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The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  269 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Transcendence can come in many forms. For Mary Rose O’Reilley a year tending sheep seemed a way to seek a spirituality based not on “climbing out of the body” but rather on existing fully in the world, at least if she could overlook some of its earthier aspects. The Barn at the End of the World follows O’Reilley in her sometimes funny, sometimes moving quest. Though small ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published July 16th 2001 by Milkweed Editions (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 544)
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Patricia
I requested and received this book as a gift 2 years ago. I read about 40 pages and then for some reason I left it on the night stand with a bookmark in the place where I had stopped. I picked it up again shortly after Christmas when I was down with a respiratory infection and feeling sorry for myself.

I've enjoyed Mary Rose O'Reilley as an author who can nudge me out of such a place. Her book Radical Presence got me over a bad attitude about teaching. Her book of poems Half Wild saw me through t
...more
Michelle
This is a book that I can read over and over and over again. Not to be missed - a deep well that offers something refreshingly different every time you dip into it. Not to put anyone off by this charged word, but it is a bible of sorts for me. When speaking about the Guatemalan Indians who went to Mass and then burned offerings to Mayan Gods on the steps of the church, O'Reilly says "my religious nature is omnivorous. I can worship just about anything that occupies a certain slant of light. Pray ...more
Marilyn Mcentyre
I loved this memoir of an academic's sabbatical in a French monastery where she learns to tend sheep. It is both sharp-witted and rich with spiritual reflection.
Lev
balancing love of the world with detachment from the world.

Sarah
This is one of those powerful, serendipitous books that I happened to pick up at precisely the right time in my life. Religion has long been a sore spot for me; as many of you know, even the most minor allusion to a positive “religious” experience (of any persuasion) has often sent me into uncontrolled bouts of ranting and frustration over patriarchy and oppression.

Over time, though, my views have grown softer and more nuanced. I still don’t believe in any version of the traditional “Christian”
...more
Paula
I am sorry that it took me so long to read this book, which has been on my spiritual memoir list for - oh, maybe five years, ever since taking Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew's class at the Loft in Minneapolis. To tell the truth, the "shepherd" in the title put me off. I taught Godly Play when I was a clergy wife, and I know the metaphor of the good shepherd, but it is tinged with so much patriarchal baggage and sentimental imagery for me that I was really reluctant to enter that world. When I did, how ...more
Trisha
Mary Rose O'Reilley must be one fascinating lady!! Someone who can move easily between the world of her Catholic past, to a year spent taking care of sheep, into Plum Village Buddhist monastery with Thich N'hat Hanh, to the classroom as an English teacher, and home again to her Quaker community. Her book, which has been called a cross between Katheen Norris and James Herriot, is filled with insights about the spiritual journey -- but it's a journey that is firmly grounded in the not always neat ...more
Emily Kimball
This book. Yes. YES! I cannot rave about its value enough! O'Reilley's words helped me along a very challenging year of being pushed beyond my comfort zone. Her wisdom, humor, compassion, and occasional snarky comment reminded me that none of us are alone on our journeys.

I read this book gradually over the course of a year, letting it unfold when it needed to, not rushing, reading for the sake of reading. Our struggles for balance, the desire for a love-filled life, experience of joy within the
...more
Tracy
O'Reilly is by turns wise, grounded, curmudgeonly, seeking, resisting, awash in the details of everyday life and always looking to be lifted up by Spirit. She describes the seeker's path beautifully while always staying grounded in the realities of this human life. I will say that I learned far more about sheep posteriors than I ever cared to -- O'Reilly is not a romantic but a realist -- but this lends all the more credence to her spiritual journey. If you enjoy spiritual memoir, I recommend "T ...more
Doranne Long
Delightful and moving book, similar to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, as she bounces about a bit within her essays, but provides excellent food for thought. I now know more than I wish to about the birth and death of lambs and other icky barn details, but also have a greater appreciation for life, real life, in all it's messiness and the possibility to remain calm, accepting, and non-judgmental. I now have a better understanding of Thich N'hat Hanh and the messages he is sharing with the ...more
Anna
This was a really interesting look into the life of a woman searching for and finding answers in the unlikeliest of places: a sheep barn in the Mid-West.
Kate
I was attracted to this book because of a personal interest in both sheep and spirituality -- in particular, I'm fascinated by Thic Nhat Hanh and his community in southern France. Although I enjoyed Mary Rose O'Reilley's writing, I felt like this memoir wasn't very cohesive. There isn't much of a story, it's more like her musings on a string of life experiences that are only loosely related. By the end, the author admits to this when she points out the difficulty in finding a suitable finale, so ...more
Keith
The Barn at the End of the World is what the author describes as a "spiritual memoir", not so much "here is my life and how I lived it" as "here are some assorted memories and reflections and how they have shaped my soul". Make sense? good.

