Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve: A Cool Conservation Story with Theological Resonances

In a recent newsletter, Texas Parks & Wildlife shared this short film about David Bamberger and the Selah Bamberger Ranch Preserve, located on 5,500 acres in the Texas hill country. Bamberger acquired the property with money he made from the sale of Church’s Fried Chicken. NPR did an All Things Considered segment on Bamberger’s conservation efforts in 2010. Texas Country Reporter also did a report on Bamberger around that time, featuring his chiroptorium, or bat-cave.

Two things caught my ear in the video above. First, Bamberger’s explantion of the meaning of the term “selah.” Second that the voice asking Bamberger to define the word belonged to a child.

Bamberger says that “selah” means “to stop, to pause, to look around you and reflect on everything you see.” He mentions he learned the word from the Psalms. It is a Hebrew term. It occurs over seventy times in the Bible, mostly in Psalms. Some have interpreted this term to signify a musical rest, a call for silence, a division, or a notation for “end,” i.e. the close of section or stanza. During my seminary studies, I was taught that the precise meaning of the term had been lost, though it was thought to be Hebrew musical nomenclature. My best guess was and still is “pause” or “rest.” When I come across this term in the Psalms, I slow down.

Bamberger’s definition goes one step beyond the term itself. But it does not go beyond the Psalms. Psalm 8 and Psalm 19 are reflections on what is seen in the created order. Psalm 24:1-2 declares that all of creation is God’s making and possession. Psalm 65 contains beautiful poetic language telling of the Lord’s nurturing of plants and livestock. Psalm 95:3-5 describes the world as having been fashioned by and now held in God’s hand.

Psalm 96 describes the creation’s rejoicing at the Lord’s coming to rule, reign over, and judge the earth. While most have a negative connotation when thinking of God’s judgement, here it is anything but. Rather, with God in charge, the creation rejoices because everything will once again be right.

Beyond the Psalms, the Bible tells a story connecting stewardship and sustainability to piety and pursuing justice. When the people of Israel are in right, faithful covenant relationship to God, it is not only the nation that flourishes, but the land. The people prosper, but crops and livestock also thrive. And God is glorified, because there is life, an abundance of life. The world teems with it, as it did when God spoke the world into being, and as the earth was intended to do under the diligent care of God’s image-bearers, God’s representatives.

Bamberger’s life appears to give witness to this link, testified to in Scripture. His conservation efforts seem to have led to a kind of priestly service as a healer of the land, as well as a person who works toward reconciliation in the relationship between people and the world God has made.