This I Believe

Houghton, Henry S.


  • Henry Houghton describes his childhood experiences of visiting his grandparents' Quaker meetings, and how those experiences led to a belief in an inner voice which provides moral direction.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. After completing his training as a doctor at Johns Hopkins, Henry S. Houghton spent most of the past half century in China teaching doctors there. During the war he spent four terrible years as a Japanese prisoner. Though he is now formerly retired there is little of value that happens in Doctor Houghton’s Community which does not bear the impress of his character and experience. This is his creed.
The challenge to tell others in simple fashion about the grounds of my belief has faced me with difficult self-examination and a discipline of humility. As I have thought about the pattern I wanted to make of my life and so often failed, it has seemed almost too shadowy and vague to try communicating to others. But it is there. It has been a slow growth, the ripening fruit of long visits a small boy used to make in the home of his Quaker grandparents. They were plain Friends who wore the garb and used the sweet archaic speech of their society. It was the habit of that household to gather for silent meeting every first day and fourth day, when the members of the family, the farmhands, and the servants sat together in the living room and after a half-hour of quiet,
listened while Grandmother talked to us for a little while before ending the meeting by shaking hands with each one in turn. For a long time, all I could remember of silent meeting was the impatience of a wriggling youngster to whom an interminable thirty minutes of utter stillness was appalling. And yet, some of what Grandmother said again and again, in that small circle of the family, became planted in a young and heedless mind.
Years later, it came to be, in part, the center of faith and conduct; a goal hoped for but never fully won. It was simple in the words she used. She spoke in gentle iteration of the still small voice within and the sure guidance it gives to those who learn to listen.
For her, it was a living reality, a direct communion with her God, a groping access to infinite wisdom. She spoke sometimes too about peace, an inner peace not at all free from concern about matters that really count—such as one’s failures to do the will of God—but freedom from everyday worries and vexations over what is of little moment. “These should stand apart from the frets of the world,” she used to say.
Perhaps it was the power of goodness and serenity made so clear and manifest in day-to- day living that left a lasting mark upon my mind. The deep mysticism of their faith and forms made little claim upon me.
Among my friends through the years, I have counted men and women of different races and religions, whose lives it has seemed to me have declared, like the heavens, the glory of God. The varied steps by which they have come to be what they are do not matter very much to me. But they have all been witnesses to a power within that I wish I had.
But for me, and this I do believe, there is an inner monitor to whose voice I have been trying all my life, more or less consciously, to listen. A voice which shames me for selfishness and peevishness, for rash speaking, and all the miserable things that rise to choke the life of the spirit.
A voice that reminds me daily of everything left undone and that prods a lazy will. I believe, too, that either through acts of pure faith or through the chastening of an unruly heart, one can find courage to meet the crises of life we must all expect—unforeseen catastrophe, bitterness of parting, burdens of sorrow and disillusion—to meet all these with steadfast calmness and with gentleness of spirit.
That was Henry S. Houghton of Carmel, California, a wise and gentle doctor and teacher.