Haptic Sight

The relationship between what we see and what we feel is undeniable. This relationship is made clear when we see something which is either beautiful or distressing. It may call us to empathy, action, compassion, or something else. We usually continue absorbing images around us with little effect on them.

However, occasionally, we move from scanning images and the materials around us towards gazing and examining them with a long stare, considering their meaning. Reflecting of what they mean to us, a more profound presence seeps in.

We find this in spades in the Catholic Church, which is surrounded by images, statues, symbols, and sacramentals to remind us of God in some way. However, we can become immune to these as well over time. How often have you returned to a familiar place after an absence and then suddenly, you find there is something “new” there, which of course, was there all the time.

We can go back to the early centuries of the Church to understand what this means. Back in the day St Augustine had what was known as a haptic view of sight. When he structured his thought about the inner longing for God (which resides in us all). Augustine was not just talking about an image, but an image connected to the sense of touch. He could “feel” the image of God within him as his haptic (or touch-centric) view of the world made the presence of God all the more real. This feeling happens to us when we see an image and don’t just glance over it, but stay with it. We see parts in the image we didn’t see before, and when that touches us, it is manifest in the way of feeling.

Do you ever ask why you like a particular painting or photograph? Why you love a particular sculpture? It might even be simpler, such as a pot or pan, which has been in your house since you were a child. The object or the image has meaning.

In prayer terms, we are talking here about a prayer form called Visio Divina, or Divine Gazing. An ancient prayer form that Augustine and others were very familiar.

Try this exercise for fun. Look at the following image for at least 2 minutes without any particular agenda or thought. Make a mental note of what the painting makes you feel, if anything.


Then return to the image and look at it for one minute at a time considering the following:

· Its colors

· Its shapes

· How it makes you feel

· What it means to you

Take some time this week to look at the blessed images in your life and why they are this way.

Image and Reflection Copyright © 2020 Dr. Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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