“And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76–79 NLT)
Before every show, Roland Hayes would pray, “Lord, blot out Roland Hayes so that they only see thee.” Hayes was a singer born in post-Civil War Georgia, the son of a former slave. He experienced racism throughout his life, but there was one particular show where that racism was especially evident.
In the middle of a European tour, Hayes held a concert in 1924 Berlin, a city that considered itself the center of culture, especially music. His concert was to be held at the Beethoven Hall. In the days leading up to the show, open letters were published in the newspapers decrying Hayes’s upcoming concert as sacrilege; after all, these letters stated, a Black man would only mangle the revered songs of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms he was scheduled to sing.
The night of the concert, Hayes and his pianist walked onto a stage that was in complete darkness save the single spotlight trained on the microphone where Hayes was to stand. As they walked onstage, the crowd began to boo and hiss. Likely with his prayer still resonating in his mind – “Lord, blot out Roland Hayes so that they only see thee” – Hayes didn’t try to quiet the crowd; instead, he waited them out. “The ‘barrage’ of protests continued for close to ten minutes while Roland stood perfectly still with his eyes closed and his head upright,” write Christopher A. Brooks and Robert Sims in Roland Hayes: The Legacy of an American Tenor. Once the booing gradually grew silent, Hayes gave a slight nod of his head to his pianist to begin to play Schubert’s “Du Bist Die Ruh.” As always, Hayes’s singing was mesmerizing. Brooks and Sims write, “At the close of the performance, there was total silence throughout the house. In his heart and psyche, Roland knew that the performance had transformed the audience’s disdain into respect, if not admiration, for him and his artistry.” The crowd’s reverie was broken by a single, sustained clap, which grew with the addition of more clapping, which became a full applause and cheers.
Throughout most of his adult life, Roland Hayes used his gift of singing as a signpost pointing toward God, inviting God to illuminate himself while Hayes faded into the background. Even before his birth, John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, served as a signpost pointing to the coming of the Messiah. John understood that he was not the center of the story, that his role was always meant to be one who prepared the way for the Lord, telling his people how to find salvation, the Christ.
We, too, are to be signposts, little moons reflecting the light of the sun to point people to the Father of Heavenly Lights. Sometimes, like with Roland Hayes, this results in winning people over, and sometimes, like with John, the end is a bit messier, but it always entails the tossing aside of our own selves so that we can better serve Jesus. It’s not an easy task, setting aside ourselves as the center of our story so that Christ might reign supreme in our lives, but it’s critical for the well-being of our souls and our ongoing growth as children of God.
Consider what changes you might need to make in your daily routines to reorient your life with Christ, rather than your own interests, at the center.