I conceived of The Mystery of Being in the spring of 2014 and wrote the first version that summer. The idea came to me in a flash. I didn’t see all the content, or even much of it, though I saw the beginning. But I knew I wanted to create a large open work on religious themes, with short sections that I might arrange and re-arrange over time. I had written essays on some of these subjects, but somehow wanted to start over. I wanted to begin at the beginning.
By that September I came to a place where I wanted to stop, or at least pause. Eventually ideas for other sections arrived, but I felt that initial version had a certain integrity and wanted to keep it intact. I had thought all along that this would be an ongoing work, and that I might add to and revise it for the rest of my life. My model—though it seems pretentious to say so—was Leaves of Grass, though Whitman wrote in poetry and I in prose, he was an enlightened genius and I am something far short of that. But the idea of having a central life’s work, one that you continue to revise until you die, had great appeal to me. On the subjects I was taking up, there were no final answers.
I therefore include the original version, the subsequent additions—with the newest ones up top—and the current version, including new sections and other small changes I might have made. I believe this piece stands as an introduction to all I have written on these subjects—including whole books—and also a condensation of it. Interested readers will find expanded versions of these incidents in my essays and books, also in pieces that I have published through the years in various places. If there’s variation in particular details—and I’m sure there is—that’s because the whole thing is a living work. I haven’t fact checked details, and no version of a story is more authentic than any other. They’re all a pack of lies.