Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

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

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

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

Article excerpt

The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. By Mary Rose O'Reilley. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2000. 344 pp. $22.95 (cloth).

To define oneself as an apprentice is to admit both inexperience and vulnerability. Learning how to care for sheep is hardly the sort of education expected of an English professor, yet that is what Mary Rose O'Reilley has done, while at the same time reflecting on the spiritual dimension of life. Weaving in and out of her past, she leads us along the winding path of her earthly and spiritual adventures. Part memoir and part journal, The Barn at the End of the World describes the physical and spiritual struggles she encounters as she attempts to live up to the feelings she has about God and nature, religion and relationships, physical labor and shape note singing. Practical and sure of herself, she is willing to experience a considerable amount of discomfort in the pursuit of the place where she and God might comfortably meet.

The first section, "Flight School," finds her in the sheep barn of an agricultural college where she is wrestling with the demands of a dirty and unruly flock. At the same time she is reflecting on questions of a larger nature, including both Thoreau and Zen Buddhist practice. She is interested in everyone from St. Augustine to Vietnamese nuns and monks: the text is sprinkled with verses from shape note hymnals and the Bible, and from the poetry of Walt Whitman and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Her movement from the Roman Catholicism of childhood, through a brief novitiate, and on to Quaker and then Buddhist practice is not a rarity in these days of picking at the religious buffet of the twenty-first century. …

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