Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah. – Psalm 52:1-3 (NRSV)
Sometimes I burn with righteous rage. My mouth sparks off, fingers aflame on the keyboard, caustic creativity at its peak as I unleash every curse and curse word. Like Jeremiah, I shout “violence and destruction,” and I can’t hold back the fire in my bones.
Trouble is, that fire burns hot. And it burns fast. And it burns me out. I forget to pause, and I need to pause. I think the psalmist knew this, too.
Psalm 52 has a rage-rant motif set to music. It opens burning hot from the start, shaming those in power as devious, duplicitous, evil liars. I’m pretty sure I wrote a number of those songs in my teen punk years. But the psalmist adds an important note: Selah.
Selah is a musical notation whose original meaning is lost to time. However, we can think of it as a rest, a call to pause, like for wind players to take a breath. Or for rage-ranters like me to take a breath or lift my hands from the keyboard. The Amplified Bible translates selah as “Pause, and calmly think of that!” Sit with it, discern your response. Let your fire cool a couple degrees. Or maybe don’t.
In the Psalms, selah sometimes shifts the tone, but it also refocuses and reinvigorates. The breath of selah can be a bellows for the fire.
Our righteous rage fires have plenty of fuel. Pause, and give them some air.
Selah, selah, selah. Amen.
Chris Mereschuk is an Unsettled Pastor in the Southern New England Conference with a call to transitional ministry.