Finding Your Inner Banjo
It's like a cross between a guitar and a mandolin, only twangier.
-- Mom of 2.5
Your inner banjo is that side of you, deep down, that is both your true self and the beckoning of God within you. It is who God knows you to be, even if you don't always live up to it or even if you've lost touch with it.
If you are really depressed, or really angry, or really confused, your inner banjo is your better self: the one you can't quite find but that God knows. If you prefer another instrument, that's fine. Call it your inner trumpet or your inner guzheng. Truth be told, any instrument can be your inner banjo.
Your inner banjo is where your inner voice and the voice of God meet and have an everlasting love affair.
So how can you get to this place? It may well take a lifetime, or more, to get there completely, but there are magnificent tastes of it even in this life, and some people live from this place in a consistent and beautiful way. They are the fat souls of our world, and there are a lot of them. Little children and really old people are very good at being fat souls. They have found their inner banjos.
Nobody finds the inner banjo alone. To find your inner banjo you need friends and companions, including animals and plants and the earth. And you need to be able to learn from experiences you've had in the past, happy and sad.
As Monica Coleman makes clear, you need to be open to creative transformation, to making lemonade out of lemons, to new births. You don't just find your inner banjo once and for all, you need to find it again, every day. When you find your inner banjo you are open to new experiences and you don't cling too fervently to the past, making a god of it. You hold onto your memories, happy or sad, with a relaxed grasp.
Here's the good news. Even if you cannot find your inner banjo, you can sometimes hear it in the sounds of music you love and, with discipline and commitment, friends and the blessing of nature, you play your inner banjo. When you do this, you are joining the creative side -- the playful side -- of the Soul of the universe. God has an inner banjo, too. It's called Love. Sometimes you can see it and often, if you have ears to hear, you can hear it in music.
Hindu traditions propose that the primordial sound of God is OM. It is the sound through which the universe was created and it permeates the whole of the cosmos as God's presence in the world and in our hearts. We might think of OM as the sound of God's Breathing, the sound of the divine spirit - a spirit of creative transformation -- as it vibrates throughout our evolving universe, sometimes quietly and sometimes thunderously.
To this idea we might add that the primordial sound is expressed in the multiple sounds of the world: those that we hear outside us and those that dwell within us, those made by other animals and the natural world, and those made by musical instruments. These sounds awaken us to OM when they help us become the kinds of people we are called to be: carriers of divine love on earth. These sounds can be understood as "callings" of divine Breathing.
At least this is how biblical traditions sometimes speak. They speak of God as one who "calls" human beings toward love and the fullness of life. From a process perspective the "calls" are not given to us in words but rather in feelings, in impulses, in lures within the heart.
Sometimes, oftentimes, we hear these callings in the sounds of music. They come in many different tonalities. The musical callings of God can be "loud, soft, brassy, gentle, romantic, melodious, raucous, strong, eerie, spooky, rhythmic, choppy, noisy, mellow, shrill, reedy, clear, breathy, rounded, full, thin, piercing, strident, harsh, warm, resonant, dark, bright, heavy, light, and flat." (How Music Sounds).
For example, if you are a little too staid in your life, you may need to hear the raucous calling of God; and if you are a little too fragmented, you may hear the rounded call of God. If you are a bit morose, you may need to hear the light side of God. The banjo is especially good at helping you hear the lighter, resonant, and twangy side of God. God speaks through the resonance of a plucked string.
Everybody has an inner banjo, but no two banjos are exactly alike. The key in life is to awaken to your inner banjo, as best you can, and learn to play it with others, who are likewise seeking their inner banjos. When people seek their inner banjos together, they form what Christians call a church or Buddhists call a sangha. When you are with other people, and you hope that they, too, can find their inner banjos, let your motto be that of Open Horizons:
Delighted by diversity and inspired by beauty, we seek to live wisely and compassionately in a universe of recurrent novelty and mutual becoming.
The wisdom and compassion you seek is the music you can play with your inner banjo. It comes from plucking, strumming, or clawing the banjo with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Its precise quality will depend on the conditions of your life: your background, your culture, your past achievements, your past mistakes, your early childhood, your genes. But every moment brings with it a calling relative to the situation at hand: a way that you can respond to what is happening in your life in the best possible way. When you respond in this way, you are playing your inner banjo, bringing it to life.
You can play your inner banjo without being able to play a physical banjo, and that's fine. You play it with your actions. But physical banjos are not bad, either. They are a gift from God to the world. Here's how it all happened:
In the beginning, even before our universe came into being, God had a dream that people might strum, pluck, pick or claw strings and make twangy sounds. Human beings listened to this dream, shared in it, and began creating stringed instruments, including the banjo. The banjo is an outcome of evolution and, happily, it is still evolving. The instrument is evolving and so is the kind of music it can play.
This is as we might expect it. After all, the universe is always a little imbalanced, always on the edge, always moving into something new. Once upon a time there were no molecules and then there were molecules, no stars and then there were stars, no earth-like planets and then earth-like planets, no life and then there was life, no banjos and then there were banjos. In the language of Whitehead, the universe is a creative advance into novelty, lured by the Soul of the universe from whom possibilities for novelty are derived. Process philosophers call it co-creativity.
One way that we humans co-create with God is by playing music. We might think that we alone are the co-creators and that the rest of creation doesn't do this, too, but this is not the way process philosophers see things. We think that everything is alive in its own way and that many other creatures co-create with God, too; and that even ostensibly un-alive realities -- musical instruments, for example -- have a kind of power of their own. Yes, we create music through them, but they create music through us, too. Or at least God can work through them to hear the voices of the world and our own possibilities.
In a way musical instruments can be priests to us. They do this by helping us have fun, make peace, hear beauty, stay centered, build community, protest injustice, claw through their aggression in a non-violent way. In these and many other ways it does what all good priests do. The banjo helps us enter into merry-making peace which, of course, is God's desire for life on earth. Thus the banjo is, or can be, an instrument of God's desire. As the Bible (almost) puts it:
Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and banjo.
-- Psalm 149:3
Thirteen Reasons to Play the Banjo
1. It can be a lot of fun.
2. It can help bring about world peace.
3. It can help you become more centered.
4. It can bring out your creativity.
5. You can play jazz with it if you get really good.
6. Pete Seeger played it.
7. You can be on a late night tv show.
8. You can be a little kid and play it.
9. Its roots are in Africa and that's reason enough.
10. You can play "The Girl from Ipanewa" with it.
11. You can play Chinese-Appalachian Avant-Garde music with it.
12. It can make the sound of a train.
13. Rhiannon Giddens plays it.