Short essays essentially (very short- from a page to maybe 8 at the most), on topics of shepherding and buddhism, predominantly, but also family, neighbors, lovers, friends, walks in the wilderness... more topics than I can bring to mind without looking back
...more
Caroline
2.5 truly, but 3 for her familiar references: "fickle, freckled" Gerard Manley Hopkins, Diane Arbus, anamchara and elf patterning:

"One of the dicey things about teaching English or lamb haltering is that, in order to focus a student's attention, you have to hammer away at a few central principes which, to the conscientious learner, begin to have the force of law. But they are merely transitional truths, and when you see them start to harden in the learner's mind, you have to gently nudge him or
...more
Bishop Bergland
Exceptional! I find myself drawn to this kind of book lately - part memoir and part spiritual reflection. What could be more delightful than a former Roman Catholic nun, a Quaker, a Zen Buddhist, an English professor, a student in a spiritual direction program, and a woman doing an internship on a sheep farm - and it's all the same person? I found this book insightful and profound - and occasionally found myself laughing out loud. Highly recommended!
Lauren Fulner
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. I chose it as my Skeleton Crew pick for the collectively run bookstore I volunteer at (Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis!), and would recommend it to everyone, particularly if you have interest in farming/rural culture and/or a complex, holistic spirituality.
Paul
I took "The Barn at the End of the World" along to read on my annual retreat. Mary O'Reilly was a college literature professor who returned to school in Minnesota to get a degree in Spiritual Direction. One of her courses was working at the university farm learning to care for sheep and all the messy stuff that goes along with it. She writes what is called a spiritual autobiography. Her youth, 2-1/2 years in a Catholic convent, teaching, family and children, the grief of the last child leaving f ...more
Jill
This was one of those things that I really wanted to like... I tried to like it - I read the whole thing in spite of my disappointment - and yet I came away from the book convinced that Mary Rose O'Reilly has got to be a more interesting person than the book lets on. The questions she grapples with are fascinating and profound and I was hoping to share in some of her hard-earned wisdom, but again I was left wanting. Perhaps a reader who is schooled in Buddhist philosophy would get more out of O' ...more
dirt
Jun 19, 2014 dirt rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: shepard-wanna-bes
I came across this book because I was looking her other title, The Peaceable Classroom.

Mary takes you on a great journey through the unremarkable. You will most likely find yourself practicing walking meditation after reading this book. During that walking meditation you will allow yourself to really breathe and take in your thoughts, your emotions, and your surroundings.

