Emile Cailliet grew up in a small village in France. In his college days, Emile was an agnostic who had never picked up a bible for himself. Then, he served in the army in WWI. ‘ The inadequacy of my views on the human situation overwhelmed me’, he wrote, ‘what use the philosophic banter of the seminar .. when your own buddy – at the time speaking to you of his mother – dies standing in front of you a bullet to his chest’
One night, a bullet got Emile as well. An American field ambulance crew saved his life and later the use of a badly shattered arm was restored. Emile returned to his books, but they were no longer the same books. Reading in literature and philosophy, he found himself probing their depths for new meaning. ‘During long night watches in the foxholes, I had in a strange way been longing – I must say it, however queer it may sound – for a book that would understand me’.
Since he knew of no such book, he decided to prepare own for his own private use. Emile read widely, and as he went reading, would file away passages that ‘speak to my condition’, then carefully copied them into a leather bound pocketbook that he would carry with him wherever he went. He hoped that they would ‘mead’ him ‘from fear and anguish, through a variety of intervening stages, to supreme utterances of release and jubilation.
The day came when Emile put the finishing touches to ‘the book that would understand me’, the words and the sentences that would speak to his condition, and help him through life’s happening. A beautiful, sunny day, Emile went out, sat under a tree and opened his book. As he went on reading, however, a growing disappointment came over him. Instead of speaking to his condition, the various passages reminded him of their context and the circumstances. In his own words, ‘then I knew that the whole undertaking would not work, simply because it was of my own making. It carried no strength of persuasion.
At that moment, Emile’s wife, who knew nothing of the project on which he had been working, appeared at the gate of the garden, pushing the baby carriage. She had with her a Bible in French from a pastor she had met on her morning walk. As she stood in front of him, Emile literally grabbed the book and rushed to his study with it. He opened the Bible and “chanced” upon the Beatitudes. He read, and read, and read – first in quiet and then aloud with an ‘indescribable warmth surging inside’. These are his words:
“I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realisation dawned upon me: this was the book that would understand me! I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the Gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom they spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them became alive to me.
The providential circumstances amid which the book had found me now made it clear that while it seemed absurd to speak of a book understanding a man, this could be said of the Bible because its pages were animated by the presence of the living God and the power of his mighty acts. To this God, I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the book”.
I love reading stories, and I love reading books time and time again. There are some cherished stories, that I go back to because they seem to express some deep parts of me, but the only book that ever revealed me in my entirety was the Bible.
Jimmy founded Stirring our Affections in 2016 | Married to Sarah, Pastor in Melbourne and eternally loved and satisfied by Christ