Today’s readings from the psalms and oracles of the prophets serve as a soundtrack, as it were, for us as we have been considering the beginnings of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, recorded in Genesis. It’s not hard to recognize the same soundtrack plays as a backdrop for our own lives as we grow into our identity as God’s child. In fact, I believe that is why the psalms and oracles are so prevalent in The Liturgy of the Church, the words unite our spirit with the Spirit of God’s voice throughout the ages.
There is a certain word that is often sung or implied as a theme and by heeding it I may receive the LORD’s help as I walk the path of salvation. The word acts as a pop-up reminder to us to remember who we are and to whom we belong as we tread our own way through the high and low places of our journey of salvation. Consider this paraphrase of Psalm 46.
God is [my] refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Therefore [I] will not fear …… Selah
…God is in [my] midst; [I] shall not be moved;
God will help …. Selah
….“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”…. Selah
The words of the psalmist convey the ever-present help of the LORD to us as the way to mindfulness of the LORD’s quiet presence to us. The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, its presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth. Within this particular psalm, there is the implication of the “if/then” of the fullness of God’s Covenant with us. He calls the people to “Be still and know that I am God,” to consider what the LORD in his mercy is trying to teach us as we live out our salvation: If you will remain silent, listen and linger with me, then you will know I am your fortress; I will be your salvation! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet in practice, it can take a colossal effort to remain silent. I am sometimes tempted to rely on my own judgment to quickly plow through the interruptions of life or become so enamored by the shiny parts of life that I’m distracted from the reality of the LORD’s Covenant with me.
We see this evidenced in what we’ve been reading about the history of God’s people; how fear and pride dogged their path, how they allowed the so-called gods of the culture around them to lose sight of the LORD’s Covenant. Eventually, fatigue from their striving to fit in with the culture wears them down. What I have observed in my own life is that if fear and pride don’t drive me to my knees before the LORD, fatigue certainly will. I need “Selah” for I weary of the tug of war between my own will and the LORD’s will…..that’s just like him, isn’t it? He allows us to come to the end of ourselves where we finally cease striving. It’s as if the LORD says, “Lois, I finally have you where I need you…..now, let’s consider how you are striving to achieve and acquire what comes from Me alone.”
Two other passages from the psalms and the prophet are included in the Liturgy today that draws our spirit into a “Selah”. From Isaiah 30:15, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.” And again in Psalm 124 we can imagine the psalmist seated on a mountainside of the rugged terrain of Israel. As he sits there, he is pondering all the “what ifs” of life and remembers the faithfulness of the LORD as his rock and refuge. In that “Selah” a song formulates in his mind and he begins to sing,
If it had not been the Lord who was on my side
when people rose up against me,
then they would have swallowed me up alive,
when their anger was kindled against me;
then the flood would have swept me away,
the torrent would have gone over me;
then over me would have gone
the raging waters.”
Friend, are there “what ifs” in your life? Do you sit still before the LORD as you ponder them?…. Selah
Have you come through a time of celebration and are left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude?… Selah
Were you following a path set before you when circumstances went sideways for you? …Selah
Has someone you trusted betrayed you? ….Selah
Has the pandemic brought about a financial reversal in your life?… Selah
Do you tend to focus on what the LORD hasn’t done for you?… Selah
When you scurry after pleasures that are passing, do you…Selah?
The joy of our salvation comes through our own willingness to Selah; to be still and know that the LORD is forever faithful and true. Only He can truly satisfy.
LORD God, remind us that nothing is new under the sun. You never change and your responses to our own choices are the same as they were to our ancestors in the faith. LORD, you are faithful and true even when we are not. Slow us down, train us to embrace “Selah” in our posture before you.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen