Be Not Afraid

You shall cross the barren desert.

but you shall not die of thirst.

You shall wander far in safety

though you do not know the way.

You shall speak your words in foreign lands

and all will understand.

You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid.

I go before you always.

Come, follow me and I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters 

in the sea, you shall not drown.

If you walk amid the burning flames,

you shall not be harmed.

If you stand before the pow’r of hell

and death is at your side.

Know that I am with you through it all.

Be not afraid.

I go before you always.

Come, follow me and I will give you rest.

Hymn Story

-It was 1972, and Dufford was not a “Father” yet. He was on a Jesuit retreat, preparing to be ordained and grappling with anxiety about his future: Where would he go? What sort of work would he do as a priest? Would he be any good at it? His spiritual director suggested that he pray with the Annunciation in mind. Perhaps he could relate to Mary, who was “greatly troubled” when the angel appeared to her and said she would give birth to the Messiah. Dufford read the passage, and the angel’s words stuck with him: “Do not be afraid.” The line “Be Not Afraid” came to Father Dufford on that retreat, with the same melody it has today.

-A few weeks later, a friend, Medical Mission Sister Therese Connolly, told Father Dufford she would be leaving to do missionary work in Ghana. Hoping to finish the song before she left, he started reflecting on the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus says “I am with you always.” That inspired a second line, “I go before you always,” but he would not finish the song for another year.

-“Come, follow me,” came from another Father Dufford song. He sang a bit of it in a phone interview with America: “It was ‘Come, follow me, I will make you fishers of men,’ and I knew that was not going anywhere. It was a dumb melody, but I had the ‘Come, follow me.’ I kinda liked that part.” So he added it to his new song, and wrapped up the chorus with “And I will give you rest.”

-In autumn 1973, the verses came to him, fully formed. The next spring Father Dufford played the song at a liturgical music workshop that his friend, fellow Jesuit songwriter John Foley (composer of “One Bread, One Body” and several other popular folk-inspired hymns), attended. “Foley came to me and said, ‘You know, Duff, I think this is going to be a really important song.’ I said, ‘Yeah, right,’” Dufford recalled. “[“Be Not Afraid’] always seemed like an ugly duckling…. I cobbled it together.”

-The song was published and distributed in 1975, and Father Dufford doesn’t remember an immediate response, but eventually he started receiving letters. One woman wrote to him about her husband who was an alcoholic. The family would pray a Rosary for him every day and sing “Be Not Afraid,” and the man finally joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Another woman, an Anabaptist, heard the song at her husband’s funeral and said it carried her through her grief. “These stories come back and I go, ‘Oh,’” Father Dufford said, with a hint of awe in his voice. “It’s just amazing. It’s a privilege to have been a part of making it.”

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