A young man by the name of Piri Thomas wrote a book called, “Down These Mean Streets.” It describes his conversion from being a convict, a drug addict, and an attempted killer.
One night, Piri was lying on his cell bunk in prison. Suddenly it occurred to him what a mess he had made of his life. He wanted to change, he had to change. He did not know what to do or where to start. Then he remembered his mother telling her children, “When in doubt, pray.” So he started to pray, but it did not feel right. He felt the need of a gesture, he needed to kneel. But he was sharing a cell, the other prisoner was called the “Thin Kid”, so Piri waited.
After he thought the Thin Kid was asleep, he climbed out of his bunk, knelt down on the cold concrete, and prayed. He said, “I told God how I felt. I talked to Him plain, no big words. I talked to Him about my wants and my lacks. I told Him of my hopes and disappointments. Then I started to cry.”
After Piri finished his prayer, a small voice said “Amen.” It was the Thin Kid. “There we were,” Piri said,” he lying down, head on bended elbow, and me still on my knees. No one spoke for a long time. Then the Thin Kid said, “I have not prayed since I was small.” The two young men talked a long time. Then Piri climbed back into his bunk.
“Good night, Chico,” he said.
I am thinking that God is always with us, it is just that we are not with Him. I thought of this story when I read Mark’s gospel. Jesus tells the people, “Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk-1, 12-15)
To reform means to recognize that there are areas of our lives that need reforming: to identify these areas, and turn our backs on them. It means to face up to sin in our lives and turn away from it.
For example, are we aware of selfishness that puts our comfort ahead of other’s needs? The self- absorption in yourself? Where you take yourself all too seriously. Where the days and nights rotate around you, your heartache and health. Your successes and failures, your problems and frustrations. Always looking inward. Always putting your comfort ahead of others’ needs.
To reform means to face up to any kind of sin in our lives, and do something about it. This brings us to the second point of Jesus’ instruction. Besides reforming our lives, Jesus tells us to believe in the Gospel.
This means to believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He came to save us. That you care not only to know about God but that you come to know God. That might be your Lenten question…. Do I actually know God? Not a concept, or an idea of God. God is one and three, God is all knowing and all loving. Rather, the kind of knowledge that is never an abstraction. The kind of knowledge where you become one with the one you know.
Because you see God as all-powerful, He needs nothing. Except that He needs to be needed by you. But, like Piri, you have to be willing to open up to God and let Him in. I suspect that many of you have a relationship with God, but any relationship can be improved upon and deepened.
Piri was not as dumb as he thought he was. He went on to get his Masters degree in social work, and now runs a program for ex-cons. He often says, “I cannot believe what God has done for me.” I always tell him, “Piri, you were the one who said yes to God. God never forces Himself: we have to invite Him in.”