Musing with Deacon Stephen

I’ve just come across this man, Deacon Stephen Muse, an Orthodox Pastoral counsellor with a background in Philosophy as well as a fine awareness of Orthodox Theology; his work is multifaceted and worthwhile, I’d heartily recommend it from what I’ve seen and read so far.

Stephen Muse



The witness of Bob Dylan, an Orthodox view.

Rough draft, typos to be corrected…

Bob-Dylan-Recording-005Fresco of the throne of Preparation inbucovina

So, today I finally got around to watching Martin Scorsese’s documentary on the recent nobel laureate Bob Dylan. This was a stellar documentary and meant the coming together of two masters- a master director and a master artist; it is a work which we can all gain from.

During and after the feature length documentary, I was briming with enthuiastic feelings and grasping thoughts. A well of inspiration hit me and I have a vision in mind about what I want to articulate here. Yet, I fear I wont do it justice. This will take some work and time to wrench out of me, if God and my soul grant it.

Prophetic, poetic, personalist, Kingdom -political, time against simple progress.


Firstly and of prime importance, it is my conviction that the work of The Sprit is present and breathing in Bob Dylan’s life and work, which we can see he is amply open to and has long tried to follow- the commentator in the documentary made the comment that he wasn’t trying to be an accomplished person; which is in the small and more egortistical sense. Yet, by following the Spirit ‘on the way home’ Bob is more of a person, not less. This is the story of The Gospel and deomnstrated eloquently by Eastern Orthodox Theologians such as Lampert, Lossky and Berdyaev.
Other commensurate key themes include his unwillingness to be subsumed by politics or ideology, which is in line with the Biblical notion of Prophet- even if he never saw himself in that light.
This supposedly politically naive artist wrote some of the most enduring ‘political’ songs of the twentieth century by rooting them in the Spirit, not of the times, but of all time. This is juxtaposed in his work and personal life with a conversational narrative of the neighbour- again personalist and never or seldom ideological- see how he wrote about specific African American persons who were mistreated.
Mavis Staple’s interview was very telling, when she reflected how, as a young woman, she had thought that ‘what would he know of struggle? White people don’t know what it’s like to suffer’ before humbly and rightfully admitting that this was naivety and wrong. His story was the story of The Gospel, which presents us with persons throughout time suffering and in search of salvation fighting against a greater evil than racism- something he lived himself in his own way and shared with his kin through empathy and bearing witness to the Christian Truth of the suffering God of love, regardless of skin colour, in America or elsewhere. Notably, he took great inspiration in the Irish rebel songs, which are borne of intense suffering over many generations.

Today, we suffer from crushing ideologies that would accuse Dylan of cultural appropriation and this points to the strangling of The Spirit, because as we can see in his life and work the music is transcendent of crude, crushing monisms- taking inspiration from the Irish, African Americans, poets and folks from all over the states and The Holy Scriptures; making them his own and ‘knowing his song well before he started singing’, a state of mind which calls to mind the name that we will be given in The Book of Revelation. Moreover, we are called upon in this life to be part of the Transfiguring of the world in Christ though our word and work- Dylan did this and it had to be personal. It always has to be personal. This is where the language of ‘authenticity’ is not mere self indulgence but manifesting something real. It is also a way of Peace that The Good Lord has provided us with to make manifest the kingdom, speaking Pentecostally in a way that is ours but that can be truly heard by others.

People say that America has no history and would be happy not to acknowledge the living breath of Spirit that flows through people like Dylan, who it may be rightly said, as one commentator suggested, plays the role of the American collective unconscious as well as a Biblical conscience that stood in protest at the mistreatment of the maligned without swinging the pendulum to worldly solutions.
He’s a guy with an appreciation for roots but a sojourner in the land- this Christian in the world but not of the world spirit, allows him to avoid idolattry. See for example his song ‘With God on our side’. The satire in the song demonstrates this beautifully.
”The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I was taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side”

What was Dylan’s response then to the broader dreadful nihilism of Sartre and the idea that there is no exit?
”there’s no exit in any direction
‘Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes.” (Series Of Dreams)


A memorable snippet from Allen Ginsberg in the documentary.

“(There is a) very famous saying among theTibetan Buddhists, if the student is not better than the teacher then the teacher ‘s a failure, and I was really knocked out by the eloquence [of Bob Dylan] , particularly, “I’ll know my song well before I start singing”..”where all souls shall reflect it”.. you know, stand on the mountain, where everybody can hear. It’s sort of this Biblical prophecy. Poetry is words that are empowered that make your hair stand on end, that you recognize instantly as being some form of subjective truth that has an objective reality to it because somebody’s realized it and then you call it poetry later.”


There’s also a great humour in how he sees himself, as presented here by Joan Baez, and it’s wonderfully comical to see how he reflected on how people would see his songs; suggesting that they’d see this and that in it, when he himself ‘didn’t know where they came from’.

His witness is an humility to The Spirit, which cannot be grasped and which the Orthodox call a Mystery.



Bob Dylan recording-

Fresco of The Throne Of Preparation-

Marriage, Divorce and remarriage.

