franciscan - January 1998
© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 1997
by John and Dorothy Dennis TSSF
What is the theology of marriage? Why has God given us this state, where ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? It is possible to approach this subject from such an intellectual viewpoint. However, regardless of what the theological answers may be, marriage is such a personal experience that only in such experience will the answers come to life. We make no apology therefore for offering a very personal answer to the question of ‘where is God in marriage?’ Whilst others will have different tales to tell, there will be common strands for us all.
We first met in the Divinity School in Cambridge. Each at different lectures had caught sight of the other. Each later admitted to having the individual certainty, even then, that this was the person we would, and should, marry. It wasn’t ‘love at first sight’. In fact for some time Dorothy didn’t even like John much!
Since then, we have realised that for many there is some subconscious urge which draws like to like, so the story is not so strange as we then thought. Yet we believe, forty-one years later, that God was at that time acting very firmly in us.
There have been many other instances since. After all, when people are committed to each other under God, encouraged to see the Divine in the other, and living a life which, at least on the best days, is seeking to serve God, an awareness of the Divine Presence is to be expected. Here are some examples. In human terms it wasn’t an easy start for us, either in engagement or marriage. Heavy opposition from one pair of parents (though loving support from the other) and a massive post-natal depression could each either have broken us or helped to make us. In a sense they did both. At the time of Dorothy’s depression, and psychological illness, John was led to seek out and study Clinical Theology. As a result both of us could, with deepening understanding, begin to grasp what was happening to us. We both grew in our dependence on God, and on each other and found ourselves more able to be alongside others in their distress. John later used his understanding to become a tutor to other clergy undertaking Clinical Theology training.
Of course, we have been immensely privileged. We both began our marriage believing in God, and believing that it was God who called us together. We have also always talked about God together, sharing thoughts and experiences, reflecting theologically, though no doubt often simplistically, on world events, things we have read, or the events of our own lives. When our children grew up and Dorothy ceased to have outside paid work, we began to pray together in ways suited to us temperamentally, through silence and the daily round of Office and intercession, besides ‘doing our own thing’.
We have also had a common purpose. Through two curacies, two incumbencies, and two episcopates, we have had
a common aim in furthering John’s calling by God. In a way, it is Dorothy who has gladly paid the heavier price
of dedicating her own gifts to that end, rather than following her own career line. Nevertheless the task proved
to be full of rewards for her in terms of inner needs met, and new insights gained into the nature of God’s presence
which have, in their turn, deepened our relationship.
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