Spiritual Guardians: Carpenters, Mentors and Drummers

            This month I’m exploring several traditional Christmas stories and sharing with you insights I’ve discovered.  This involves looking beyond the surface of the original story and seeking a symbolic or “soul meaning” that might be there.

            We started with Mary’s story, and I offered Thomas Merton’s revelation that we all have a “pure point” within us.  We followed Mary as she went to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth and reflected on the importance of spiritual friendship.  This week we turn to Joseph.

            As the tradition tells us, Joseph was engaged to Mary.  When he found out she had become pregnant, he was going to respectfully annul the contract. But he had a dream in which he’s encouraged to make a different choice.  He’s told the child Mary carries is from God and has a great destiny awaiting. This woman and child need him. Joseph wakes, thinks about his dream, and comes to a decision. He will marry her after all.

            Mary’s been asked by a divine messenger to bear a child.  Joseph is being asked to step beyond the social norms or obligations and protect Mary and the child. It’s more than traditional parenting — it’s extending oneself to be a guardian of someone for whom you have no legal obligation.

            Once the child is born, Joseph continues to protect mother and child. Led by more of his dreams, they flee to Egypt to escape persecution, returning home only when it is safe.    We’re told Joseph was a carpenter. He’s mentioned once more when Jesus is 12, but then disappears from the story. He never says a word.

            For me, Joseph can be a symbol of many people who choose to become spiritual guardians for people in need.

            I can think of many people I’ve seen take on such a role over the years. Adoptive and foster parents.  Volunteers at Boys and Girls clubs.  Mentors and sponsors of all kinds.

            At Hospice of Santa Barbara, we had a program known as “I Have a Friend.” Children who’d lost a parent were paired with an adult who had also lost a parent when young. The two would get together once a week to take walks, do homework, or share a meal. Over time these relationships had a profound effect on both the child, who now had a role model for how to survive such the loss, and the adult, who had a chance to give a young person guidance they had not had themselves. 

            And one person who comes to mind is Mike Ray.

            I first met Mike in a hospital room when his father was dying. I spent time with him and his family planning the service, but we never really connected.

            Time passed. One Sunday morning Mike showed up at my church. He had a light in his eye and smile on his face. When I asked how he’d been doing, he simply said he’d had a spiritual awakening. He started coming every Sunday.  He offered to lead a band for us, which he did. He and his wife became regular coordinators for serving a monthly meal at Transition House, a special program supporting homeless families.

            Over time I learned more about Mike.  Born in 1943, he said he had not been a great student because he was constantly distracted — always tapping his foot, counting out beats, and dreaming of music. He became a drummer. As a young adult, he played in a variety of different groups at clubs and concerts. But as he got older and began a family, the lifestyle no longer worked. So, he opened a drum shop.

            Mike’s Drum Shop was more than a place that sold instruments. It became a music school and a gathering place for many young people. Teenagers who did not have a stable home life would show up often, and Mike took them under his wing. He also volunteered countless hours teaching music in local schools throughout the county. His shop was an institution in town for more than 40 years.

            Mike lived with Parkinson’s his last 23 years but never lost the glint in his eye.

            He died in 2018 at age 77. There was a memorial service in Texas near his family. A few months later, I was asked to lead a local gathering at Mulligan’s Café.

            The room was packed.  As different people stepped forward to speak, they all had a similar story: Mike had noticed them when they came to his shop.  He saw potential in them. If they needed a job, he’d find them one. If they didn’t have money to buy instruments, he’d work something out.  One speaker said Mike co-signed on a car for him, which he desperately needed to get to his gigs.

            One fellow told us he had come to Santa Barbara when he was four years old with his recently divorced father. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment and knew no one. One afternoon they were walking down the street and heard drums. The boy followed the sound, and the father followed the son. They walked into Mike’s Drum Shop and met Mike. Mike saw how important music was for the young boy and told the dad his son could come by the store after school to help out, and Mike would watch over him. Mike gave him lessons. The young boy became a successful musician and entertainer.  In fact, he told us he had just flown to Santa Barbara from Berlin where he was performing as a member of the Blue Man Group. He made the trip to honor Mike. He said he owed his career to Mike who had seen the potential in him.  

            Mike was more than a store owner or music instructor. He became a spiritual guardian for many young people and lived to see them flourish.

            I give thanks for the many spiritual guardians in this world who go beyond routine expectations to protect, guide, and nurture others.


Image at top of post: Joseph’s Dream, by De La Tour

Contemporart icon: “Joseph’s Dream”


  1. livelier13 says:

    Steve, this is beautiful and important and poignant and soulful. And I like how you connected the past two posts with this one. Lovely lovely lovely!

    Kristen Jacobsen Leadership & Change Mobile 831-818-6573



  2. Patty corrigan says:

    I found an unexpected spiritual mentor in one of the Grandest of Matriarchs at GPC. I’d mention her name, but being the modest person she is, I don’t think she’d like it. When I confided in her that I was having trouble with prayer, she said, “ Well, Patty, first you start with gratitude, and then the rest will come.” And so it did.


  3. Marilyn Gross says:

    Love this remembrance of Mike. Thank you, Steve…….
    Marilyn Gross


  4. Steve Cohen says:

    I loved this Steve. Was Mike the guy behind “Boomchaka”? It was a drumming group for teens. They would play on upside down buckets on the sidewalk downtown and made an amazing sound. I know some kids who were part of that for whom it was an extremely important part of their growing up….and I think it might have been Mike behind that.


    1. Steve: I don’t know if that was Mike, but he was everywhere with kids and people of all ages on every imaginable percussion instrument. His tolerance for cacophony was amazing.


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