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Bless this house and protect it against that Bart Simpson.

I didn't have the heart to tell the priest that the reason for moving our house-blessing ritual from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. was because my husband couldn't miss Bart Simpson.

"To think I could have married a nice Anglo girl," he joked when I announced that our new rental in Tucson would be decidated to the Sacred Heart. "The karma won't be right until we do it," I said, which only added to Jeff's culture shock. Of course I could have married a nice Latino Catholic. Like many post-Vatican II babies, I've married out of my religious and ethnic clan.

American pluralism has moved my generation around like chess pieces, far from our roots. My husband and I share similar values and politics but our deities differ. Compromises must be struck, so for one half-hour, Bart Simpson had it over this Sacred Heart.

Taking life apart in one city and piecing it together in another is hell, and sometimes I wondered if the house would ever be ready for the blessing. Packing boxes were scattered around like tombstones as I struggled to discern the spirit of each room and place things accordingly. ("Just stick it there for now," Jeff pleaded, a concept that saved me from myself more than once.)

I waited until the very end to assemble my altar, a sign that the move was done, right down to affixing refrigerator magnets. In my writing room I hung a large wooden replica of the types of crosses, homemade and rugged, that fill old New Mexico graveyards. On it I pinned pictures of family members, living and passed on.

On a small square table (one belonging to my Pentecostal grandmother) I placed the Santo Nino de Atocha. The Christ child seated on a throne is revered in northern New Mexico, where people bring baby shoes to his altar in Chimayo because it is believed he wears them out when he walks about at night, doing good deeds.

Racially, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are Indian and Spanish, so I added crystals and an offering of beans and corn as a reminder that all spirituality must be based on respect for the Earth. The Santo Nino towered beside the gold Jesus revealing his Sacred Heart, the sort of statue people used to put on their car dashboards. The two images are quite old, given to me by my Catholic grandmother who had a priest "enthrone" her painting of the Sacred Heart in her home some 50 years ago.

I remembered the good laugh I had when Maria Berriozabal, a former San Antonio city councilwoman and community activist, described her futile attempts to "make her altar look old" because that's how altars should be. But they have to age naturally, she said. And, like people, they spread with age, eventually filling wills and shelves as more pictures of ancestors go up and more santos get passed down.

A few minutes after Bart Simpson ended, Redemptorist Fr. Ricardo Elford appeared at the door with Amy Shubitz and Marianna Neil. The threesome's work with refugees is legendary around here. Marianna and Amy are based a[ Southside Presbyterian Church, the first Norrth American congregation to declare itself a sanctuary for Central Americans.

Ricardo, whose trademark is not a clerical collar but a cowboy hat, has lived in Tucson since 1967. English was his first language but Spanish is now as much as part of him as water inside a cactus. The Sonoran desert, with its cultural mix and Mexican border (about 70 miles south of here) demand it.

I had no idea how thoroughly a house can be blessed. There are prayer for bathroom and backyard alike. We proceeded to each site with a cereal bowl of blessed tap water -- an endangered species here due to overconsumption -- and a twig Marianna found in the yard, We took turns saying the prayers, sprinkling even our computers. When the prayer came up for the guestroom, we sprinkled our living room futon. We ended at the altar, with a dedication to the Sacred Heart.

Carl Jung believed the West's spiritual malaise was due to a cutting off of head from heart, logic from instuition. Many feminists apply similar imagery to describe patriarchal society, its inability to see the forest for the machines it has constructed. And as individuals, so many of our struggles are those of the heart: how to keep it strong, yet open; how to heal it after it's been broken.

In Eastern traditions, the heart chakra is critical to good mental and physical functioning because it is the midpoint between the worlds of spirit and matter.

After the blessing we talked late into the night, feasting on black beans, rice salad and green corn tamales (ground corn steamed in the husk) made by a Yaqui Indian woman.

In such a mobile society, God only kowns how long we will live under this roof. But for now, the karma is right. Our home has a heart.
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Title Annotation:blessing a new home
Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 22, 1993
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