Guest Post by Brent Orrell
Signs of Love is a translation of a book by Father Renzo Bonetti, a Roman Catholic priest who lives near Verona in northern Italy. Originally published as The Liturgy of the Family, Signs of Love is an extended meditation on marriage as a living icon of God’s love. In Father Bonetti’s words, each marriage is “a book of God written in flesh” that instructs the couple and the world in the relationship of total self-giving that exists between the three Persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see Jesus is to see the Father. To see a married couple is to be given a glimpse of the Trinitarian love that created everything that is, seen and unseen, and to be present to the very heart of the church itself.
Since 2012, Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia has partnered with Father Bonetti and the organization he leads, Misterogrande (The Great Mystery), to deepen our understanding of this teaching. We have learned that Father Bonetti’s work is, above all, a theology of relationship. God, through his Son, is intimately connected to and identified with humanity. He entrusted Jesus to an earthly father and mother who cared for him as he grew up within an extended community of family and neighbors. In his teaching, Jesus radically redefined the family (“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Mt. 12:46-50) to include his disciples and intimate friends. It is through this expansion of our concept of the family that Truro is learning how our own families can become, in Don Renzo’s words, the “Trinitarian greenhouses” in which new faith is planted, nurtured and grown.
There are many “how-to” books for improving marriage. Signs of Love is not one of them. Rather, it is meditation to help Christians – single, married, divorced, widowed – explore God’s purposes in creating the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual pairing of male and female in a life-long bond. In short, it is not a book about how to fix a marriage but rather how, through marriage and the expanded vision of family mentioned above He can begin to fix us. At Truro, we are persuaded that the “profound mystery” St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 5 is a much grander and more serious, joyful and beautiful thing than we ever suspected. Marriage and family is, quite literally, a primary means by which we share in the Father’s work to redeem and renew his creation. The teaching of Father Renzo Bonetti has opened our eyes, hearts and minds to this essential but forgotten truth about marriage.
Nuptial theology, which gives Christians a picture of the inner life of the Trinity via reflection on the love exchanged in marriage and family. For many, this ancient concept feels new. In the centuries in which the Christian understanding of creation and cosmos was dominant in Western societies, the nuptial understanding of God’s love, and its incarnation in the life of married couples and their families, fell into disuse. Marriage and family became a tautological or assumed good: it was good because it was good, QED. When nuptiality receded as core understanding in the lives of Christians, the collapse of marriage and family, in church and society, ensued. The corrosive, inter-generational effects of divorce have undermined and nearly destroyed the “assumed good” of marriage as cultural artifact and inflicted extensive damage on it even within the church where marriage, parenting and family life are now often the locus of loss and pain rather than hope and joy. Father Bonetti’s life’s work has been to restore Christian nuptiality to its place as one of the primary means for understanding the character and love of God and to impart to married couples and families a renewed sense of their evangelical mission.
Our session at the Anglican Family Symposium in plan was an introduction to the core ideas contained in Signs of Love. It included a period of reflection on an icon produced by Misterogrande; an overview of the primary metaphors scripture uses to describe God (King, Father, Bridegroom); an exploration of how the liturgies of church and family shape our understanding of God; and a short reading from Signs of Love that looks at how to read the Bible in a nuptial way to be used for small group study and conversation. This approach is being expanded into a full curriculum to be used by churches for teaching Signs of Love, which will be launched in April, 2017 as part of the Fresh Expressions national convening.
Brent Orrell is a member of Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, VA where he serves liaison to the Misterogrande movement based in Verona, Italy. He works closely with Father Renzo Bonetti and his community in the translation and adaptation of books and other materials and ministry strategies for deepening the understanding of nuptial theology in the North American context. In his professional life, he directs federally-funded marriage and fatherhood education projects. Brent has been married to Beth Orrell for 25 years, with whom he has had the privilege of raising three extraordinary children, Clara, Margaret and Isaac.