A Covenant with my Eyes: Part 3, Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart

In the book Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart: Cultivating a Sacramental Imagination in an Age of Pornography Elizabeth T. Groppe makes a contrast between "the sacramental gaze" and "the pornographic gaze." 

Drawing from the rich tradition of Orthodox iconography, Groppe places vision at the center of Christian practice and spiritual formation. The Christian life is a journey of sight, coming to behold the beatific vision. As Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13, the journey of love is coming to see God more and more clearly until we gaze upon each other "face to face." We make this journey, in the words of Ephesians, by learning to see "with the eyes of the heart."

This vision is "sacramental" as we come to behold invisible, spiritual truths shining though material reality. Proper Christian vision participates in a "sacramental ontology," where we see a world "charged with the grandeur of God."

This emphasis upon a proper seeing of the material world is most obvious in the Orthodox tradition of iconography, where material objects (icons) are considered to be "windows" into deeper spiritual realities. Similarly, the "sacramental gaze" considers every material object to be a window into the divine. This includes human bodies, even naked human bodies. 

To "make a covenant with my eyes," in this view, is practicing a sacramental gaze when it comes to human bodies. Opposed to this sacramental gaze is the pornographic gaze. The pornographic gaze is greedy, consumptive, and objectifying. The pornographic gaze is iconoclastic perception, a form of perceptual violence, as it rips the sacred from the material. In the thought of Martin Buber, the pornographic gaze creates an objectifying and deadening I-It relation with the world.  By contrast, the sacramental gaze beholds an I-Thou relation, a meeting with a holy other. The sacramental gaze creates a sacred encounter. To see with the eyes of the heart incarnates a relation of love. 

In short, the call to resist pornography isn't to practice a grim puritanism. Nor is it a shame-filled rejection of the gift of human sexuality and eroticism. The imperative to "make a covenant with my eyes" is, rather, learning to envision the world correctly, rejecting an I-It relation for an I-Thou relation, as we gaze at each other. In rejecting the pornographic gaze in favor of the sacramental gaze, we come to see the world with the eyes of our heart.

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