In her practice as a therapist, Elisabeth Horst saw many clients experiencing depression due to bad work environments. So she’d walk them through processes and programs that helped them adjust to their work world in "small ways."
But she soon realized these step-by-step survival techniques were useless in work cultures that were fundamentally alienating to one’s sense of self and relationship with others. She came to understand the real issue was about being mindful and having the courage to respond to what the heart was calling them to do. Horst also realized it was time to practice what she preached.
So she ended her 15-year career as a psychotherapist and surrendered to her own inner voice that was calling her to "Weave!" That was three years ago, and her loom has been busy ever since.
Virginia Matter is a Benedictine sister and potter who uses clay to learn more about herself and grow closer to God. This love of the "earth" comes from her father, a farmer who didn’t go to church, but saw God in creation and found ways to worship in the world around him.
"He’d bring home a stone," she recalls, "and ask me to look at it.
"What do you see? he’d ask.
"And I’d try to see something more than just a stone. It was a life-long lesson. He taught me to go past the externals and look deeper into things and people."
Now she finds sacred time for herself by scooping up a "chunk of clay" and letting it tell her what to do. She surrenders to a primal need to create that began "in the beginning" when God breathed life into a clump of earth, thereby giving life to us all.
Leading to God
Both artists believe art is a profound spiritual process leading to God; the need to create is an invitation to anyone searching for "something more."
"Art is being present in the moment," Horst explains. "It’s being contemplative. Weaving, for example, is a very rhythmic, repetitive motion. The whole body gets involved. It brings you into this contemplative space, where things start coming up – anger, hurt, resentment. It’s like being in group therapy.
"These feelings come up," she adds, "but you don’t have to fix them. They just float up and you let them be, which is how things get fixed in the first place. You observe your anger and BE with it. Then something changes – not because you tell it to change, but because you sit with it and IT changes."
For Sister Virginia, the act of creating pottery is an invitation into a quiet, inner place, where the outer world disappears.
"I play music in the background," she says, "but I get so lost in the work that I don’t even know when the music shuts off."
She finds herself submitting to the clay "and letting it tell me what shape it wants to take."
"Sometimes it invites me to see something about myself I don’t want to see," she says. "What’s getting in the way of my life? What am I being asked to do?
"For example, if the clay cracks I nourish it with water. Where in my life do I need nourishment? Or sometimes it needs to be put aside for a day or two, so it is more moldable. Do I need rest myself? Is there a problem I should stop trying to solve and maybe shelve away for a while?"
Art for everyone
Both women teach their art to others, and both insist everyone is an artist, even when their creativity has been suppressed along life’s way.
"We think good art is something only professionals can do, or something that meets some museum’s high standards," says Horst. "But that’s not true. What I love in art are the imperfections. In weaving, they stay there forever. You can’t go back and fix them.
"There’s something wonderful," she adds, "about walking around with a shawl I made and knowing I’m wearing my errors. It’s good for us perfectionists. What am I afraid to show the world? I think I’m hiding my imperfections, but everyone can see them – because I’m wearing them. So the beauty of weaving is in the errors we make."
Sister Virginia recalls students who enter her classroom with heavy hearts or a history of having failed in art.
"They’re fearful," she says, "and I assure them there are no expectations, that they can’t fail. I tell them, “Let yourself be. Let th clay teach you. Nothing you do will be bad. In fact, the real beauty is found in the cracks.” I encourage them to begin by accepting the fact that all art is filled with flaws."
Often, adds Horst, that drive to create something perfect is really about our own need for control. Art will soften that edge, she says. It will make us more receptive.
"You can’t make the loom do what you want it to do," she says. "And that’s exactly what life is like. But if you give up on the idea that you must be in control, and if you let it do what it tells you to do, it’s magic. You’re amazed at what comes out in the end."
In the end, says Sister Virginia, it’s all about what you love. "It’s being open to where you’re invited, to what gives you life. What invites you into beauty? Whatever it is – that’s art."
The work of Elisabeth Horst and Virginia Matter
The public is invited to the Benedictine Center in Maplewood, Minn., to see the creations of Elisabeth Horst and Virginia Matter, or attend their classes. They are the first two artists to be showcased in a new series on "Arts and Spirituality," which honors the sacred nature of the creative process. The exhibits are free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Sister Virginia’s exhibit is now on display. She is offering a six-week pottery class to be held Monday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., beginning February 20. Cost for this class is $130, which includes all materials.
Elisabeth Horst will open her six-week exhibit on Sunday, Feb. 19, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Her weaving class will be kicked off with a Saturday seminar on March 4, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by six classes starting on Wednesday, March 8 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost for the Saturday seminar and evening classes is $150, which includes rental of a loom.
To register online, go to www.stpaulsmonastery.org and follow the link to the Benedictine Center. Call (651) 777-7251 or e-mail [email protected]