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Issue Date:  April 14, 2006

The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life by Mary Rose O'Reilley THE GARDEN AT NIGHT:
By Mary Rose O’Reilley
Heinemann, 80 pages, $14
Keeping the classroom contemplative

Reviewed by ANTONIA RYAN

Everyone is too busy these days, and teachers are no exception. Dealing with too many students, rushing off to faculty meetings and negotiating school politics can pile on so much stress that once-idealistic teachers find their enthusiasm eroding as they just try to make it through the day.

Mary Rose O’Reilley is a Quaker who teaches English at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. She has also completed certification in the two-year spiritual guidance program at the Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Md., and has studied Buddhism with Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village, Duras, France. In The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life, she draws on her background in both Buddhist and Christian spirituality to propose how teaching can be sustained as a contemplative vocation.

One intriguing area Dr. O’Reilley explores is the Buddhist idea of “first thoughts,” which arise from being attuned to the present moment, as one would be in meditation. “Since much academic communication is thought about thought,” she asks in her prologue to The Garden at Night, “how can we get ourselves, our disciplines, and our students to retain a hidden freshness?”

Dr. O’Reilley peppers her brief book with stories from her teaching career, some of which illustrate well what might lead a teacher to break down. (“I have sat in on administrative meetings where promulgations like this one went unchallenged: ‘Our faculty are like tubes of toothpaste, you can always get more out of them,’ ” she writes in one chapter.) Ultimately, she says, teachers must not be too wrapped up in materialism or in accumulating honors, which can take them away from the reason they became teachers in the first place.

Though the book is aimed specifically at teachers, it is applicable to the workplace in general. “We spend half our waking lives at work, but too many of us live half-lives while we are there,” writes Parker J. Palmer in his foreword to The Garden at Night. Dr. O’Reilley’s suggestion that “one has to have an inner life and be familiar with its contours” is good advice for anyone looking for a more reflective experience in the midst of life’s routine.

Benedictine Sr. Antonia Ryan is an NCR staff writer. Her e-mail address is

Christian quests and questions
Pilgrim in Time by Rosanne Keller PILGRIM IN TIME
By Rosanne Keller
Liturgical Press, 127 pages, $11.95
In Pilgrim in Time, Episcopalian sculptor Rosanne Keller meditates on her wide travels around the world -- spending weekends with her family in Mexico by the Sea of Cortez, making a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland, and walking along El Camino de Compostela, the 500-mile Way of St. James, in Spain. She also offers insight she gained closer to home when she lived on the St. John’s campus in Collegeville, Minn., where she got her master’s degree in monastic studies, and in her native Texas, where she now lives and has her studio.

Ms. Keller says that at the Mass she attended at the end of her Compostela pilgrimage, the bishop of Santiago said in his homily to the gathered pilgrims, “Keep the pilgrim spirit always. Now, go and live your lives without fear.” Her little book reminds us that time is sacred, whether we’re on pilgrimage or going through our ordinary days.


Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything by Michael P. Foley
By Michael P. Foley
Palgrave Macmillan, 214 pages, $12.95

Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? “revels in the kinds of things that the average person would be surprised to learn have a Catholic meaning behind them,” says author Michael P. Foley, who has a doctorate in Catholic theology and teaches at Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

In Chapter 1 on festivals, food and drink, Mr. Foley touches on the Catholic history of eating fish on Friday -- and how that practice led to the McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich -- and discusses foods such as the pretzel and the Polish paczki (a sort of filled donut) that originated because of the traditional Lenten fast.

Other chapters treat entertainment, science and education, politics and word etymology. The segment on the arts boasts plenty of well-known Catholic writers and a few obscure ones; an especially interesting tidbit is about Dame Juliana Berners, a 15th-century prioress, whose Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle is supposed to be the first manual on angling. Some believe Dame Juliana is the first woman to publish in English.

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? by Timothy Radcliffe WHAT IS THE POINT OF BEING A CHRISTIAN?
By Timothy Radcliffe
Burns & Oates, 218 pages, $16.95

At the beginning of What Is the Point of Being a Christian? Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the order, recalls the title question being put to him by a friend. He could originally see no reason to explain. “A religion that tries to market itself as useful for some other purpose -- because it helps you to live a stable life, because it gets rid of stress or makes you wealthy -- is shooting itself in the foot,” he writes. “If it has to justify itself by serving some other end, then it cannot be a religion that one could take seriously. The point of any religion is to point us to God who is the point of everything.”

Later, though, the friend’s question made Fr. Radcliffe look more closely at how our professed beliefs manifest themselves in a Christian life. If we talk about love and fellowship, but there is none, “then why should anyone believe us?” His chapters progress through certain characteristics that Christian faith should bring: freedom, happiness, courage, comfortableness in our bodies. Drawing on literature, wide theological knowledge and pastoral experience, he lays out how many people are struggling through the complex issues of today’s world and stresses the importance of listening to others with whose opinions we may not agree.

-- Antonia Ryan

National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2006

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