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Book Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


The Barn at the End of the World
The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
Mary Rose O'Reilley
Milkweed Editions 09/01 Paperback $15.95
ISBN: 9781571312549

Multiple religious participation (MRPing) is the conscious use of the ideas, practices, and sensibilities of another tradition by a person firmly rooted in his or her own faith perspective. In this serious, subtle, and frolicsome spiritual memoir, Mary Rose O'Reilley shows us this way. She was raised a Catholic, served as a novice in a religious community for two years where she learned Buddhist meditation, and taught English in college. Here she describes her experiences during a year tending sheep as a hireling shepherd. The animals become her spiritual teachers as she learns how to trim hooves, dock tails, and shear coats while trying not to get stomped or bitten. "Farm work provides for me a space that the Spirit can sink into and repair its frayed ends."

O'Reilley's multidimensional life also includes a passion for shape note singing, taking a certification program in spiritual direction, and attending a long retreat at Plum Village in France. The lure of the latter is Thich Nhat Hanh who says during the retreat: "The practice of mindfulness is a sneaky way to have a rich life." Instead, the author comes face-to-face with her impatience, critical judgments, anger, and rampant irritability. O'Reilley realizes later that her experiences at Plum Village add up to what Zen teachers call "taking tea with the demons." This gritty and enlightening spiritual memoir is spiced with many epiphanies, not the least of which is "Choose the good. Stay out of the sand traps."


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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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