Would you ever think that prayer and a painting could heal an illness? No, me neither. But something changed my mind. In 2009, I was happily employed at a medical research company. However, cutbacks were part of the industry and now it was my turn to be laid off. I started applying for positions that matched my skill and experience levels, but to no avail. I couldn’t even get an acknowledgement that my applications and résumés were even received. I noticed myself silently slipping into depression.
At that time, I didn’t consider myself a religious man, but troubled times led me to soul searching and to prayer. It was then that I started watching a religious TV station in our area. Early one morning, after a particularly sleepless night, I turned on a show entitled, “Holy Land Rosary,” which was being aired in Jerusalem, Israel.
On the show, a priest was praying the “Sorrowful Mysteries” Rosary to an audience in Jerusalem. These five mysteries describe the sufferings of Jesus on the first Good Friday over 2000 years ago. “The Agony in the Garden,” “The Scourging at the Pillar,” “The Crowning with Thorns,” “The Carrying of the Cross,” and “The Crucifixion.”
The camera led us to each ancient site. When “The Crowning with Thorns” was announced and prayers began, scenes from the Church of the Flagellation were shown. This church was built on the location where it is believed that Jesus was flogged on his way to Calvary. Icons representing the crucifixion story were displayed around the doorway to the church. Inside, hand-painted on the wall above the altar was a beautiful depiction of the Crown of Thorns, and flowers in stained glass surrounded the magnificent painting. The shades of gold, purple, deep crimson, and brown blended beautifully with the stained glass.
It was during the “Sorrowful Mysteries” that this Crown of Thorns really caught my eye. I felt personally touched by it and a wave of comfort flowed through me. I could feel my depression lifting and hope taking its place. The Crown of Thorns painting showed me pain and humiliation, yet it also brought me comfort. How could something so painful and humiliating bring peace and comfort? This Crown of Thorns suddenly appeared as the most beautiful and multifaceted creation I had ever seen. That was when I started praying the rosary, and still do to this day.
I found myself pondering the thought of painting the crown myself, but it seemed like too complex a project. I became aware of sick people around me and wanted to share with them the comfort it brought to me. The struggle of how to paint Jesus’ intricate Crown of Thorns and bring it to justice on canvas kept me from beginning.
While I was still thinking about it, my life continued to improve. I was able to obtain a position in a pharmaceutical company. Part of the hiring agreement was for me to complete additional college-level courses. This included some elective courses, and I was able to select an art course that would help me start my Crown of Thorns painting.
As I thought about how to start, my first stumbling block was a logistical one. The crown being round would relate to a square frame versus a rectangular one, which I preferred. This problem was solved by incorporating the icons shown outside the church on either side of the crown. I now had the desirable size and shape for my picture and was ready to start.
However, just at that time I came down with a bad case of the Shingles. If you’ve ever had Chickenpox, Shingles can strike when you least expect it, and can cause a blistering rash that may bring deep, penetrating pain that can last for 30 days or longer. Most people get Shingles blisters around the middle of their body, but what became ironic for me was that my blisters wrapped around my head! My pain manifested into migraine headaches that lasted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When I say headaches, I mean “a headache”—one long headache that lasted for five weeks. I was barely able to concentrate on work, let alone begin a complex painting. The only time I wasn’t in pain was when I was sleeping—or so I thought, but my wife told me I was even moaning in my sleep! The continuous headache eventually subsided into daily headaches starting in the sixth week. Now, stronger than ever, I had the desire to start my painting.
Using my camera, I took pictures of the crown and icons right from the TV as I again watched the “Sorrowful Mysteries” being aired on the same TV show. I was able to adjust the lens until the pictures were the desired shape. I then worked on pencil sketches until I was happy with one. I discovered in class that my favorite medium for painting was watercolor. I worked on the painting project off-and-on for 15 to 20 hours at a time.
Finally, I felt confident in my endeavor, and the painting was completed! That night, I experienced the best night's sleep I'd had in months, and the next morning my head was clear. I said to my wife, “I'm done with the Shingles!” Something within me knew that they were over and that completing the painting had brought me healing.
Now, whenever I have family or friends in need, I like to present them with a framed copy of my Crown of Thorns painting. I tell them my story and how I felt that Jesus reached out to help me through this beautiful work of art in a church in Jerusalem.
Blog by Richard Gaspari, as told to Judy Cosgrove