The words in my title come from a little online meditation piece I read from one of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan who founded and runs a Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. I have been reading Rohr for a long time and still use a couple of his books in my classes. He is a Catholic who has taught this Quaker a great deal over time.
Rohr always has a fresh way of putting things, even if I have thought about those things in my own way. He makes me twist my head---symbolic of twisting my mind---and pondering something in a different way. In a way the title of this little piece is evidence of that. I never thought about God as a Divine Ambusher! I don’t know that I would find that image for God in the Christian Bible, but I think the sense of the way God sometimes acts resonates with the title. Let’s look at how Rohr puts it.
Rohr draws in the reader with the following words. “I wonder if the only way that conversion, enlightenment, and transformation ever happen is by a kind of divine ambush. We have to be caught off guard. As long as you are in control, you are going to keep trying to steer the ship by your previous experience of being in charge. The only way you will let yourself be ambushed is by trusting the “Ambusher,” and learning to trust that the darkness of intimacy will lead to depth, safety, freedom, and love.” There is so much in this passage, but a few points jump out at me. So let’s look at a couple.
It is clear to me that the main point of this passage is not actually God. It is the need or desire of humans for some kind of conversion, enlightenment or transformation. I appreciate the three options Rohr provides to articulate this human desire for more out of life---for a way out of or beyond our ordinariness. Most of us do not think we can do it ourselves. We need a kind of conversion. This is not my favorite word. For me it suggests some kind of revival service and altar calls. I am not against those. But they have not been the paths of my experience.
The language of enlightenment is ok for me personally, although I associate it more with Buddhism than my own Quaker or Christian tradition. To me it also feels pretty mental. It is like a religious “Ah-ha,” which again has not been my own experience. The language of transformation speaks most clearly to my own experience. Transformation means I am led from where I normally am to a new spiritual place and way of being. And I know I cannot do it on my own.
I love the terminology Rohr uses. For transformation I need to be ambushed by the Divinity! I have to be caught off guard. Without realizing I am sure I am on guard most of the time. I am cautious of the abnormal and the unusual. And that is precisely where the Divine Ambusher lurks. As Rohr so adroitly says, when I am in control, I am unlikely to be transformed. If I stay in control, then I am steering my own ship. It is not a bad thing; however, it is not usually a very spiritual thing.
Rohr suggests that we learn to trust the Divine Ambusher. That is a tricky thing for me---and perhaps for most of us. Trust is the alternative to control. I learned a long time ago that if we could control something, then you don’t have to trust. I also learned that I could not control God. Perhaps I could control myself, but that probably is an illusion. So I began to learn to trust. In spiritual terms trust is usually called faith. So I think Rohr is actually talking about faith.
He talks about trust/faith in two ways. In the first place there is trust in God---the Ambusher, as he calls God. And secondly, Rohr says that we also learn to trust the darkness of intimacy. That phrase fascinates me. But it should not surprise me. Much of who God is, I am convinced, is mystery. One way to talk about mystery is to talk about darkness rather than light. At the experiential level, we can experience the Divinity, even if we cannot see God. This is what Rohr is describing.
Why would we want to trust the darkness of intimacy? Rohr is clear. We trust it in order to be led to depth, safety, freedom and love. When I look at these four elements---depth, safety, freedom, love---I see profundity and not superficiality. This is the place I would like to go on my own, but it likely is impossible. In my guarded condition, I am not able to go deep, be ultimately safe, be free and discover authentic love.
I must give up control to experience life at this spiritual level. I have to trust the Divine Ambusher and the intimacy that God provides in order to be led to this wonderful place. Notice that Rohr says we are led; we don’t walk there ourselves. On our own we will never be able to find or create this kind of life for ourselves. Only God knows that deep place and only God can take us there. Our choice is to be willing to be ambushed…or stay in control.