The Excitator

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 15, 2006 |

On Monday I heard a story on NPR about the monks of the Carthusian order. A guy I went to law school with used to tell a corny story about a few years he spent as a monk in Colorado in a beautiful monastery filled with marble floors and golden fixtures where he dined on lavish meals and quaffed mightily from the monastery's own store of homemade wine and brew. "If this is poverty," he claims to have said. "Bring on chastity!"

Well, that was obviously not a Carthusian monastery. The Carthusians all live silent, solitary lives in their cells and have very little contact with their fellow monks. They do sometimes eat together, but don't talk. When they do talk, they only speak in Latin. They always wear heavy cowls and uncomfortable hairshirts. These guys pray. All day long.

So they spend their days in solitude, retire for bed at about 6:30 p.m., and are roused from their sleep at midnight to participate in the matins and lauds in the chapel, where for two or more hours they will do some late-night chanting. How does a monk who is not allowed to have a watch or an alarm clock get out of bed every night at midnight? Well one particularly responsible monk is allowed to keep a wind-up alarm clock, which he sets for midnight every night. Then he goes around from cell to cell, and rings a big-ass bell that hangs above every monk's head while he is sleeping. The roused monk must then rap his hand on a board to acknowledge that he is awake, then throws on his robes and hauls ass to the chapel. This very responsible monk is known as the excitator (Latin: "one who rouses"). He returns at 5:30 in the morning to wake them for their days.

Well, after two weeks on the road with Juniper, our trusty little excitator (who has woken up every ten minutes at night for the last five days) I think Wood and I both would gladly sign ourselves over to the cruelest Abbot of the cruelest Carthusian Charterhouse just so we could get some fucking sleep.