Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Gaze or Sacred Gaze?

Written by: on November 4, 2015


At our church we are currently preparing for a community wide Art Auction. Last week we covered every inch of wall space in our building and hung up over 200 pieces of art created by church members sometime during the past 4 years. We’ve also had many local artists donate pieces to be sold during our auction and we expect over 500 people from the community to come to this event.

With Art hanging everywhere in our building it has been really fun for me to see people slowly walking our sanctuary and hallways, gazing at each piece as they walk by. I’ve picked out a few favorites that I’m hoping to take home but I kind of assumed “my favorites” would be everyone else’s favorites too, so I’d probably never win the auction. However, I’ve been surprised to listen as everyone shares their thoughts and favorites with each other. The pictures I thought no one would want are the exact ones some people are bidding up and almost every piece of art has multiple bidders. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and art has a way of drawing different people in through different ways.

I’ve always been amazed by artists because I have a hard time writing my name legibly. That is probably why I appreciate art so much and why it draws me into the Father; because I know it’s something I can’t create myself. David Morgan’s, book The Sacred Gaze – Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice addresses the need for us to gaze at images more then we already do. Morgan’s book is a deep book and adds layers to my understanding and appreciation of art.

Morgan starts off his book explaining what it means to gaze “A gaze is a practice, something that people do, conscious or not, and a way of seeing that viewers share.[1]” This is something I’ve been seeing everyday for the past week as people walk around our building but it was on the next page we see Morgan define “Sacred Gaze” and where I felt challenged as a pastor. Morgan states, “Sacred gaze is a term that designates the particular configuration of ideas, attitudes, and customs that informs a religious act of seeing as it occurs within a given cultural and historical setting. A sacred gaze is a way of seeing which invests an image, a viewer or an act of viewing with spiritual significance.[2]” As people walk around our building gazing at the different pieces of art, what can I do to help people turn their gaze into a scared gaze?

Morgan’s book walks through the importance for, not just gazing, but sacred gazing. Morgan sates the reason for this book when he says, “ “I wish to show how visual studies can contribute to the scholarly understanding of religion. The value of theoretical reflection should be measured, finally, by the contribution it makes to illuminating the actual objects of study: the visuality of religion.[3]” In other words Morgan is showing us that how we gaze influences our beliefs.

Throughout Morgan’s book he methodically shows us that we cannot fully understand different faiths without understanding the power Art and Images have in shaping what one believes. Knowing that how we gaze impacts what we believe has left me wondering, these next few weeks as people walk through our church gazing at the images and drawings what kind of things can I be doing to help people turn their gaze into a sacred gaze?

[1] David Morgan, The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3

[3] Ibid., 27

About the Author

Nick Martineau

Nick is a pastor at Hope Community Church in Andover, KS, founder of ILoveOrphans.com, and part of the LGP5 cohort.

7 responses to “Gaze or Sacred Gaze?”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Nick, do you find that the artist’s work communicates the Word to you or does it simply point you to where the Word can be communicated?

    • Nick Martineau says:

      Good question and I’m not sure I have a clear answer for you. Some artists in our church hold the scriptures in their hand as they paint and I have found some of those drawings have helped communicate the Word (scriptures) to me. Some artists have painted beautiful drawings of nature, or captured emotions that have communicated the Word (Jesus) to me on a real heart level. Maybe it’s just semantics but for me whether I gaze or Sacred gaze makes the difference. And I think to truly answer your question I’d say some art communicated the Word and some art points me to where the Word can be communicated. It’s both/and.

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Excellent Nick, right on time for an art exhibit. My signature has taken a new turn too, i might be communicating with other life forms (lol). While i am an avid art lover especially or the religious type, i am cautious about how it moves me to a more spiritual enlightenment. Art and artifacts are important in our understanding visually but how it affects me spiritually is whole other story. Who is the image made by and does it reflect the truth? Religion is different to each person. And as you stated “beauty is the eye of the beholder.” So what means something to one person may mean nothing to another person and its not because they don’t get it. It just does not mean that to them. Although sacred gazing can be instrumental in education in some ways i dont know how much it will do spiritually in the long run. It may have no significance after the sacred gaze or it may last a day or two. Hopefully!

  3. Dave Young says:

    Nick, I’m one of those rushed, somewhat self absorbed pastors who don’t take the time to pause and enjoy the beauty around me. Good post reminding me that a pause to gaze upon Art can be a worshipful moment. Which also has me thinking about the need for Sabbath. God gave us Sabbath to enjoy his world as a means of enjoying Him… Thanks Nick

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    You make some great points about art is in the eye of the beholder. Like you, I’m not that artistic, so I have great appreciation for people who have a way not only with paintings/drawings, but also with Feng Shui of creating an environment that seems to speak of harmony. Something bodily happens to us, doesn’t it, when it comes to art?
    I continue to hear a growing pastor’s heart for your congregation – “how can I help them move from a gaze to a sacred gaze?” You’ve always demonstrated, at least since I’ve known you, a compassionate heart. But now it sounds like you are also interested in “moving” your congregation from one place to another…a place of encountering God. What a gift you are to them.

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Nick, What a cool event! I wonder how reading this book could add to the interpretation of much of the art that filled your church. What does it say politically, socially, theologically? Would there be themes and things you could conclude about American Evangelicalism in Kansas in 2015? Would there be a take home on Christology, Missiology, and Ecclesiology that after reading Morgan could be seen through a gaze? I would never have thought of such questions if it wasn’t for reading “Sacred Gaze.” I find that rather surprising and kind of funny:). What do you think?

  6. Brian Yost says:

    I want to visit your church. : )
    It seems that art in your church causes people to linger. People looking at art are rarely in a hurry (unless they are forced to look at it). I think we need to create more venues in our churches were we find people “lingering”. This could be a great avenue to creating sacred space.

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