When Ryan Trusell handed me an envelope at a conference back in August, I had no idea what to expect. We had never met or spoken before.
But when I opened it, I found one of the most creative ideas I’d ever seen. It was a watermarked, hand-written letter dated “1st Sunday in Lent,” and began:
My Darling Ava,
Where are you? I am sinking, from worry into fear. When my phone stopped working at noon on Friday, I decided it was time to bring James out to the Abbey like we discussed…
I later learned it was the first of many letters that make up Ora et Labora et Zombies, Ryan’s captivating, epistolary novel which combines Benedictine spirituality with Zombie apocalypse. The letters are delivered chapter-by-chapter to your mailbox—your physical mailbox, not your inbox—and offer a refreshing dose of anticipation rarely seen in our give-it-to-me-now world. (For more on Ora et Labora et Zombies, check out two gushing reviews from Elizabeth Scalia and Julie Davis.)
As a lover of old books and writing, Ryan’s my kind of guy. He’s the type who takes book binding classes for fun and whose website, betraying his love of ‘old media’, says “mail always welcomed…emails tolerated.”
A few months ago, Ryan messaged me about his newest project. He was designing a collection of hand-crafted booklets, themed around Advent and Christmas, and invited me to participate. I was of course thrilled. It’s not everyday you get to work with such a creative mind.
I wrote a piece titled The Strange King, a reflection on Christ, Caesar, and the subversion of Christmas. I was joined by three other writers who are intimidatingly gifted and whose company I hardly deserve: Simcha Fisher, Dan Lord, and Dorian Speed.
Together, the four pieces formed an enchanting, perfectly-timed collection which Ryan labeled Labora Editions Adventhology. Here’s the official description:
A subversive baby king, a lumbering grotesque, the empress of holiday traditions, and an epiphany on the day after Epiphany. All of this and more awaits readers inside the four slim volumes of the Labora Editions Adventhology. This new micropublishing adventure brings together four short pieces by four well-known Catholic bloggers, united by the common theme of the season of Advent and its culmination at Christmas.
Like Ryan’s serial novel, the quality here is impeccable. It’s not a slapdash weekend project; it’s true art. Each piece is published separately with a hand-printed softcover. The paper is fine 24lb bond, staple-bound into purple 110lb cover stock. The pages are machine cut so the edges are nice and square, the pages flush with the covers, which makes each finished product 6.75″ x 4.25″. The books are simply beautiful—not just in content, but in look and feel.
The Adventhology books begin shipping on November 23, but you can pre-order them now (which I suggest since they’ll sell out fast.) They’re fairly inexpensive: $3.50 apiece or $12 for the set of four, so if you’re looking for a creative, outside-the-box Christmas present, something beautiful and original that your friend or mom or priest has never seen before, this is it.
From the day of his birth he was surrounded by luxury and riches, and he indulged in every sensual pleasure known to man. The world looked upon such impressive power and thought, “Ah, now there’s a real king! There’s the good life.”
Yet quietly, at the opposite pole of the Empire, a small baby was born.
Advent is a time of struggle, when the spiritual and material to-do lists fight for primacy. We do our best to pray and sing, confess and prepare our hearts. We try not to let Advent become the season of shopping malls and credit cards, and to keep our focus on spiritual matters—but what can we do?
Even small presents have to be planned, bought, and wrapped; even simple meals have to be baked. Even subdued family parties and concerts of sacred music must be practiced for, bathed and brushed for, driven to, and kept awake during. Unless you live in a cave, Advent is an endurance test, especially for mothers.
The church was warm. The dark red carpet stretched along the aisles, complimented by the flickering red-glass sanctuary light by the tabernacle. The electric lights had not been cut on yet, except for a couple of small recess bulbs glowing above the altar. The first purple candle on the Advent wreath was lit, marking the season with its wagging yellow halo.
The man started into the church. His leg dragged along behind him, making a scraping sound like a gravedigger’s shovel sifting cemetery dirt.
They’re all that remain of my childhood adventures with salt dough ornaments. I hang onto them despite their not being very well-suited for actual cutting of cookies; they’re a bit too shallow and too fussy in design to work with my current roster of cookie dough recipes. But you never know.