Teaching to Transgress — In Silence

I don’t know if it’s what bell hooks had in mind when she wrote Teaching to Transgress, but Lauren Winner and I engaged in a bit of pedagogical usurpation at Fuller Seminary.  With no introduction other than saying that we were showing a film, we sat down after lunch on Friday and pushed play on Into Great Silence.

Filmed at the motherhouse of the Carthusian Order, Into Great Silence follows a group of monks who practice silence except for singing the daily office and a brief time of conversation on Sunday.  The film itself is an immersion experience into silence — it’s not what the unprepared viewer expects from a film.

Our class had varying reactions, from feelings of inner peace, to experiences of anger that lingered for a couple days afterward.  It was, ultimately, a galvanizing experience for the class and provoked a great deal of fruitful conversation.

My own experience of the film was an ultimately positive one.  At first, I battled the fidgets, then I battled sleepiness.  But by about the 40-minute mark, the film — which I had not previously seen — had drawn me in.  I was absorbed by it, and I didn’t look at my watch again, even as we approached the 3-hour mark.

It’s a great film that I highly recommend.  And I encourage you to really give yourself over to it if you watch it — allow this film to embrace you.

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  • Troy

    It is a wonderful film. Wonderful.

    And a it is also might function as an antidote to…no, not an antidote but a complement to Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers.

  • hi from the Netherlands!

    it truly is a wonderful film and i would advise it to anyone.
    even more: i would recommend anyone to spend a few days in a contemplative monastry at least once in your lifetime. i don’t know how it is in the USA, but here in Europe there are plenty of monastry’s where you can easily stay as a guest for a few days. it is great (if you can stand a litte loneliness)…



  • If you like (or are simply intrigued by the description above), be sure to check out what is arguably, in essence, the book version: “An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order” by Nancy Klein Maguire. It reads like Survivor: The Monastery Version http://amzn.to/lVjAYo.

  • The anger reaction to being plunged naked into a deep experience is really interesting. I’ve seen it on occasion when I’ve enacted a similarly usurping moment.

    Any thoughts on how to deal with those reactions afterward? I tend to try to deal with it by talking about my own experience and welcoming the others to be honest about their own and avoiding comments on a “correct” reaction. Just wondering if there is a way I can better engage with the negative reactions.

  • I couldn’t finish it. It disturbed me. In a good way, but really really disturbed me. I loved the scenes of the Novice struggling to learn the ways of the monastery contrasted with the ease the more senior monks did the same tasks. It was a humble reminder that simple is not easy.

  • the holly

    just used this with a spiritual formation course last term. excellent. love the bell hooks tag, too. 🙂

  • John Edmond

    Most serious documentaries take a couple of cups of coffee to get through them. It is great film work in getting access and recording. But there is no story structure or event captured designed to give you a religious experience on the part of the film makers.

  • James

    Thank you for the film recomendation. I just put it in my instant que on netflix.

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