I’m often asked why I chose to pursue a graduate degree in Mariology (the study of the Virgin Mary), and to be honest, I’ve answered that question so many different ways that I’ve finally realized I don’t know. I’m just drawn to her. There’s an intimate connection we share that I can hardly put words to. Except perhaps, to explain, that she’s part of my name.
My full name is Elisabeth Anne Griffin. Elisabeth, biblically speaking, was Mary’s cousin and the mother of John the Baptist. Anne, was Mary’s mother. Then there’s the fact that I’ve always gone by Elle, which means “she” in French. It’s as if my whole life has been foreshadowed by my name. That I would one day be a Mariology scholar and study the Feminine.
But there’s even more to it than that. Whenever I pray the rosary, I see all of the mysteries through Elisabeth’s eyes. It is as if I was there, watching Mary conceive and birth Jesus, just as her cousin did. When I purchase wine, I always buy French reds named for Saint Elisabeth. When I was looking for my previous mentor, I found what I was looking for in a woman named Elisabeth.
I know, on the surface it all seems silly to have this obsession with my name. Especially since it is such a common one! It is only natural I would see the name “Elisabeth” everywhere. And the name “Elisabeth Anne” is the most common combination of all. But that it has become my guiding force is a whole other thing entirely. There’s really no way to describe it. It’s just this connection I feel. It’s my spiritual lineage.
A spiritual lineage is a non-genealogical ancestry, and mine has been a guiding force in my life.
I find my spiritual ancestors through the Elisabeth’s. Through women who have struggled with infertility. Through women who are French. Through women who are Catholic and maybe even persecuted for being so. In other words, I find my spiritual family tree in the places where all those things intersect. Where all of the things that make me who I am, seem to make them who they are too.
And this has been happening even more so lately. And ever so much stronger with one person. Elisabeth Leseur. Every word that she writes could have been a word I’ve written. And it almost feels too intimate to share her story because if you read her story, you’ll learn so much about mine. But it is exactly for this reason that she is part of my spiritual lineage. She’s just like me.
Her name was Elisabeth, for one. She was French, for second. She was Catholic, for third. She lived in Paris during one of my favorite French epochs—the early 1900’s, but suffered ill health most of her life that left her unable to conceive. She didn’t own her own business, but only because women didn’t at the time. Instead her calling took the form of a charity which she founded and then ran. She traveled all around Europe with her husband and his job, just as I do with mine, and it was through these joyous adventures that she came to know God so intimately (amen).
And she wrote a diary. The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur was just that, a secret. Kept until her death in 1914 when her husband found three volumes and several decades worth of her prayers tucked away in leather bound journals. In reading them, he became so enraptured by the secret faith she had kept all those years, he was driven to convert from atheism to Catholicism, and even went on to become a priest (which, being a Catholic Mystic, she predicted would happen in her journals).
Reading her diary has felt like reading my very own. Her thoughts are my thoughts. Her words are my words. And it is because of this kinship we share that she is part of my spiritual lineage.
Even more beautifully, my spiritual lineage has a lot in common with my physical lineage. I am of Norwegian descent and only recently learned that my Norwegian roots descended from a women named Mareth Elisabeth. Mareth is the Norwegian form of “Mary,” and of course we all know Elisabeth by this point. My grandmother was even named for her: Marit Elisabeth.
And so the Elisabeths continue. The Marys continue. And the endless source of my own personal inspiration and guidance continues. Because I am part of a spiritual and physical lineage that will continue on through me.
And so are you. The question is, who are your spiritual ancestors?