At a meeting of religious studies teachers there was reflection on changes in the level of Biblical literacy among students coming from primary school. It is hard to imagine they would have met the expectations of Miss Rabbage.
Miss Rabbage would have handed out Bibles that were blue-grey in colour; inside the hardback covers was a diagrammatic history of the Bible in English. It would be more than a decade later, while studying theology, that I would discover that these were copies of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a version respected by academics and biblical scholars. In retrospect, it seemed reasonable that this should be the version that we should have read in the junior class at our primary school; there were not many other versions around and Miss Rabbage, our teacher, would have sought the best.
Miss Rabbage taught us about the Acts of the Apostles, including Saint Paul’s travels through Italy to reach Rome. His journey includes a stop at the Three Taverns; his journey was recorded on a map in the Bibles from which we would read with Miss Rabbage. “The Three Taverns” had a reassuring tone to the ears of a small boy at a tiny country primary school in the West of England. “The Three Taverns” conjured up pictures of flat-cap wearing, ruddy faced farmers in old tweed jackets and corduroy trousers in the town on market day. It had about it a sense of the safe and secure.
Did Miss Rabbage not explain that Paul’s journey to Rome would lead to his death? I am sure she did. Perhaps it is part of the genius of childhood to see time as a series of discrete moments rather than as a continuous process. Memories come back as individual, self-contained entities; often without any narrative to link them together.
Think about memories of summer holidays in younger years: the pictures are often vivid. How many memories do people have of the spring that preceded those summer experiences, or of the autumn that followed them?
Perhaps one of the reasons that children often have little or no sense of death is that time is the experience of the here and now, there is no sense of time as a process leading to an inexorable end. Tom Stoppard’s character Rosencrantz asks:
Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment, in childhood when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on for ever. It must have been shattering – stamped into one’s memory. And yet I can’t remember it. It never occurred to me at all. What does one make of that? We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the words for it, before we know that there are words, out we come, bloodied and squalling with the knowledge that for all the compasses in the world, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure.
Is he right? Is there an intuitive knowledge of death? If so, why do The Three Taverns have an enduring happy place in my memories and the ensuing death of Paul have no place at all?