In Paris, in 1778, a priest knelt at the bedside of Francoise-Marie Arouet; Monsieur Arouet did not hold with the teachings of the Catholic church, and he was remarkably outspoken. When asked by the priest to recant, M. Arouet replied, this is no time to be making new enemies.

He was quite a polarizing figure, in his day. A prolific writer who held opinions he didn’t hesitate to share. No “six of one, half a dozen of the other”, for Monsieur Arouet. No “comme ci, comme ca.” You know M. Arouet, perhaps, by his pen name: Voltaire. He also famously said, if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

God walks with you, if you believe, you speak to Him when you pray. If you don’t believe, then God is an invention, like a child’s imaginary friend.

Children invent invisible playmates for reasons which are multiple and complex, and not unlike the answers we seek when we turn our faces to the sky.

My mother smiles when she recounts the tale of my imaginary childhood friend. Don’t sit there—that’s Mr. Dragon’s chair, she says that I exclaimed, and apparently Mr. Dragon was accommodated at our table; if I had milk and cookies, Mr. Dragon had milk and cookies. If I had a slice of pie, Mr. Dragon, also, had pie.

Together he and I moved unsuspecting supper guests around like so many chess pieces, it seems. I take my mother at her word, and her dragon tales on faith. For all I know it was simply a ploy, a clever way of wrangling extra pie. I have no actual memory of Mr. Dragon.

All that not withstanding, I say with some pride, of my mother and of myself, that we are clear-eyed thinkers. The way we see it, God is an invention. God is like Mr. Dragon.

My Aunt Margaret, on the other hand, is a woman of deep faith. My mother’s sister believes in God. She believes in Jesus Christ.

At Christmas, we went to Aunt Margaret’s house. It was a beautiful, starry night, and we had a feast with all the trimmings. There were hello kisses, goodbye hugs, and gifts beneath the tree. But not the words we usually say so close to the end of the year.

Aunt Margaret is very ill. She has pancreatic cancer. But she believes in God, and belief gives her strength. Margaret is as certain of the Almighty as I was sure some slow-witted adult would squish my dragon without thinking twice.

I’m as likely to find faith as Voltaire was to recant. That I will come to believe is as likely as that Margaret will leave the church. To me it’s only a clever way of wrangling gifts from the sky.

But I believe it when the telephone rings. I believe in the knock on the door. I believe in what eats and drinks, and has a chair and sits at the table. Invisible, sometimes it speaks, and it says things like, how little…

I believe that six of one is very much like half a dozen; I believe I’d give up dragon eggs of solid gold, sometimes, for faith like Margaret has.

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