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Be Still

Psalm 46: 4-5
NRSV: Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
Message: River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city, this sacred haunt of the Most High. God lives here, the streets are safe, God at your service from crack of dawn.
JPS: Selah. There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holy dwelling-place of the Most High. God is in its midst, it will not be toppled; by daybreak God will come to its aid.

With “Selah,” the verse shifts to a peaceful scene. Selah is an ancient term, thought to be a pause in the sung psalm, in which the music continues but the words pause briefly (www.BlueLetterBible.com). This pause allows a shift from the terrifying chaos of verses 2 and 3 to the calming scene with flowing river and God’s presence in verses 4 and 5. This city, “the holy habitation of God Most High, is Jerusalem and would represent, to the people who first heard the psalm, Zion. [Zion represents King Davids’s city (1 kings 8:1), then Jerusalem (Psalm 87:2), itself and also God’s chosen Israel (Psalm 87:5). For Christians, it is the heavenly city in Rev 14:1 at the end of time.] It is a powerful symbol of a safe place, the refuge the psalmist seeks.

“Selah” plays a crucial role in allowing this shift from danger to safety, from chaos to calm. We need “Selahs” in our lives, especially when we our minds are roaring, our guts are in tumult, our hearts are melting. How can we experience this shift from uproar to peace in God’s presence? We must seek refuge.

A powerful tool is Ignatian lectio divina, a contemplative and prayerful method of reading scripture. “Contemplation” is the word Ignatius used to describe a type of prayer that can increase intimacy with the Lord. He invites us to “enter the scene,” using all our imaginative senses, and let it reveal God to us. Slowly read Psalm 46:1-4 (in any translation.). Allow yourself to be standing in the midst of this psalm’s chaos. Be aware of what you see, smell, hear, taste. Notice the action around you. Notice the feelings you or thoughts you have. Where are you drawn or pushed away? Where is God? Stay with your experience longer than you think you need to. Allow God to speak to you through this experience. Ask God how this relates to your life today. God promises to be with us and to help us, but God doesn’t always rescue us from trouble. We must pause and seek God’s presence in the midst of trouble.