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.