Urban Dolorosa – The Sorrowing City

Pour out your heart like water
for the live of your children
let justice roll down like waters
righteousness like an everflowing stream.
-Rev. Susan Johnson, Urban Dolorosa – The Sorrowing City

I just retuned home from the final of five memoral events sponsored by Urban Dolorosa. These events took place over five nights at various churches through out the city of Chicago. The purpose of these events was to memorialized the deaths of the 260+ children murdered on our streets over the last three school years. The lives of these saints are ignored by much of the city.

Part of the service included reading the names of these beautiful saints. These children were named. Their existence was recognized and their deaths remembered. They were not the soundbytes we get from the ten o’clock news. No. They were given the dignity life on this earth rarely – if ever – afforded them. We were confronted with the witness of the saints. Parents and children built an altar of rememberance. Faces were displayed – notes were left -hearts were broken open again. They city has for too long been silent about the deaths of our future, but tonight and the previous nights she has let out a groan of lament. A sigh too deep for words. Maybe the city can begin to hear.

This evening as the names were being read, I began thinking about the story of Rizpah from the Hebrew Scriptures. Her story is found at the end of 2 Samuel, chapter 21. Rizpah was a wife of Saul. Many English translations say concubine, but it is more accurate to say she was a secondary wife. Many years after Saul’s death the Gibeonites approach King David seeking recompense for their peoples’ blood spilt by Saul – the are seeking to asuage his blood guilt. David asks what they need to happen and they demand the blood of seven of Saul’s sons. David agrees to their demands and hands over the five sons of Merab – these are acutally Saul’s grandsons, and the two sons of Rizpah. These seven boys are impaled and left for dead. But Rizpah lays sackcloth at the feet of the murdered children and makes her dwelling place at their feet. You see, they slaughtered innocents were left to become food for the feral animals of the land to scavange, but Rizpah could not allow that. She stayed at their feet beating away the beasts that sought to scavange they bodies. Night and day. Day and night. Rizpah never left the feet of the children. They were killed as the first of the harvest began – the sun of spring. It was when the rains of autumn began to fall that King David heard of what Rizpah was doing. He was so moved that he had their remains removed and, along with the remains of Saul and Jonathan, buried. Because of a mother’s steadfast love – the king allowed the boys to finally rest in peace.

Rabbi Jonathan Magonet says this of Rizpah: She is “every mother who sees her sons die before their time for reasons of state, be they in time of peace or in war. All that remains is for her to preserve the dignity of their memory and live on to bear witness and call to account the rulers of the world (Magonet Bible Lives 1992, 11).” Tonight we gathered with the mothers at the feet of their children. We sang the words above as we walked through Hyde Park. We stopped at Ray School singing, as a pledge, that we are with the children that study within her walls. We will beat away the beasts that seek to consume. We will stand vigil day and night until there is no longer a need. No longer a need to stand a the feet of our the children who deserve to enjoy a life of love and hapiness. No longer a need to stand at the foot of another coffin of a saint gone before their time. We stood tonight – tears in our eyes and fire in our souls – to remember and give name. We stood tonight at part of a Sorrowing City. An Urban Dolorosa committed to weep until weeping is no longer needed. Like Rizpah we stand with our children.


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