Recently at Mass we sang, “Be Not Afraid.” In these posts readers have picked up on a disdain for songs in which a congregation is asked to take on the role of God speaking to His people, which is something that this song does as exemplified in the first line, “You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst” or as in the first line of the refrain, “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”
So, as I am singing along it occurs to me to change the words. What if the song were more about my trust in God than playing God speaking to someone else? The song then goes like this:
I might cross a barren dessert,
but I will not die of thirst.
I will wander far in safety
though I do not know the way.
I shall speak His words in foreign lands
and all will understand.
I shall see the face of God and live.
Be not afraid,
He goes before me always
I’ll follow Him
and He will give me rest. (Rough attempt)
Instantly it song switches from being advice such as Mom might have given you:
“As Mom said, ‘Strive to do your best and you will go far,’”
to a song about doing my best:
“I will strive to do my best and go far just as Mom said.”
Or better, it is like changing the words to 1 Corinthians from “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is . . . “ to “I am patient, I am kind . . .” in a homily. It makes love less about being some mysterious thing “out there” that we hope to catch like a cold and more like something we are to become.
The song becomes so much more empowering strangely enough. One might think it would be more empowering if one were in the person of God announcing that you are going to give the protection, but stating that you believe that you have God’s protection to march forward makes it immediate - like professing the faith, “I believe in one God, the Father the Almighty!”
If I could (and it were legal), I would change the words to this song in our books. I would also suggest to hymn writers (I know, you don’t want my advice) to consider this when choosing texts for future ecclesiastical music. Place people in awe of a great God rather than in His person and inspire us to deeper faith.