Growing up I could remember having this painting hanging on the wall across from my bed. And every night, my mother reminded me that Jesus will always protect me. I can remember gazing at this picture until I fell asleep. I was comforted knowing that if at any time during the night I was afraid, Jesus was holding me. I was able to fall asleep in peace with the assurance that no “boogey man” was going to hide under the bed or in the closet.
David Morgan, in The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice, writes that a sacred gaze is a manner in which a way of seeing invests an image, a viewer, or an act of viewing with spiritual significance. Certainly, seeing this image every night of Jesus embracing the children provided spiritual meaning for me. This was the beginning of my learning about a God who protects, a God who watches over me and a God who loves the little children. This constant gazing at the picture of Jesus with the children contributed to my believing in Jesus and my own spiritual formation.
As I see this image today it continues to contribute to my spiritual formation. However, my “gaze” or vision of this portrait has changed. No longer is it through the eyes of a child, but through the eyes of one who has developed a new way of seeing.
David Morgan uses the term visual culture which he defines as a fundamental shift in the study of images – from an object – an artist-centered to a practice-centered discourse. Visual culture is what images, acts of seeing, and attendant intellectual, emotional, and perceptual sensibilities do to build, maintain, or transform the worlds in which people live.
Now, when I gaze at the painting of Jesus and children, I don’t merely think about my protection, but I can see the most vulnerable, the voiceless, the powerless and the weak needing and receiving God’s protection. As Morgan states, a sacred gaze applies itself directly to the task of belief.
So how does belief happen visually? How is belief a visual practice? Morgan writes that “belief happens in what people say, but also in what they do. It is embodied in various practices and actions, in the stories and testaments people tell…in the way people treat children, one another and strangers.”
In this book, Morgan also describes how several faith/religious traditions use images to communicate with God, “with the unseen, mysterious, and potentially uncontrollable forces that are understood to govern life.” For example, Buddhist pilgrims interact with statues in Thailand, Eastern Orthodox In doing so he draws on a wide range of sources including Buddhist pilgrims visit shrines in Thailand, Eastern Orthodox use icons to visualize the holy figure, and West African use masks to invoke spiritual forces. Although images are not a wide part of the Muslim worship many of the mosques may be decorated with “highly crafted, intricate designs and calligraphy.” In sum, Morgan claims that we cannot understand religious practice fully without considering the power of images in shaping believers. What images have shaped your faith?
 David Morgan, A Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 3.
 Ibid., 32.
 Ibid., 33
 Ibid., 59
 Ibid., 64.