The Barn at the End of The World

The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
“A memorable spiritual autobiography.” —WASHINGTON POST
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Deciding that her life was insufficiently grounded in real-world experience, Mary Rose O’Reilley, a Quaker reared as a Catholic, embarked on a year of tending sheep. In this often hilarious book, O’Reilley describes her time in the barn as well as an extended visit to a Buddhist monastery in France. She seeks, in both barn and monastery, a spirituality based not in “climbing out of the body” but rather in existing fully in the world.

For O’Reilley, a smallish woman, that means learning how to “flip” very large sheep, inoculate them, and help them lamb (among other, earthier things). It means absorbing the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the practice of Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes social engagement, while also allowing herself to crave pastries, resent her roommate, and wish for more food.

“At the beginning of this year,” she writes, “I had no idea why I felt led to light out into the unfamiliar territory of sheep farming and Buddhist practice.” By the end of this “memorable spiritual autobiography” (Washington Post), she has found a well of deep peace and a way to live consciously in the world.

Publish Date
6 × 8.88 × 1 in
17.5 oz

Mary Rose O'Reilley

Mary Rose O’Reilley is the author of The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd and The Love of Impermanent Things: A Threshold Ecology, as well as a novel, two collections of poems, and three other works of nonfiction. An emerita professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, O’Reilley is currently active as a musician, potter, and homesteader on a rural island in Puget Sound.

Praise and Prizes

  • “A memorable spiritual autobiography … The Barn at the End of the World is in three parts quilted by 99 brief essays ranging from barn ecology to the religion of natural process. Worthy ideas—many expressed with elegance, many comedic—are on every page.”

    Washington Post
  • “Houses plenty of treasures … Mary Rose O’Reilley has created a memoir that is as delightfully unconventional as her approach to religion.”

    Dallas Morning News
  • “The life and death reality of raising sheep provides a reality to Mary Rose O’Reilley’s spirituality that most people do not have.”

    Temple Grandin
    author of Animals in Translation
  • The Barn at the End of the World is about the subtlest, most sane-making book on contemporary spirituality that I’ve read in years. It is also the funniest. This book has the makings of a classic.”

    Joanna Macy
    author of Active Hope
  • “Mary Rose O’Reilley’s rich, allusive prose draws on Catholicism, Quakerism, Buddhism, monastic tradition, Shakespeare and the Bible. Her short vignettes are luminous with faith matters, yet full of the earthy details of animal husbandry, resulting in a style that’s a cross between Kathleen Norris and James Herriot.”

    Publishers Weekly