Paul Greenberg

Psst, pass it on. Tell the other slaves: We leave Egypt tonight.

Walker Percy called it the search. Or at least his alter ego in "The Moviegoer" did. Outwardly, John Bickerson Bolling, or Binx to his friends, was just another stockbroker. Inwardly, he was a vacuum. Strangely enough, he was aware of it at certain moments. It was at those moments that he became real. As he explained it:

"What is the nature of the search, you ask. ... The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn't miss a trick. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair."

When it comes to explaining the nature of faith and despair, I think ol' Binx has it all over old Kierkegaard with his "Fear and Trembling." Like some other fictional characters, Binx is more alive than the rest of us most of the time. That's because he's in on the search.

Binx would understand why tonight is different from all other nights. Tonight, the first night of Passover, we quit Egypt. Not "as if" it were the first time, but for the first time. That is what ritual accomplishes when rightly performed, that is, not as just ritual. All things become new. We are newborn. As in the search.

The search breaks the tyranny of time. It takes us into the Ever Present, doing away with past and future. It shatters what Binx called everydayness. Binx had a name for being so sunk in everydayness that we're unaware of it. Kierkegaard called it despair. Binx called it the malaise. The search clears away the malaise. And we awaken.

This is what living ritual, before it has become stale custom, does. It sets us free. Tonight is the watchnight, the night every enslaved people waits for. Soon it will be the full moon. It is the 14th of Nissan, Juneteenth, the start of the search.

Binx was in on the search only intermittently, when something would catch his eye, when some piece of flotsam in the murky tide of the everyday would start him off. Some clue. Then he would awaken.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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