Dorms open Sunday at Savannah State University and Augustans Maurice Williams, 19, sister Christina, 11, mother Tonya and father Milledge will trudge countless times across campus, carrying armloads of stuff from the parking lot to Maurice's room in Bostic Hall.
"I hope to become a radiologist," said Maurice, a freshman in pre-med. Despite the new classes, surroundings and friends, he plans to continue a family tradition: offering thanks before he eats.
Butler High School classmates occasionally questioned Maurice about his mealtime prayers. "Maybe at school lunch, we'd be sitting with people who didn't know us, and they'd say `You still say your blessings?"' he recalled.
But Maurice was thankful to have food to eat, he said. Both parents grew up saying thanks and instilled that in their children. It's a custom that continues to link generations and cuts across interfaith lines.
"The kids take turns. My parents did that to me," said Milledge Williams, a deacon at Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta.
Showing gratitude to God is not just something to do; there is a reason, said Milledge Williams. "We have nothing without God."
Acknowledging God's care is also part of the Islamic tradition, said Aladien Fadel, president of the Islamic Society of Augusta. "Before we start eating we have to say `In the name of God, the merciful, the benevolent - Bism Allah Alrahman Alraheem,"' said Mr. Fadel.
Prayer is said by each individual silently before meals or at the start of any new work, he said. "Everything that we have in our hands was provided by God, and that is why we should always remember him and thank him for it," said Mr. Fadel.
At the age of 7, Islamic children are taught their duties to the Creator and other people. But before formal education starts, they will likely pick up some Islamic traditions, he said. "We learn mainly by observation at young ages," said Mr. Fadel.
In the Jewish tradition, Rabbi Zalmon Fischer of Chabad of Augusta said there are different blessings for different foods: blessings for food that grows on trees, different ones for food that comes directly from the ground, still others for meat, milk, bread or wine. The Sabbath starts with a blessing over wine called the kiddush.
On Friday nights, Judi and Bill Estroff and their children, Meredith, 14, and Ryan, 11, forgo the skating rink to have their Sabbath meal. "Every year it gets more difficult, but we have been able to maintain the tradition so far," said Ms. Estroff. The family attends Adas Yeshurun and participates in activities at Chabad.
Both the Estroffs grew up Jewish, but they have chosen a more traditional upbringing for their children than they had, she said.
Meredith Estroff said, "I feel blessed."
The Eastern Orthodox also have various blessings, even prayers for new cars, said John Harlan, a member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Augusta. He and his 8-year-old son, John Jr., made up their own prayer, he said.
Life is a three-legged stool, said Mr. Harlan. "He sees me going to work and coaching him and actively involved in church," he said. "I open the doors in all three endeavors - school, work and church and expand his horizons as he grows older."
Saying grace before meals was also part of Gene McManus' childhood in Aiken. He and his wife, Ann Marie, gather Maureen, 6, Mac, 4, Caroline, 2 and Catherine, 6 months, at the table every night, no matter what, he said.
"We want them to know why we are here and why we have the food we do," said Mr. McManus, a member of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church.
It also allows them a chance to talk about the day, he said. "It is our No. 1 family time."
Prayer at mealtime is also a chance to seek the Lord's wisdom on certain issues, said the Rev. Robert Williams, associate pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Evans.
"It teaches the children that there is not anything that we cannot take before the Lord," he said. "God wants to be involved in our lives."
The Rev. Hal Hodgens, pastor of Marks Baptist Church in Augusta, said he believes very strongly in thanking God for the food he eats. "We eat out a good bit," he said. Other customers and waitresses have thanked him for his example.
"It is a powerful way for us to express our love for the Lord Jesus," he said.
Jewish prayer: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who in His goodness, provides sustenance for the entire world with grace, with kindness and with mercy.
Catholics: Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Harlan family prayer: Thank you, Lord, for everything you have given to us, for our family, our friends, our health and most of all for the example that your son Jesus Christ has given to us. Amen.
The Islamic prayer: In the name of God, the merciful, the benevolent - Bism Allah Alrahman Alraheem.
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