So just how do you pronounce the Greek word for “faith”?
It ends up being an example each time I teach the Greek alphabet to a new bunch of eager young minds. The Erasmian Pronunciation of Koine Greek technically provides two options for voicing the letter iota. The “i” sound as in “pick” or “wick” (technically the short sound of iota) or the “i” sound as in “peek” or “week” (which would be the long iota sound).
Choose the latter pronunciation and we have “peace-tiss” (or perhaps “peace-tease” –for some reason, I find myself really liking that option).
Choose the former pronunciation and we have “piss-tiss.”
It always gets a laugh.
It strikes me that these aren’t just two alternative ways of pronouncing πίστις.
They are two different tenses of faith.
Sometimes life is good.
Sometimes the pieces come together.
Sometimes we see promises fulfilled, prayers answered, dreams realized, visions fulfilled, purposes accomplished, desires blossom, and goals achieved.
Though perhaps it is more peace-tease for the simple reason that life turns, and often the turns are hair pins. And suddenly…
There are more pieces missing than fitting.
Promises tease us like a vanishing rainbow; prayers return like Noah’s first dove – with nothing in hand and no place to rest their feet; dreams turn to nightmares, visions are blurry at best, purposes wither, desires shrivel, and goals become cruel jokes.
And all we’re left with is πίστις – of the piss-tiss variety.
Sometimes see our reflection in Teresa of Avila, traveling through the Spanish countryside with her mule, reforming Carmelite monasteries, doing God’s work. Upon finding herself thrown on the side of the road, covered in mud, she stood, pointing her accusing finger at heaven. “God, if this is how you treat your friends,
it’s no wonder that you have so few of them!”
There it is. Piss-tiss.
Piss-tiss or peace-tease.
πίστις is still spelled the same way, but it sounds and feels so very different. But it’s still faith. What a shame we’re generally only taught the more pleasing, happy pronunciation peace-tease, with short, vulgar sounding piss-tiss rejected, hidden away like an illegitimate child, sub-par and sub-spiritual. What a shame when both tenses of faith, both pronunciations of πίστις aren’t embraced, as James does in his wisdom:
“Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing songs (peace-tease).
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray (piss-tiss).”
Both are legitimate tenses, tones, modes. lenses of faith.
Both are crucial to spiritual life.
Both involve finding traction in life – in the good and in the not-so-good, on the uphill and on the downhill slopes of life, when you’re king of the hill and when you’re down in the dungheap.
Remarkable, how much can hinge on the sounding of a mere iota…