A Mormon Maximalism

The Triumph of the Immaculate by Paolo de Matteis.

The Triumph of the Immaculate by
Paolo de Matteis.

I’ve been practicing a kind of Mormon maximalism for a long time now.

This impulse toward maximalism is itself religious in spirit.

More, the impulse is aesthetic. It’s driven by a kind of wild hunger for the feel (literally, the aesthesis) of words, facts, theories, things, and people.

I’m roaming the earth, eating everything in sight.

I’m stuffing myself like a frog because “frogs eat everything whole, stuffing prey into their mouths with their thumbs. People have seen frogs with their wide jaws so full of live dragonflies they couldn’t close them.”

That’s me. I look ridiculous. I eat everything whole. I stuff it all in. No chewing.

Plato, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Dogen, Tolstoy, Bruce R. McConkie, the Pratts, Jane Austen, Talmage, B.H. Roberts, Jacque Derrida, Joseph Fielding Smith, David Foster Wallace, Augustine, Genesis, Gilgamesh, the Buddha, Paul, Jewish mysticism, Boyd K. Packer, Knausgaard, Eliza R. Snow, Rumi, Emerson, Ira Glass, John Bytheway, primers on set theory, Darwin, etc., etc.

It all goes in. I keep it all. I refuse to sort my book shelves. Read it and stack it. One top of the other.

Grace for grace. From grace to grace. One grace on top of another. Graces piled so high on my desk they keep falling to the floor.

More, more!

Bigger, bigger!

Something’s starting to come into view.

I give up the idea of ever having a real day job. I slum it in academia. I take out student loans. I accept any job I’m offered. Now I just read and write and talk and write and teach and write incessantly. I write post after post, paper after paper, chapter after chapter, book after book.

(I’m told a guy in Iceland once read one of books. It doesn’t matter. Whatever. I’m in the middle of writing three more.)

More, more!

Bigger, bigger!


Gather it all. Put it all in one tent. God will sort it.

My Mormonism keeps getting bigger and bigger, fatter and fatter, weepier and weepier, jollier and jollier, smarter and smarter, fuzzier and fuzzier—everything all at once.

I go to church and take the sacrament and feel like I won’t be able to eat again for days.

I take a loaf of bread to a family I home teach and they send me home with three more.

This is me swallowing Mormonism whole. (My non-Mormon friends shake their heads: “He’ll believe anything!”)

This is Mormonism swallowing me and the earth and the sun itself.

We’re a church full of frogs, every one of us still and reverent in a pew, grinning from ear to ear, our mouths stuffed with so many live dragon flies we’ll never be able to eat them all.


Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (HarperPerennial, 1988), 6.

15 comments for “A Mormon Maximalism

  1. Clark Goble
    March 5, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    It sounds like a person unable to simply eat healthily so the swing radically between denialism wherein they partake only of meal replacement shakes until it becomes too much and they go on months of binging on fast food. It seems the middle ground of healthy eating and regular exercise is the way to go.

  2. Greg Call
    March 5, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Well I quoted from Donald Judd last time, so this post calls for the Austrian anarch-itect and artist, Hundertwasser:

    “The straight line is godless and immoral. The straight line is not a creative line, it is a duplicating line, an imitating line. In it, God and the human spirit are less at home than the comfort-craving brainless intoxicated and unformed masses.”
    “Now we have the smooth. Everything slips off smoothness. Even God falls down. FOR THE STRAIGHT LINE IS GODLESS. The straight line is the only uncreative line. The only line which does not correspond to man as the image of God. The straight line is a true tool of the devil. Whosoever uses it is aiding the downfall of mankind.”

  3. Joe
    March 5, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Reminds me of Rev. 3:15-16 – I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

  4. Medio
    March 5, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    Good luck on your journey. Maybe try moderation? Maybe you can be a maximalist of moderation? It seems that too much enthusiasm leads to a fall or neglect of something important.

  5. p
    March 5, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    “Now, boys, you won’t see this operation performed very often and there’s a reason for that… You see it has absolutely no medical value. No one knows what the purpose of it originally was or if it had a purpose at all. Personally I think it was a pure artistic creation from the beginning.”
    ? William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

  6. p
    March 5, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    “Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface … when brains and computers can interact directly, to take just one example, that’s it, that’s the end of history, that’s the end of biology as we know it. Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this. If life can basically break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, you cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences will be, because your imagination at present is organic. So if there is a point of Singularity, as it’s often referred to, by definition, we have no way of even starting to imagine what’s happening beyond that.” Yuval Noah Harari EDGE 3.4.15

  7. March 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Minimalism of conviction and maximalism of experiment are natural partners. The more new things one tries, the more convictions get shaken loose. The fewer things one really believes, the more frantically one searches for something one can believe.

    There must be a middle way.

  8. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper)
    March 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    …waits for the “A Mormon Moderation” post to drop…

  9. rameumptom
    March 6, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Wasn’t it Alexander Pope that warned about sipping from the waters of knowledge would only get you inebriated? One must drink deep from the waters to truly begin to understand.

  10. Josh Smith
    March 7, 2015 at 11:31 am

    “The fewer things one really believes, the more frantically one searches for something one can believe.”

    –James Anglin (7)

    Not really.

  11. March 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, really — for certain values of ‘one’.

    I’m sure not everyone who believes less searches frantically. I just mean that it’s easy to go that way. Maximalism and minimalism can reinforce each other well, and when they do, that’s how it works.

  12. Josh Smith
    March 8, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    That makes sense, James. Agreed.

  13. Leonard R
    March 9, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Now that you’ve combined this with your previous post on minimalism, they both sing. This one resonates more with my nature, while the other with acquired practise. And the Annie Dillard imagery – is there really a greater meditation than Tinker’s Creek?

  14. March 10, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Tasty stuff. Keep on gobbling.

  15. W
    August 26, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    “I’ll be stretching my mouth to let those big words come right out…”


    (Love your contributions, Adam, and I share the maximalist hungering and thirsting after meaning & poetry & righteousness…. just couldn’t resist poking a bit of fun.)

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