Remembering grounds us in not forgetting God’s blessings

The Rev. Neal Presa, chaplain-in-residence for Week Three, prays during morning worship Sunday in the Amphitheater. Carrie Legg/Staff Photographer

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“I try to remember ordinary and extraordinary events. In ‘re-membering,’ God resets us so we are anchored in our maker and savior,” said the Rev. Neal D. Presa at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The title of his sermon was “Control+Alt+Delete/Command+Shift+Esc,” and the scripture reading was Psalm 103:1-5. 

Presa quoted lyrics from pop star Michael Jackson, “Do you remember the time / When we fell in love? / Do you remember the time / When we first met …”

He asked the congregation, “Do you remember where you were when the astronauts walked on the moon? When the Challenger exploded? Your first kiss? Sept. 11? Sheltering in place beginning on March 16, 2020? Jan. 6, 2021? A time of real, true, deep joy?” 

There are times and days seared in Presa’s memory: his first dance, the day he met his wife, the birth of his sons, the first time he could let go of their bikes’ handlebars so the boys could ride by themselves. One of the most poignant, he said, was the last time he saw his paternal grandfather in August 2019. 

Presa’s grandfather lived in the Philippines, and when Presa visited for what would be the last time, his grandfather wanted a watch. Presa bought him one. “I remember the smile on his face as he sat in his rocking chair,” Presa said. “He died of COVID complications. I carry the memory of our last embrace, of my childhood visits when we would go to McDonald’s.”

His aunt returned the watch to Presa and it had stopped, but it held the memory of that last time on the porch. “It was as if his heart stopped with the watch. As Dr. Seuss says, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,’ ” Presa said.

Psalm 103 is a reminder not to forget. “With every fiber of our being, we are committed to blessing God. We bless God to remember; and God will bless us and other. It works both ways,” he said. 

He told the congregation, “We have a tendency to ignore God. We forget that God provides every good thing; we can’t forget the mercies God bestows, the healing and rescuing God does. ‘Count your blessings, count them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.’ ”

When Presa was working on his doctorate in philosophy, he had dinner one night with Hughes Olifant Old and his wife, Mary. Old was an American theologian and the premier scholar on Calvinist worship. Old was legally blind, so his wife would find the books he needed in the library, then he would use a machine to transcribe his notes. Before dinner, Old recited Psalm 103 as the blessing. 

“The benediction in the psalm came alive for me. He was blessing and remembering and not forgetting,” Presa said. “I don’t want to forget my grandfather, my wedding, the graduations of my sons. I don’t want to forget the love of the Lord.”

He continued, “There is blessing in remembering. We are made whole in our members, in our sense of self, our ethnicities, our fears, our Enneagram number and our Myers-Briggs letters.”

Pressing the keyboard shortcut “Control+Alt+Delete” reboots a computer. “When we bless God, God resets us, reboots us. When I go to the Philippines I am reconnected to my maternal grandmother, to where my parents grew up. I am reset in a community that is beyond me but includes me,” he said.

Presa concluded, “Bless God and bless others so you don’t forget. Blessing reboots us to the one who hears and redeems us. Bless God and remember what life is all about.”

The Rev. Natalie Hanson, co-pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, presided. The Rev. Peggy O’Connor, an intentional interim minister and chaplain-administrator for the United Church of Christ community at Chautauqua, read the scripture. The prelude was “Chant de paix,” by Jean Langlais, played by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, on the Massey Memorial Organ. For the anthem, the Motet Choir sang “Out of the Stillness,” music by Richard Shepherd and words by Jonathan Draper. Stafford conducted the choir and Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, provided accompaniment on the Massey Memorial Organ. Stigall played “Now Praise my Soul the Lord,” by Johann Georg Nicolai for the postlude. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Randall-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.