Rising from the Valley of Death
It's been a year and a half since Steven Curtis Chapman lost his youngest daughter, 5-year-old Maria Sue, to a tragic accident at the family's Tennessee home. Maria's death rocked her father's world, causing Steven and his wife, Mary Beth, to question God and their faith, while also clinging to the hope of things to come. The grieving process brought Steven, like King David, to his knees, simultaneously shouting at God while also desperately grasping for hope. Chapman journaled the journey, which he likens to penning his own Psalms—and not surprisingly, many of them turned into songs, and now his first album since Maria's passing, Beauty Will Rise.
Chapman spoke with CT about losing his daughter, the "black hole" of pain and despair, and the glimmers of life they've clung to through the last 18 months—including the opening of Maria's Big House of Hope, a healing home in China for special needs children. The Chapmans had already adopted two Chinese girls before Maria, so returning to China over the summer to open Maria's Big House was a bittersweet time to both mourn Maria yet again, but to celebrate her life and legacy.
I don't think I've ever encountered a piece of art where hope and pain are so beautifully intertwined. You've said it didn't feel so much like making a record, as you were just being David recording your personal psalms.
Yeah, I was hiding out in the valley of the shadow of death, just crying out to God. Man, I've never been so thankful for the Psalms. I'm not sure I really even got the Psalms until I walked through this. Obviously the Psalms were a great comfort before walking through the valley, but all of a sudden, I'm just so thankful for God's honesty to us, to allow us to look into the heart of a schizophrenic worshiper like David, because that's what I've found myself to be. To go in the same breath, How long, O Lord. Where are you, God? Are you doing anything about this? Do you even hear me? to But I'll trust you. Your love is better than life. I worship you. I praise you. How can you do that? But I have, and my family has.
I almost get this image of David beating on his chest when he's saying, "Why are you so downcast within me?" He's thinking, Heart, come on. Get with it. You know what's true. Hope in God. It's like that for me, where my heart and mind are going into this dark abyss. But then I say, Wait a minute. Come back. Come back to your senses. For me, that's where these songs came from.
What else was non-typical about making this album?
I ignored every rule that I've ever had for myself for making records. I've always been a rule follower. Even when I was a kid, I tried to do everything by the book. Over the years writing songs, I've developed some rules—always thinking of the listener and always putting myself on their side of the speakers and going, Okay, my job is to try and put this thought in a way that they're going to be able to grab hold of and stick in their own pocket in their own life, in their own heart and experience.
I've done it so long, these things just come automatically. But here, I ignored the rules. This wasn't me writing songs. This was me just screaming and crying out to God. Nobody heard these songs, not even my wife till most of them were recorded. No record guys. No managers. I am prone to reshape and refashion things to try and please as many people as I can, to get as many nods or smiles out of as many people as possible. But this was such a completely different thing. It was important that it's coming straight out of my gut and out of my heart. That was a strange, scary process, but it was important that whatever it is—good, bad, ugly—it's true and it's real.