Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Beauty will rise- Steven Curtis Chapman (album review)
I haven't been a Steven Curtis Chapman fan for very long. I remember a friend telling me years ago that I should listen to him. Somehow I never got around to it. I've just never been into solo performers that much. But it appears I was missing out.
The first album I listened to was All things new in 2004. I enjoyed that a lot. I remember sharing songs like Angels wish with people when they came over as dinner guests, it just seemed to hit me so powerfully. Even recently I remember God speaking to me in a very personal and poignant way through the lyric "come, come and know me now" in the song What now. Some how this man just seemed to have such an intimate relationship with God that he could touch chords deeper than others ever seemed capable of doing. I was convinced from these songs that this man really knew Jesus. Christianity was not just some religion for Steven Curtis Chapman, it was rough and it was challenging.
His next album This moment has had some seminally impacting moments in my life. After narrowly escaping death on the road, the song Miracle of the moment came on the ipod. I have written about this in another blog, but it was no small thing that God was speaking to me to live in the moment that he had given me. Steven encouraged me "if it brings you tears then taste them as they fall, let them soften your heart, and if it brings you laughter, then throw your head back and let it go". That was completely what I was doing in that moment. Never has one artist enabled the Holy Spirit to bring me to tears on so many occasions, through moments when God spoke directly to me. This has also happened with the songs Beautiful scars and Cinderella.
Cinderella is a real kicker. It's all about loving one's daughter as she grows up, because she will be grown up before you know it. The lyric "I know something the prince never knew" is so apt. When I asked permission from my father in law to propose to his daughter I knew it was a serious moment. I just didn't know what that means to a father.... until I had a daughter of my own. A daughter is such a precious gift to a father. Mine is particularly special, such a bundle of joy and she just never seems to run out of energy from the moment she wakes up in the morning until she drops off on the pillow. What made the song Cinderella so hard to listen to was that it was released only months before one of Steven Curtis Chapman's little girls was killed by a car, at the family home. What made it even harder is that this little girl was the same age as my little girl, just five years old. So I was really beginning to relate to this man. The lyric "all too soon the clock will strike midnight and she'll be gone" is so cutting because Steven could never have know what this would mean when he wrote that song.
I had enjoyed these two albums so much that I needed to buy his new album Beauty will rise. I didn't even stop to think what I was buying. I didn't take the time to remind myself that this mad had lost his precious little girl, and that this was his first release after the fact. My glass stomach was awaiting an almighty knock out punch. I forgot to cut Steven some "slack" when I first listened to his record.
The traditional Christian thing to do when I was a teenager was to plaster the liner notes with scripture references. This came in handy when trying to convince skeptical parents that rock music was ok. Reading lyrics was paramount, something you almost did before even deciding if the song was worthy of a listen. As my personal musical journey evolved, I stopped reading lyrics and just listened to the music. I only began to pay attention to lyrics if the music caught my attention for long enough. I only interacted with the lyrics if they were poetic and skilful enough. This gives credence that music should be art and not a preach fest.
So when I first "spun" (I don't spin too music too much anymore) Beauty will rise on itunes, I didn't pay much attention to anything at all. I just listened to it and just let it be. "Heaven is the face of my little girl"...began the album. "Ok, that's different" I thought and just let it go. After a number of listens I began to think, "hey this is a fairly melancholy and dark album." Lyrics like "I don't even want to breathe right now, all I wanna do is close my eyes" and "I am broken, I am bleeding, I'm scared and I'm confused" have a way of conveying darkness.
I must confess that something in me started to worry a bit for Steven. Was he experiencing doubt and despair in his life? All the while, it was in the back of my mind that he had lost his daughter. I knew this must have affected him. Of course I had no idea how deeply it can affect a person. That's the thing about suffering, you can only guess what someone else is going through from your own perspective. I heard some gasps for breath in his lyrics and could hear him calling out to God.
Then earlier this week, the whole shell exploded open for me. In the midst of my simple listening a lyric hit me dead between the eyes and completely floored me, "It was the day the world went wrong, I screamed until my voice was gone...". Hold on, that song is about the moment his daughter died... "And watched through the tears as everything came crashing down, slowly panic turns to pain." I began to listen properly to the song and it was so painful and I began to relate to Steven's emotions and experience.
Then the lid lifted for me. It wasn't just this song that was about the death of his five year old little Maria. Every... single.... song... on the album was about this. Wow. I had no idea. I was stunned to read that when he recorded this album he paid no attention to the listener, that he just wrote the songs as he needed to, and that not even his wife heard most of it until it had been recorded. That's just how raw and real this record is. Steven Curtis Chapman is being so completely vulnerable in releasing this album to the world. And I am so completely blessed by it. He is teaching the church and unbelievers also something that we all need to know. Suffering should not stop someone from knowing God's love. In fact Jesus meets people in the midst of their suffering. This might actually be the only real place to truly know who Jesus is. It was in Jesus suffering that he showed the depth of his love for us.
Through all of the darkness and pain in each of the lyrics, and not only the lyrics but the gut wrenching tones and melancholy melodies, there are moments of heaven breaking through. There are moments when Steven looks out of his deep pit of despair and actually sees the hope of glory for what it is. The hope of heaven is so real for him. The hope of seeing his little girl again, but even greater than that the hope of when all things are truly new, when all things are truly healed.
That's the thing of it though. So often we get caught up in this life as if it is all there is. But our lives are fashioned for eternity. We don't actually belong in this mess that is the present fallen world. We belong in the perfect place that the Lord has waiting for us. "Out of these ashes.... beauty will rise, and we will dance among the ruins, we will see Him with our own eyes... I can almost feel the hand of God reaching for my face to wipe away the tears, and say "It's time to make everything new".... It would take our breath away to see the beauty that he's made out of the ashes." Little Maria is now perfect in heaven, with a perfect and new glorified body. As Jesus said "unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, there can not be new life."
How great the pain, and how searingly difficult to understand, but it is through death and suffering that God brings about something new and perfect. This was what he did through Jesus on the cross and the resurrection that followed. This is what he has planned for each of us who dare to believe in this amazing God.
All of this album has moments of tragic pain in it. All of this album has moments of the true hope of glory, of eternal redemption, of seeing Jesus face to face. I am so touched that Steven has been able to hold on to Jesus, well that Jesus has held him so close in the midst of this.
This album is so intensely powerful and such a huge blessing. Every moment and every melody that climbs to heaven from the deepest depth is so very real. There is not one ounce of pretence. To me Steven proves that God can be known in suffering and dispels every critic who denounces the truth of Jesus.
If I were you, I would give it a listen, if you dare.
(I haven't even begun to do justice in this review to how great this record is, or how great the faith is of trusting in God. I just know it will inspire you beyond measure. I can't recommend highly enough that you buy it... go on off to itunes you go. :) )