Silence, please. No photo.

I am a rule follower, and that is not always a good thing.

Sure, I have broken a few throughout my life, but my default is follow the rules.

In high school, we had a discipline structure that included two slips, grey and green. Grey was a one-hour detention and green was that plus demerits. If I’m remembering correctly, twenty demerits got you kicked out. Something like that.

I earned one grey slip.

In four years.

I was not alone, there were some who never even got a grey slip, but it was only a few.

I used to sit in awe when a friend would tell me he asked to go to the bathroom only to spend the time wandering the halls and getting snacks from his locker. I was way too scared of getting in trouble to do something like that.

Sure, there were a few exceptions and just because I did not get caught does not mean I was perfect, but you get the picture.

One time I was driving in the Midwest early in the morning, and found myself at a red light. There was no one for miles and I still couldn’t get myself to drive through the light – do they have cameras? I’ll bet I’ll get a ticket. 

Recently, I have been both affirmed and concerned by this tendency.

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This past July I went on an Ignatian Pilgrimage with 21 faculty and staff members from the school where I work. We visited important sites in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, making our way from Azpeitia, Spain to Rome, Italy.

We visited churches, chapels, museums, and monuments. At most places, there were rules posted near the entrance concerning dress, photography, food, and silence.

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With hundreds of eager tourists (myself included) this was often a lot to ask.

When I walked into the Sistine Chapel, amid a mildly chaotic sea of people, I heard a voice bellow over the crowd.

Silence, please. No photo. Silence, please. No photo. 

I watched as phones (briefly) went back in pockets, and conversations ceased or became whispers. Then, inevitably as new people came in,

Silence, please. No photo. Silence, please. No photo. 

While walking later that day, I started thinking – why?

Why silence? Why no photo?

After asking around, I heard the real reason why you can’t take photos in the Sistine Chapel is that they have an exclusive agreement with a company that owns the images (or something like that).

Initially, I was a bit upset because I like having pictures of experiences and post them (often, probably too often) so needless to say, this made me severely doubt my rule following.

Then I gave it some more thought – because I followed the rules, what did that get me?

My phone was in my pocket – to prevent the temptation to take a picture.

I was alone – to prevent the urge to talk to a friend.

I just stood there. 

Silent.

Staring up, in awe. 

After the trip ended, I realized I took hundreds of photos and had plenty of time to share my experience with others. The respite in the Sistine Chapel is now a cherished memory.

Last week, before mass began, the cantor urged the congregation, “Please take a moment, to make sure that your cell phone is turned off.”

Historically I’ve always put it on Do Not Disturb which ensures it will be silent, but still keeps my phone on and connected.

But this time, I followed the rules and turned my phone off.

It was a small gesture, but I did feel that it sent a message – alright, I trust you’re saying this for a reason, I respect you and I respect this place, this community. 

In many cases, it’s good to challenge rules, think and ask why? In this case, it was to limit interruptions and help create a prayerful environment.

History has shown, injustice isn’t always illegal. People have done a lot of bad things in the name of following the rules.

Certain rules only allow harm to continue, while others can can be freeing.

When I know why rules were created and why they are enforced, it is much easier to follow them. They can even allow me to live more fully.

I am still a rule follower and that is not always a good thing.

I know I need to make room for questioning and creativity – to give life and meaning to the rules I follow.

It is easier to do this when, occasionally, even in chaotic times, I am alone and reflecting, without my phone, without distraction.

Silence, please. No photo. 

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