Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. Then they said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings." - Revelation 10:8-11
The bold, ancient Revelation to John repeats the even more ancient vision of Ezekiel. Take in the Living Word of God. Consume the Word with your body as well as with your mind and heart and spirit. Take it all in, with this warning: you will be changed.
The Word will go down easily, sweet in your mouth. It will then burn and pierce. Like the agony of restoring a dislocated joint: the Word will reveal the depth of your soul's injury. Like the sourness of a broken relationship: the Word will describe the end of the dream of love. Like the earth, screaming in the form of climate chaos: the Word will point to the consequences of exploitation instead of reverence.
Is it simple coincidence that as I read and ponder this scripture I am also reading Kristin Ohlson's The Soil Will Save Us? Perhaps not. The bitterness she describes is in the land, used without understanding: its extraordinary, complex microbial life devastated by humanity. We have ploughed, paved, and depleted the soil. Earth responds with terrible devastations: an awful prophecy of overuse and abuse.
Those digging deep, looking carefully, listening quietly, have witnessed the deadly human uses of earth — and also its extraordinary ability to heal. When God's creation is revered (think of no-till farming; of massive composting; of vast new expanses of photosynthesizing plants), the soil has the capacity to heal creation. Which means that the earth, also, is God's prophet, bearing God's Word.
Living Word, you speak and we tremble. You sing and we are renewed. You offer your very self to us, so that our own selves may find healing and hope. Give us courage today to take the bitterness; give us promise today of the sweetness that is ours, with you. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.