Heraclitus and Tabatana: Unity in Diversity, Difference in Unity

by the Rev’d Craig Lemming

“The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony.”
― Heraclitus (c. 535–c. 475 BCE)

It was the late 1990s, zebra print was in (apparently), and yes, that’s me on the far left among some of my dearest high school friends at St. George’s College in Harare, Zimbabwe. Our chamber choir was named Tabatana, a Shona word meaning “we are united” and we specialized in singing Southern African music replete with dancing and drumming. We sang chapel services (God bless the Jesuits!), concerts, weddings, embassy events, dinner parties (including one hosted by former president Robert Mugabe), two international concert tours of the UK in 1997 and the US in 2000, and we recorded two CD albums, ‘The Source’ and ‘Kurota’.

When this photograph popped up on my Facebook feed during my morning walk today, I was listening to this episode of In Our Time on the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Looking back into these hopeful adolescent faces, I realize now, twenty years later, that Tabatana truly embodied Heraclitus’ wisdom in our music and in our companionship.   

Fr. Frederick Copleston, S.J.[1] observes that Heraclitus’ original contribution to philosophy is the conception of unity in diversity, difference in unity. Copleston theologizes Heraclitus’ belief that in God all tensions of opposites are reconciled, all differences harmonized, because “God is the universal Logos, the universal law immanent in all things, binding all things into a unity and determining the constant change in the universe according to universal law.” Copleston’s Christology of Heraclitus’ philosophy teaches us that “Every material thing is a unity in diversity (consisting of molecules, atoms, electrons, etc.), every living organism also – even God Himself, as we know by Revelation, is Unity in Distinction of Persons. In Christ there is unity in diversity – unity of Person in diversity of Natures.”

When Tabatana sang together all of our differences were unified in the rhythms, melodies, harmonies, drumming, and dancing we co-created. The young men in this photograph are now husbands, fathers, life partners, medical doctors, journalists, safari guides, managers of restaurants, hotels, and real estate, opera singers, lawyers, priests, and even an international conductor of symphony orchestras. In all of our diversity, the music we created together decades ago still binds us together in unity across time and space, and yes “we are (still) united.”

“All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle (Logos, the hidden harmony behind all change) binds opposites together in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of the opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string.”

― Heraclitus

As the cacophony of this dystopian nightmare blares on, we must all incarnate Heraclitus’ “attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and lyre.” We must remember our truest, shared identity – the Imago Dei: the Sacred Image of the Triune God in whom every human being, in all of our kaleidoscopic diversity, is made – and pray the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.


[1] Frederick C. Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy: Volume I, Greece & Rome, Part I (New York: Image Books, 1962), 54-63.

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