Ancient Faith

“Instead of the briar, a cypress shall rise; and instead of the nettle, a myrtle shall rise.” – Isaiah 55:13

Icelanders think that elves inhabit rock piles, the beautiful stacks of stone that stood in the way of a new road.  The road was rerouted at considerable expense. You don’t cross elves in Iceland. Scholar Ólina Thorvarðardóttir says that stories about elves promoted safety. She writes, “Oral tales concerning Icelandic elves and trolls no doubt served as warning fables. They prevented many children from wandering away from human habitations, taught Iceland’s topographical history, and instilled fear and respect for the harsh powers of nature.” More than 50 % of Icelanders believe in elves. And only 10 % believe in God.

Before we romanticize the quaintness of elves or Icelanders, we might look at our own beliefs. We believe in crossing our fingers as much as we do in the divine. Or in karma as much as salvation. Pagan is no longer a bad word. It is actually better said as ancient wisdom, the kind that protects children.

I am a big believer in belly faith, the kind that protects children, long after they have become adults. That belly faith came from my grandmother’s fur coat, listening to Bach in church, while fishing out the life savers I knew were in her pocket. It has brought me through surgeries and childbirths and even a few dark lights of the soul. It is a promise about what is finally, eventually surely going to happen in the fields too. From briars and nettles, trees.


O God, help us not mess with the elves or their magic. Keep our belly faith alive and fresh. Let us never be too sophisticated for nature’s religion. Amen.

ddauthordonnaschaper.jpgAbout the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.