Mike-El unwrapped a 12-inch tall clear crystal and set it gently on the coffee shop table.
Meditating with crystals and owl feathers, he says, is how he found his first wooden flute.
And making those flutes reconnected him to his spiritual heritage as a Cherokee and Blackfoot Native American.
“I’ve always done a little meditation, and I got into crystals while I was in the Air Force,” he said. “They call to me.”
Mike-El, born Michael Lewis Jones, in Goldsboro, followed in his father’s footsteps into the Air Force where he served as a crew chief on C-5 cargo planes humanitarian supply missions for 10 years after graduating from UNC-Charlotte. (Mike-El was a nickname from college that stuck.)
The Wilmington resident a brawny football player’s build, stocky and tall. Many days he wears a brown leather hat with a black, white and brown striped owl feather stuck into its brim. He’s a supervisor in the linen department at New Hanover Medical Center.
As he spoke about how he found his first owl feather and learned to meditate while holding it, a woman in the coffee shop walked over with a Bible.
“I can see you love the things the Lord has made. Like that crystal. God made that crystal. And I just felt led to share this scripture with you,” she said, reading a passage from Jeremiah.
When she finished, Mike-El calmly thanked her and took out one of his hand-carved and polished wooden flutes. As he played, all talk in the shop ceased and coffee drinkers turned to listen to the cool, ethereal sound, mouths gaping. When he finished, another woman exclaimed, “Wow!”
Mike-El has grown used to this reaction to his playing. As he’s played at Cape Fear Community College or even the Children’s Museum of Wilmington lately, people are just attracted to the sound of his flutes. After he played at CFCC’s Waccamaw-Siouan Day in early November, a little boy brought a story about Native Americans for Mike-El to read which he had written. The flute player asked the boy’s mother to read the story, and he played the flute to it on the spot. Mike-El says many of his songs are uncomposed, made from the movements of the Holy Spirit on his soul.
After finding his first wooden flute at the Lost Colony Trading Post on Hwy. 74 in 2004, Mike-El began learning to play and make the flutes. He had played trombone and guitar but never the flute.
Each of Mike-El’s flutes has a different voice because of their different types of wood. He carves and hollows each using hand tools and wood gouges. He uses a heated Phillips screwdriver to burn the holes in the flute, spaced to match the knuckle-size on the hand of the new flute’s owner.
Depending on the hardness of the wood, one flute could take him a few days to a few weeks to complete.
And each flute has a spirit totem on top – a crystal or turtle or simple leather and bead wrapping - which doubles as an air stop. Mike-El even has a flute-making season – crafting flutes by commission only Easter through Thanksgiving.
In the process of making and playing the flute, Mike-El found he felt closer to his ancestry.
“Growing up, we always just knew we had Indian in us. Other than that, I never paid it any attention,” he said.
Spiritually, “I believe in God, the Supreme Deity and all those who believe in him are good people,” Mike-El added. He writes and recites spiritual poetry where he refers to God as “the man from the Storyland.”
The flutes, crystals and meditation, he said, are tools to get closer to the divine. As his spirituality has matured, even his nickname – Mike-El - has taken on new meaning as his connection to Elohim or God.
For him, playing the flute, “it’s just really calming. I play every day,” Mike-El said. “When I get off work, I play my flute.
“I play for prayer, meditation and magic,” he said, “these times when people share their stories.”
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