LENT: How Gorillas Humbled Me


On Wednesday, February 28, I met a wild mountain silverback gorilla (the dominant male) and his family of 10, face-to-face in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwest Uganda.

Blog readers might recall that in this season of Lenten reflection, I’ve been reflecting on Proverbs 6:16-19, the seven “sins that God hates.”  About the time of my gorilla introduction, I came to the sin of “haughty eyes” – i.e., pride.  God hates our self-reliance, our defiance of Him, and our deluded belief that we don’t need Him.  More on that later.

In the midst of this Lenten season, I also happen to be in Mukono, Uganda facilitating a course in the Development Associates International Master’s degree program.  About five days before the course began, I – along with my long-time friend and co-traveler David Johnson (pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church, East Dennis, MA) – set out on a gorilla trek.

After many hours of driving, we came at last to signs indicating we were entering the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to almost half of the world’s Mountain Gorillas (almost 400 of the remaining ~850).  Seeing these majestic beasts in the wild had been a dream since I first visited Uganda in 1999.

Back to the sin of “haughty eyes” or self-reliant pride – if you think of yourself as a rugged, self-reliant individualist, perhaps you should go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  It humbled me and it humble you.

The forest will humble you. It is appropriately named “impenetrable.”  There are no trails, no roads, and a dense, vine-tangled, nettled-covered forest as dense as anything you could imagine in the Amazon rain forest.

The trek down and back to where the gorilla family has been located will humble you. You follow your guides and trackers up and down 60-degree slopes (Dave says sometimes 70-degree) on “trails” they are cutting with machetes.  It’s slippery, with thorny trees and biting ants.  Every minute you are grateful for the “porters” you hired to help you up or keep you from rolling down and disappearing into the valley below. 

Your dependence on others will humble you. After about 20-minutes into the forest, you realize that you could never find your way back.  The trek requires you to put your complete trust in your guides and trackers – to get you to the gorilla location, to help you up and down, to teach you how to behave when you meet the gorilla family, and to find your way back after the hike.

And of course the gorillas will humble you. When we first met “our” family, every gorilla – from mother with 6-month old baby on her back to the 400+ pound (~200 kg) silverback – was 25 to 80 feet up in the trees eating, navigating trees like they were slender gymnasts.  We watched them bite easily through rock-hard seed-fruits and thought of the strength of those jaws.  We saw them climb and remember the on-line fact which stated that the big males could effortlessly throw a man my size 10 or 15 feet in the air.

Here’s the point: the key way to defeat “haughty eyes” or self-reliant pride is to encounter something far greater than yourself.  This is the essence of worship.  Gaze at the stars and ask almighty God “Who am I that you would care for me or call me by name?”  Observe the power of the ocean and sit humbly before waves over which you have no control.  Look at the cross of Jesus and the Resurrection we celebrate at Easter and ask, “Is my life-trek being guided by the One who has the power to forgive my sins even as He overcame death itself?”

The life of following Jesus is a beautiful, challenging, sometimes dangerous trek.  I am not qualified to go it alone.  I need Him as my guide, my tracker, and my protector.  The destination He has for my life involves risk, adventure, and a journey into the unknown.

The biblical passage that came to mind and tied our gorilla trek analogy directly to the life of humble reliance on Jesus Christ was Proverbs 3:5-6 (my paraphrase) “Rely every day completely on the Lord with all your heart and don’t think you can navigate life without Him.  In all your pathways rely on Him, and He will take you to destinations greater than you could ever imagine.”

Here’s to the humble life of complete dependence on Jesus!