Dutchman Teije Brandsma, founder of the Our Father in the Wilderness team, talks about his journey to Hornstrandir, Iceland, what inspired it, and what came from it.
Why did you go?
In the summer of 2020, I decided to hike in Iceland with my girlfriend. I spent a lot of time in Africa and the Middle-East, and while I had travelled in Europe, I didn’t know the Nordic countries well.
I had read about these monks from Ireland and Scotland who had come to Iceland before the Vikings.
A few weeks later, I was walking in the country where these monks walked, saying their prayers. It’s uninhabited, there are no roads, no telephone lines, no houses, and no permanent habitation anymore.
We stayed there for a week, walking with backpacks and bringing everything with us.
Why was the connection with these monks important?
This was the type of landscape where these 9th century monks were travelling.
They were doing nothing else except praying the Lord’s Prayer and others. I brought the Lord’s Prayer with me in Latin and Western Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, to learn it.
We stood on the north coast and looked into the high sea facing the North Pole feeling a wind coming from the Greenland sea.
I was standing there in the wind saying these prayers in my head and it felt as close to a religious experience as you can get in nature.
Why do you think these landscapes make you feel close to God?
It’s stripped to its bare essence. There are only three colours: green and grey rocks and blue sky. That’s it. For some people it’s the mountains and for others it’s the sea.
I was standing where only the essence of nature is. It reminded me of a verse from St Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer:
I arise today through the strength of heaven, the light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon, the splendour of fire,
The speed of lightning, the swiftness of wind, the depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth, the firmness of rock.
It’s a part of Christianity that is not as often emphasised. Of course, we believe in spiritual things, but the material world is also very impressive.
Why the Our Father?
When I read the story of the monks, I asked myself: ‘Why in the world would they go there?’ There was no one to convert, because the land was empty. I realised that they were not even able to pray for the needs of the world while they were in these far off places.
What could they do? They prayed the standard prayers. What is the most well known least controversial prayer? It is the Lord’s Prayer.
They were standing there looking over the Atlantic praying it, maybe thousands of times. How simple can it be? And yet it gave them ultimate meaning to their life.
I believe that as a Christian you have a responsibility to take care of others, but these monks did the exact opposite. They were entirely contemplative. For my own life I want to be somewhere in the middle.
Our Father in the Wilderness
I want to inspire other people to say the Lord’s Prayer in one of those places; people in Scot- land – especially in the Highlands and Islands – to say in English, Scottish, or Scottish Gaelic that same prayer as those people a bit more than a thousand years ago said in those same places.
Our Father in the Wilderness is a small initiative that started with me and a group of friends. We hope to bring the essence of what these monks did in the Hebrides, Shetland, Orkney and Iceland to more places in the world.
We hope people in these places, locals and visitors, will record themselves with their mobile phones while they say the Lord’s Prayer and send it to us.
Our Father in the Wilderness is a project encouraging Christians to say the Lord’s Prayer in the extreme environments and outstanding vistas. Find out more at www.ourfatherinthewilderness.com