The Message is the Message

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Marshall McLuhan, the late Canadian media philosopher, famously proclaimed, “The medium is the message.” For Quakers, the silent presence found in worship has no medium for its message. The message IS the message.

Classic communication theory describes four essential parts: a “sender” and “a receiver” connected by a “medium,” used to carry a “message.” Using e-mail as an example, a reader and a writer are connected by the internet, which carries the writer’s message.

Quaker worship, grounded in silence, defies that schema. Instead we feel the “leadings of the spirit.” Such leadings don’t come from some “sender” outside or beyond us: they reside within the “receiver;” sender and receiver are one.

Leadings are manifestations of what many Friends call “that of God” in each of us. Leadings reside in an interior realm of the spirit – not in our consciousness or ego. We feel leadings growing from our hearts. Leadings free us from everyday concerns and come from a timeless, boundless, eternal presence. Leadings know no 24-hour news cycles, no deadlines, no sound bites, no datelines nor headlines.

What happens in solitary or gathered worship transcends what we experience as the “news” and “entertainment” of everyday media. The stillness of worship serves as balm to the cacophony, conflict, and confusion of day-to-day media. We often begin worship by centering our souls so that we can face the world’s pain and suffering.

Sometimes leadings, conceived in the silence, move us to words – spoken ministry – to convey their power. More often they wordlessly suffuse the gathered stillness. With or without words, leadings call us to follow, to act. We feel the inward spirit transforming us into speakers/listeners of “a continuing revelation.” Leadings change who we are.

Our abiding faith is that “experimentally,” through worship, we will be led to “truth” in our lives and actions. Time and again, with open hearts, that faith has been rewarded.  ~~~

Rick Seifert is a retired journalist and university journalism teacher. He is a member of Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, Oregon (NPYM), and helped found an independent worship group, Hillsdale Friends. He has served on the board of Western Friend.