Published in the Episcopal New Yorker (Summer 2012), with illustration, page10
How I Became an Episcopalian
– by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson
How did I become an Episcopalian? How did I find myself before Bishop Paul Moore at the Easter Vigil in 1987, bowing my head over the font receiving the sacramental water of baptism at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine?
I have a two-word answer: The Fish.
Allow me to explain.
Those of you who visited St. John the Divine in the mid-1980’s might remember a large light sculpture in the shape of a fish hanging in the nave. It was made of fiber optic tubes covered in bubble plastic, and these dozens of tubes all rotated and changed color as they swung a bit overhead, kind of making the fish look like it was swimming or perhaps trying on some bright display colors, in the manner of a cuttlefish. By the time I first encountered it, the motors that rotated the tubes were creaking and squeaking, and they kept creaking and squeaking for the remaining months of the installation, probably because no one could get high enough to put some oil in them without serious scaffolding. I had forgotten the name of the sculptor, but just found it online – Jonathan Borofsky – and the given name of his creation was Fish With Ruby Eye.
At that time, I was in the midst of a career as a theatrical lighting designer. I worked with strange art all the time, some of it beautiful and resonant, some of it mawkish, some of it not very aesthetically pleasing; this was my daily milieu. When I walked into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the very first time following an odd impulse (of then-indeterminate origin) to pray, I first heard The Fish creaking overhead, then looked up and was astonished to see it. The contrast between the large, campy, exuberant, noisy sculpture and the enormous gray nave of the Cathedral was mind-blowing, and one of the weirdest things I had ever seen. Wow, I thought. Strange art. I know strange art. Maybe this is my home.
God took care of the rest. As a conservative Jew, I didn’t know much about the differences between Christian denominations. To tell the truth, after attending a few Sunday services I had assumed that the Cathedral was Roman Catholic, since the incense and the vestments and the processions reminded me of what I had seen on television from the Vatican. I thought maybe a smaller Catholic Church would be better, and called one by my home to inquire about baptism. A priest kept trying to reach me to set up instruction times and a baptism date, but I never called him back. Instead, one day I walked straight up to Canon West after a Cathedral chapel service and said “Father, I want to be baptized.” It was only after I began baptismal instruction that I found out that St. John the Divine was an Episcopal cathedral. The history of my faith journey as an Episcopalian is still being written, and it all started with The Fish.