This I Believe

Cleland, Robert Glass

  • Robert Cleland, head of the Research Group of the Huntington Library, describes a time in his life in which he was distraught and took a trip along the Colorado river with friends. The beauty he saw during the trip, Robert Cleland says, reinspired his life and faith.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. As head of the Research Group of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, Robert Glass Cleland is one of this country's leading historians. For over thirty years, he served Occidental College in Los Angeles as a teacher and administrator. During this time, he added much to our knowledge of American history in a number of important and authoritative books. Now Robert Cleland shares with us a bit of personal history.
Some years ago, I had the opportunity of making a 200 mile trip
by rowboat from Mexican Hat on the San Juan River in Southern Utah, to Lees Ferry on the Colorado. At the time, I was living in the aftermath of a great sorrow. In the nation and the world at large, there was mounting uncertainty, tension, and confusion. The heart had gone out of men and women everywhere.
Like all too many of us, I was discouraged and beaten down. I had lost my sense of security and peace of mind. Faith and confidence and hope were broken reeds on which I dared not lean. The way of life I had known and loved, the foundations of my familiar world, seemed ready to dissolve.
For seven days, my companions and I--leaving behind the troubled world of wars and threatened chaos--floated in three small rowboats down the muddy, isolated, and sometimes dangerous waters of the San Juan and Colorado. During all that time, we had no contact with the outside world. It was our usual custom to make camp for the night an hour or two before dark at some convenient spot on the riverbank. But the last evening before reaching our destination, we continued our voyage until nearly midnight.
The river was there cooped up and cabined in by its narrow gorge.
The massive walls of the canyon rose sheer above the water, almost four thousand feet. Presently, the boats became separated. In one of them, a single companion--the boatman--and I floated on alone. I have never known such beauty, for the moon was full, and by some witchery or enchantment, its mellow light turned all the river into a street of burnished gold and transformed the massive headlands and giant pinnacles into such shining walls and battlements and towers, as John the Beloved beheld in his vision on Patmos, of the glory and wonder of the city of God.
Someone has said that religion is an experience and not a creed. Now I have a creed that commands my intellectual respect. In essence, it is very simple. I believe in God, the Father almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
I have also the experience of a voyage one moonlight night through the deep canyon of the lonely Colorado River, an experience that made life's anxieties and frustrations and disappointments seem trivial and mean; that gave me a new understanding of the difference between the things that pass away
and the things that endure; that brought me an abiding serenity and peace, which the world of selfish seeking and desire cannot give and cannot take away; that added new vitality and meaning to my faith in God; that enabled me to know, as I had never known before, the living reality of one, "in whose sight a thousand years are the years of all eternity itself or but is yesterday when it is passed and is awash in the night."
There the beliefs of Robert Glass Cleland, a distinguished California historian and educator.