Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Celebrant's Flame: Daniel Berrigan in Memory and Reflection (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2021), 188pp.
In this collection of essays and reflections, Bill Wylie-Kellermann remembers the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan (1921–2016) from twelve different but related aspects of his vocation: biography, teacher, brother to Phil Berrigan, priest, poet, prisoner, prophet, advocate of nonviolence, friend to William Stringfellow (1928–1985), contemplative, and inspiration. Most of all, and what makes the book special, is how Wylie-Kellermann recounts how his own forty-year-friendship with Berrigan changed his life.
Berrigan showed what it meant to be biblically radical or radically biblical (12). To take just one example, consider this favorite passage from his meditation on 1-2 Kings, The Kings and Their Gods (2008): "One must urge (to his own soul first) a firm rebutting midrash; bring Christ to bear. Read the gospel closely, obediently. Welcome no enticements, no other claim on conscience. Mourn the preachers and priests whose silence and collusion signal plain revolt against the gospel. Enter the maelstrom, the wilderness; flee the claim that would possess your soul. Earn the blessing; pay up. Blessed — and lonely and powerless and intent on the Master — and, if must be, despised, scorned, locked up — blessed are the makers of peace." Berrigan always reminds me of what the British literary critic Frank Kermode called the "rhetoric of excess" that we find everywhere in the gospels.
Wylie-Kellermann admits that his book is deeply personal, and to his credit he makes no pretense of objectivity. He knows that with Berrigan hagiography and personal aggrandizement are genuine temptations (2). As Kateri Boucher observes on the last page of the book, we're not called to blindly accept Berrigan, but to engage him in a critical way for our own personal time and place. We can resonate with Berrigan's questions, but we need to discover our own answers (173). So, we are still waiting for a critical biography of Berrigan that is, in fact, as objective and disinterested as might be possible.
For more on this, see my reviews of Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, selected and with an introduction by John Dear (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009), 285pp. Daniel Berrigan, edited by John Dear and with an introduction by Ross Labrie, And the Risen Bread; Selected Poems, 1957–1997 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998), 417pp. Daniel Berrigan, The Kings and Their Gods; The Pathology of Power (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 202pp. Daniel Berrigan, No Gods But One (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 184pp. Jim Forest, At Play in the Lion's Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2017), 336pp. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, editor, William Stringfellow, Essential Writings (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2013), 234pp.
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