If only every English teacher could be this thoughtful and interested in ideas, rather than grammar and punctuation. Though,
...more
Maryanne
The Barn at the End of The World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd 04162014 by Mary Rose O'Reilley
Adrianne
Jan 11, 2014 Adrianne is currently reading it
A quote: "Jesus, I'm told, spent a lot of time carousing and picnicking, which is how he got in trouble with the religious leadership. He was always feeding people, as full of kitchen tricks as any housewife. If you hung around with Jesus, you had good wine and your boat would be full of sunfish. When he wasn't feeding people, he was putting his hands on them and getting then on their feet. Most of his counsel, like the Buddha's, was about how to be happy in a difficult world."
Patti K
In this 2000 book, O'Reilly tells of her experiences
as a Catholic, Quaker, Buddhist spiritual seeker on
an active path she keeps making. She works on a sheep
farm for a year or so,learning everything there is to
raising sheep. Her sense of peace in being around
animals is what brought her there. It also talks of
her time at Plum Village in the south of France, where
Thich Nhat Hanh leads a monastic Buddhist community.
Worthwhile spending time with her in these rambles
and preoccupations. At times a bit
...more
Emily
I want to love this book but 50 pages in I can see it is not to be. She just jumps into the middle of her story and thrashes around leaving me to try to make sense of how a Catholic/Quaker/Buddhist comes to herd sheep. It was like my copy was missing the first few chapters. Actually, since I bought it at the thrift store maybe it is. Anyway, I will probably try to finish some more of it but am not looking forward to it. More like dotting my i's and crossing my t's. Or maybe I just go re-read Bar ...more
Rebecca
This book was a random grab based on the title. It's so random, I said "sure!" The author lives in Minnesota, was raised Catholic, became Quaker, add in Buddhism and taking care of sheep and there you have it. It was not a great book. And not a book I'd base my belief system on, by any means. But it raised some interesting thoughts about faith and life in general. And ethically about raising animals in different belief systems. All in all, it was interesting. Not a page turner, but edifying in a ...more
Naomi
I enjoyed her grounded, irreverent and compassionate approach to the spiritual process. She wrote about her stay in Thic Nhat Hahn's Plum Village and her attempt to become a nun at and early age, as well as the challenges of working on a large sheep farm.
Steve
Mary Rose O'Reilly manages to combine several interests of mine into one captivating memoir. A Quaker pulled to experience Buddhist meditation and sheep wrangling, she discusses the lessons she learns from each. I like her down-to-earth observations and humor. I felt I could totally relate to her journey of self-exploration. Chapters on other interests of hers like shape-note singing were equally fascinating.
Wendy
I enjoyed this book. I liked that she included her real life moments- those blunder-y, awkward, embarrasing moments that we all have. I liked how her spiritual journey is portrayed as just that, a journey. Like the vast majority of us, she doesn't have it figured out. There are times of profound insight and times on just plodding along, making it feel like a real look into her life.
Val
Exceptional - Not a story, per se, but descriptions of interesting parallels throughout her varied adventures in life, applicable to anyone on a spiritual path or taking a road less-travelled. You will giggle between gasps about customs, curious characters and all manner of sheep parts. Enchanting reading for those who enjoy contemplative prose. Do savor this book with an open heart and mind.
Jana
Jul 13, 2008 Jana rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jana by: Bookclub
This book was similar to Eat Pray Love, but much better and more honest I think. There are so many people on spiritual journeys and I am fascinated by the paths they choose. This book deserved more recognition than I think it got.
Heather
I give up. It has interesting moments, mostly the juxtaposition of the author's intellectual background and environment (she's a college professor) with the nuts and bolts of her "spiritual practice" of some seriously nasty necessities of animal husbandry and farm life. But the writing is just tedious, like she's trying too hard.
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“On the first day of November last year, sacred to many religious calendars but especially the Celtic, I went for a walk among bare oaks and birch. Nothing much was going on. Scarlet sumac had passed and the bees were dead. The pond had slicked overnight into that shiny and deceptive glaze of delusion, first ice. It made me remember sakes and conjure a vision of myself skimming backward on one foot, the other extended; the arms become wings. Minnesota girls know that this is not a difficult maneuver if one's limber and practices even a little after school before the boys claim the rink for hockey. I think I can still do it - one thinks many foolish things when November's bright sun skips over the entrancing first freeze.

A flock of sparrows reels through the air looking more like a flying net than seventy conscious birds, a black veil thrown on the wind. When one sparrow dodges, the whole net swerves, dips: one mind. Am I part of anything like that?

Maybe not. The last few years of my life have been characterized by stripping away, one by one, loves and communities that sustain the soul. A young colleague, new to my English department, recently asked me who I hang around with at school. "Nobody," I had to say, feeling briefly ashamed. This solitude is one of the surprises of middle age, especially if one's youth has been rich in love and friendship and children. If you do your job right, children leave home; few communities can stand an individual's most pitiful, amateur truth telling. So the soul must stand in her own meager feathers and learn to fly - or simply take hopeful jumps into the wind.

In the Christian calendar, November 1 is the Feast of All Saints, a day honoring not only those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but more especially the unknowns, saints who walk beside us unrecognized down the millennia. In Buddhism, we honor the bodhisattvas - saints - who refuse enlightenment and return willingly to the wheel of karma to help other beings. Similarly, in Judaism, anonymous holy men pray the world from its well-merited destruction. We never know who is walking beside us, who is our spiritual teacher. That one - who annoys you so - pretends for a day that he's the one, your personal Obi Wan Kenobi. The first of November is a splendid, subversive holiday.

Imagine a hectic procession of revelers - the half-mad bag lady; a mumbling, scarred janitor whose ravaged face made the children turn away; the austere, unsmiling mother superior who seemed with great focus and clarity to do harm; a haunted music teacher, survivor of Auschwitz. I bring them before my mind's eye, these old firends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints; but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or notice, the feast, indeed, of most of us.

It's an ugly woods, I was saying to myself, padding along a trail where other walkers had broken ground before me. And then I found an extraordinary bouquet. Someone had bound an offering of dry seed pods, yew, lyme grass, red berries, and brown fern and laid it on the path: "nothing special," as Buddhists say, meaning "everything." Gathered to formality, each dry stalk proclaimed a slant, an attitude, infinite shades of neutral.

All contemplative acts, silences, poems, honor the world this way. Brought together by the eye of love, a milkweed pod, a twig, allow us to see how things have been all along. A feast of being.”
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“Whatever you eye falls on - for it will fall on what you love - will lead you to the questions of your life, the questions that are incumbent upon you to answer, because that is how the mind works in concert with the eye. The things of this world draw us where we need to go.” 25 likes
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