A couple of articles on a complex issue. I’d also see Kallistos Ware on this- In Adrian Thatcher’s book, Richard B Hays and John Meyendorff. There may be some stuff I want to disagree with but will do that later if needs be. Especially after I read Lewis Smedes, Roger Scruton, Richard M Davidson’s whole book, Eric Fuchs and Fr John Chryssavgis.

The Tree of Life.

This is a truly excellent addendum to much of what I have read; from Peter Leithart in this article-
and from many others; such as John Milbank on The Church and generations in the book on Radical and Eastern Orthodoxy, Dr Richard M Davidson in his book on Sexuality in The Old Testament, as well as others like Gary A Anderson and Fr Behr, especially on Marriage and Sexuality in The Kingdom.
Moreover, it is a powerful image in the excellent Fr Martin Thornton’s work on The Rock and The River, regarding creative Tradition.
…The best one yet from Pageau.

The Good, indeed Very Good of the world and Humans, Male and Female, of Sexuality and Marriage, indeed of the whole cosmos is meant for The Tree of Life and to be focused on that. This is the profound vision of Christ which too few share. Dr Evgeny Lampert and Fr Behr amongst the good witnesses, however.

Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


“The meaning and worth of love, as a feeling, is that it really forces us, with all our being, to acknowledge for ANOTHER the same absolute central significance which, because of the power of our egoism, we are conscious of only in our own selves. Love is important not as one of our feelings, but as the transfer of all our interest in life from ourselves to another, as the shifting of the very centre of our personal life. This is characteristic of every kind of love, but predominantly of sexual love; it is distinguished from other kinds of love by greater intensity, by a more engrossing character, and by the possibility of a more complete overall reciprocity. Only this love can lead to the real and indissoluble union of two lives into one; only of it do the words of Holy Writ say: ‘They shall be one flesh,’ i.e., shall become one real being.”
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov, The Meaning of Love

“Failure to recognize one’s own absolute significance is equivalent to a denial of human worth; this is a basic error and the origin of all unbelief. If one is so faint-hearted that he is powerless even to believe in himself, how can he believe in anything else? The basic falsehood and evil of egoism lie not in this absolute self-consciousness and self-evaluation of the subject, but in the fact that, ascribing to himself in all justice an absolute significance, he unjustly refuses to others this same significance. Recognizing himself as a centre of life (which as a matter of fact he is), he relegates others to the circumference of his own being and leaves them only an external and relative value.”
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov, The Meaning of Love


The Spirit and Fr Moses.

Let’s look at a wonderful figure in the Church today, aptly named Fr Moses and a leader in our day. He’s an inspiration, a humble, excellent Teacher who knows his history and let’s Christ’s light shine through it.
The good Father’s even preserved a cemetery for his ancestors, who suffered the hardship of slavery but built churches and lived the good life as they were able.

Moreover, he’s living the Orthodox life organically in a ‘non-Orthodox’ country and appears unburdened with the dead sense of tradition which would link the church to particular nations like Russia or Greece; offering instead a properly Christian vision of a garden, rich with many flowers of different colour and kind. There’s something of the Spirit of Pentecost at work here.

On this Feast of Epiphany/Theophany we may reflect on the various resplendent gifts of The Church, Her people and The Spirit’s ability to break down the barriers that divide along the world’s lines, breathing Life into the whole Cosmos in all its diverse beauty.

The limits of Individualism.


Peterson and Shapiro. Jordan is delving deeper than Ben and this is not a meeting of equal minds, but I do enjoy many points made by both and the fearlessness of their character. Yet, regarding Shapiro it must be stated that we should all be wary of some of his underlying tendencies, his rampant Americanism and dogmatic Libertarianism. Plus, beware of anyone who references Leo Strauss. Paul Gottfried offers a wonderful critique of this sophist and even has a book dedicated to the matter.

Moreover, the tradition of ‘individual’ of which they both speak, in spite of it’s many good points doesn’t rise to the Theology of the ‘Person’ that we find in The Church and work of Berdyaev, Florovsky, Lampert, Lossky, Zizioulas et al.

I suspect the lack of sufficient depth in the individualist tradition is relevant to why collectivism has such power over men and women today.

Shapiro’s reliance on the American founding fathers and libertarianism, again it should be said, is ultimately shallow and it makes sense that he isn’t able to article the fuller truth because he’s not an orthodox Christian. (Same for JBP).

This may seem like a scandalously strong claim and in many ways it is but is one that flows from what The Church actually is, which includes elements of ‘Polis’, as helpfully highlighted and ironically enough by James KA Smith, Peter Leithart et al.
In the Trinity you get both Personhood and Communion, on earth as it is in heaven.

For the particulars of the claim that Individualism doesn’t provide us with enough of what we need and it’s relationship to Personalism, see Vladimir Lossky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. He goes through Personalism, Individualism, etc rather swiftly and effectively. (Another danger would be to perceive Personalism as complete in itself but these Theologians don’t do that and they’re trying to share what it means to be created in Love by The Holy Trinity- which transcends all divisions, limitations, monisms, etc)


In remembering other of the finer elements that took root in the west, let’s remember St Benedict and the work of his particular community.

Fr Martin Thornton’s suggestion for the threefold rule of St Benedict applied to all Christians in some form is fantastically practical and will help us get that balance in our ‘Postmodern’ time- Mass, Office and Personal Devotion.