minutes till golden brown on top, and it springs back when you press on it lightly.