Father Emmett Jarrett of Saint Francis House in New London CT died on Saturday. Emmett was an inveterate spiritual and political radical, an advocate for the homeless and for nonviolence, and a warm, intense man who believed what he said in this video: “God is the power of the people.” Liberal secularists and Christian conservatives alike will dissent from Emmett’s vision, but Emmett didn’t just say it, he lived it; there haven’t been many like him. In the 1960’s and early ’70’s, before his religious conversion and ordination and his launching of what he called “intentional Christian community” in New London — a direction in which I didn’t follow him — Emmett was my teacher in poetry, close reading, writing, and the relationship between radical (then countercultural) politics and visionary experience. I first learned Blake from him, for which alone I’m grateful, but he also took special care of my early efforts in writing, very much including the expository, with a keen eye for weak structure and usage and encouragement for sounding like oneself, and for a natural flow between criticism and creativity. And he knew history and brought it alive, connecting it directly to literature. I was lucky to know him when I did, and I’m glad now I sent him The Whiskey Rebellion when it came out — exploring the evangelical communalism of some of the Rebellion’s antecedents had made me think of him again, with gratitude — and to have had a chance to see him, in ’06, after many years out of touch, when I had lunch with him and his wife Anne, with whom he co-founded St. Francis House. He just really seemed great that day, and tireless, and right where he should be.
“And was Jerusalem builded here,/Among those dark Satanic mills?”
You can find more about Emmett’s work here.