Personal Writing

In conflict with faith

This post is part of a larger piece of writing I am working on, but I think/hope there is enough context to make sense as a stand alone piece.

The older I get, the more I realize I live somewhere in the netherworld between faith and doubt, between spiritual and pragmatic, between traditional Christian beliefs and Transcendentalist-meets-Pagan-meets-Mystic-meets-Humanist-meets-Physics-meets-…

I was raised to be a good United Methodist—I had years of perfect Sunday school attendance pins to prove it—that little gold badge and ladder of bars for the ensuing years lived in the bottom of an old jewelry box I had for ages. My son and I religiously (ha ha!) attended church; I taught Sunday School for years. I know and love the hymnal, starting right out on page one with “O, For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” (admittedly, I don’t know all 4,000,000 verses, but I doubt if even Charles Wesley, the author of said verse, could repeat them all. Man, that guy had time on his hands and a full well of ink!) and working through the church seasons.

But I don’t go to church anymore, and I certainly can’t be a member of any United Methodist church. The minute Christians started to endorse the current man in the White House, I stepped away. *And the second the vote barring GLBTQ members from serving as ministers or getting married in the church was issued this past summer, I sealed the door and don’t intend to look back. So much for “What would Jesus do?”

But let’s not get started on that, shall we?

I have no qualms with Jesus. I believe, kind of but in a much more amorphous way, in Jesus. I believe, kind of but in a much more amorphous way, in God, although it’s hard not to have some qualms with God.

Mostly, I don’t believe in organized religion, but it’s hard to shake the stuff from your childhood. And in my case, it’s impossible to shake a very real experience I had in the early morning hours of January 13, 1996:

January 12, 1996, I closed the little coffee shop I worked at 3-4 nights a week. I had had a doctor’s appointment on the 11th, and everything looked great for seven month and three and a half weeks. I hadn’t put on enough weight, but as far as I was concerned, that was a win, too.

I’ve always credited God with giving me a fabulous physical pregnancy since the emotional toll was quite enough, thank you very much. If I had been in despair AND really fat, that just would have been more than I could bear.

I got home around 11:30 pm from work and was not at all tired. My work friend Mindy and I had dutifully cleaned up the shop in a record six times of “Linus and Lucy” from Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas CD.

I called Lester (best friend from college if you haven’t read anything else about her—not her real name, obviously, but absolutely what I still call her). We talked about everything and nothing for a long time.

I went to bed around 1:30.

Aside: I like to be in bed by 9 on a typical night, so I suppose I should have known something wasn’t quite “regular.”

At 3:24 I woke up to a warm flow of liquid coming from…me!

I had to get my bearings and realize I hadn’t wet the bed (that was a relief, I guess). It’s probably not necessary to remind anyone, but my understanding of the female body was sketchy at best. I did remember hearing about water breaking at a doctor’s appointment. That was clearly what was happening.

I had an old lamp that had been my mother’s when she was growing up, and it had been on the fritz for a number of years. It turned on…some of the time…but almost never without a lot of jostling and some gentle banging to kind of trick it into lighting up.

Very safe. No fire threat here, folks.

That night was no different.

The light was on the nightstand on the left side of my bed. I turned it on and off to no avail. I scanned across the bed to the windows on the right side of me to see if there was enough moonlight to dial the phone by.

Aside: For all these months, I had been saying over and over to God, “You can’t send me one of those little, insipid ‘still, small voice’ miracles. I’m hysterical in my head, and there’s no way I’ll hear that. I need a big, BIG miracle. Something that hits me like a brick wall.”

I don’t remember the amount of moonlight, but my heart was racing, and I was breathing hard and fast. I began the scan back from the right to the left of my bed when my eyes landed on what I can only tell you was a bona fide angel.

The golden, glowing light was sitting on the edge of my bed, facing the window. It wasn’t male or female; it was more like a warm presence in a vague human-like form. I stopped to look at it, and in that moment, my heart and my breathing slowed to normal. Time stood still, and I went from terrified to completely and utterly calm.

The presence turned toward me, slowly and deliberately. **In a gentle, still small voice, it said, “Here’s your answer, Dayna.”

I blinked. I blinked again. I slowly reached across and turned on my bedside light, which illuminated like it had never had an issue.

I called my mother and step dad, and they came to take me to the hospital where, 11 hours later, Quinn John Del Val made his presence known to us all.

So maybe you can understand why I can’t completely throw off the faith I grew up with. I guess someone could say that my imagination manifested what I most wanted and that there was no presence there but simply my mind giving me permission to accept that I was about to become a mother. I wouldn’t fight you over it; but I also absolutely couldn’t be convinced that it was anything other than an angel.

I think today I come down on the side of the fact that many faiths have angels, and all spiritual practices have visions or guides or elements that exist in a different realm. I don’t think an angel came to me because I was Methodist or Christian; I think an angel came to me because I needed a physical presence. I needed something to define the moment and to help me transition from one stage to the next. But I also think an angel came to me because I asked for help and guidance from something bigger than myself.

I love this story. It’s as moving to me today as it was in the moment, when, even in my terror at what was coming, I understood that something sacred was occurring. I love it because it ushers in a lifetime of having been blessed, and I don’t mean that in the “I’m so blessed, y’all!” kind of way I have heard Southern Evangelicals toss out. I mean that in the “life has been sometimes hard and sometimes joyful and often uncertain but almost always hopeful and mostly way more good than I could have possibly dreamt it would be” kind of way.

Here’s what I believe: I don’t need to go to church; I don’t need to be a Christian. I don’t need to have a clearly defined understanding of God or even believe that it is GOD that drives the blessings and the curses, the good and the bad to live a spiritual life. I think somewhere in the middle of my uncertainty, my searching and my faith mish-mash journey exists what I believe, who I am trying to be and the goodness I attempt to impart, and it doesn’t need to be defined. It’s bigger than I can understand, so I’m ok with just letting it be what it is as I experience it.

Here’s what I don’t believe: I don’t believe God needs me to believe in an old white man with a long flowing beard who sits somewhere out in the Universe, patiently, and often impatiently, waiting for humans to screw up, to love him the most, to kill others in his name. I don’t believe that people who aren’t Christians don’t get in to Heaven; I don’t even know what exactly I think about Heaven. I don’t believe that organized religion has done more good than bad in the course of human history.

I guess I don’t actually have any conflict with faith; I have conflict with those who want to tell me what I must have faith in or what faith must look like. My angel was real for me in that moment, and I will be forever grateful for and in awe of it. But that angel didn’t come because I was a United Methodist Sunday School teacher and church goer. That angel came because I needed it, and the Universe and God and my mind and all those who have gone on before me provided it. And that feels like the ultimate blessing to me.

*I do want to recognize that many Methodists around the globe, and particularly in America, feel the way I do and were sick over this vote and are working to find a way to split from the fuller body of United Methodists—I champion that move.

**Do you suppose the Universe laughed that I demanded no still small voice, and that is exactly what it sent? That tiny, quiet moment was all the brick wall I needed.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.