Dick started the journal after his visionary experiences in February and March 1974, which he called "2-3-74." These visions began shortly after Dick had impacted wisdom teeth removed. When a deliveryperson from the pharmacy brought his pain medication, he noticed the ichthys necklace she wore and asked her what it meant. She responded that it was a symbol used by the early Christians, and in that moment Dick's religious experiences began:
In that instant, as I stared at the gleaming fish sign and heard her words, I suddenly experienced what I later learned is called anamnesis—a Greek word meaning, literally, "loss of forgetfulness." I remembered who I was and where I was. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it all came back to me. And not only could I remember it but I could see it. The girl was a secret Christian and so was I. We lived in fear of detection by the Romans. We had to communicate with cryptic signs. She had just told me all this, and it was true.
For a short time, as hard as this is to believe or explain, I saw fading into view the black, prisonlike contours of hateful Rome. But, of much more importance, I remembered Jesus, who had just recently been with us, and had gone temporarily away, and would very soon return. My emotion was one of joy. We were secretly preparing to welcome Him back. It would not be long. And the Romans did not know. They thought He was dead, forever dead. That was our great secret, our joyous knowledge. Despite all appearances, Christ was going to return, and our delight and anticipation were boundless.
In the following weeks, Dick experienced further visions, including a hallucinatory slideshow of abstract patterns and an information-rich beam of pink light. In the Exegesis, he theorized as to the origins and meaning of these experiences, frequently concluding that they were religious in nature. The being that originated the experiences is referred to by several names, including Zebra, God, and the Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS). From 1974 until his death in 1982, Dick wrote the Exegesis by hand in late-night writing sessions, sometimes composing as many as 150 pages in a sitting. In total, it consists of approximately 8,000 pages of notes, only a small portion of which have been published.
Besides the Exegesis, Dick described his visions and faith in numerous other works, including VALIS, Radio Free Albemuth, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, one brief passage in A Scanner Darkly, and the uncompleted The Owl in Daylight, as well as many essays and personal letters.
In Pursuit of Valis: Selections From the Exegesis was published in 1991.
"God manifested himself to me as the infinite void; but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven, with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was loving and kind and he had personality. He said, 'You suffer a little now in life, it is little compared with the great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in my theodicy would allow you to suffer greatly in proportion to your reward?' He made me aware, then, of the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet. He said, 'I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am. Construct lines of reasoning by which to understand your experience in 1974. I will enter the field against their shifting nature. You think they are logical but they are not; they are infinitely creative.'
"I thought a thought and then an infinite regression of theses and countertheses came into being. God said, 'Here I am, here is infinity.' I thought another explanation; again an infinite series of thoughts split off in a dialectical antithetical interaction. God said, 'Here is infinity; here I am.' I thought, then, an infinite number of explanations, in succession, that explained 2-3-74; each single one of them yielded up an infinite progression of flipflops, of thesis and antithesis, forever. Each time, God said 'Here is infinity. Here, then, I am.' I tried for an infinite number of times; each time and infinite regress was set off and each time God said, 'Infinity. Hence I am here.' Then he said, 'Every thought leads to infinity, does it not? Find one that doesn’t.' I tried forever. All led to an infinitude of regress, of the dialectic, of thesis, antithesis and new synthesis. Each time, God said 'Here is infinity; here am I. Try again.' I tried forever. Always it ended with God saying, 'Infinity and myself, I am here.'" (November 17, 1980)
"I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or exploration. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus of writing is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an investigation & presentation, analysis & response & personal history. My audience will always be limited to those people." (1980)
"The architect of our world, to help us, came here as our servant, disguised, to toil for us. We have seen him many times but no [one] recognized him; maybe he is ugly in appearance, but with a good heart. Perhaps sometimes when he comes here he has forgotten his own origin, his godly power; he toils for us unaware of his true nature and what he could do to us if he remembered. For one thing, if we realized that this crippled, misshapen thing was our creator, we would be disappointed. Would reject and despise him. Out of courtesy to us he hides his identity from us while here.
"One can see from this that that which we kick off to one side of the road, out of the way, which feels the toe of our boot—-that may well be our God, albeit unprotesting, only showing pain in his eyes, that old, old pain which he knows so well. I notice, though, that although we kick him off to one side in pain, we do let him toil for us; we accept that. We accept his work, his offerings, his help; but him we kick away. He could reveal himself, but he would then spoil our illusion of a beautiful god. But he doesn’t look evil like Satan; just homely. Unworthy. Also, although he has vast creative and building power, and judgment, he is not clever. He is not a bright god. Often he is too dumb to know when he’s being teased or insulted; it takes physical pain, rather than mere scorn, to register.
"Ugly like this, despised and teased and tormented and finally put to death, he returned shining and transfigured; our Savior, Jesus Christ (before him Ikhnaton, Zoroaster, etc; Hefestus). When He returned we saw Him as he really is—-that is, not by surface appearance. His radiance, his essence, like Light. The God of Light wears a humble and plain shell here (like a metamorphosis of some humble toiling beetle).