by Michael E. Tymn via e-mail|
One does not often encounter a book involving trance mediumship authored by an Anglican priest. But The Stephen Experience, published last year, is just such a book. The Rev. Michael Cocks, the author, says that he has been exploring alternative religious experiences for many years. “I have been much focused for most of my life, on research into the paranormal in the belief that Christianity would be more soundly based, if based more on universal spiritual experience, than in adherence to a church structure,” he explains.
The “Stephen” referred to in the title of the book is St. Stephen, the Christian martyr of nearly 2,000 years ago. During the early 1970s, Stephen began communicating through New Zealander Thomas Ashman. Initially, Cocks was very skeptical when he heard of the phenomena in 1973, but he began to realize that there might be something to it after he investigated and discovered that the Greek spoken by Stephen in some of his early sittings with Ashman was a dialect of 2,000 years ago from Ancyra (modern Ankara), where St. Stephen was said to be from. Over the next seven years, Cocks took dictation as Stephen answered questions and poured out wisdom through Ashman.
Born in New Zealand, Cocks was ordained in 1953. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all Anglican priests in the Christchurch Diocese of New Zealand. Cocks received MA Honors in philosophy in the University of New Zealand and MA Honors in theology in Oxford University. He worked in the Christchurch Diocese for 39 years and was then appointed British Chaplain to West Sweden, where he worked until he was 70. His wife, Gertrud, is Swedish.
Reverend Cocks, why did it take so many years for you to get all of this into a book?
“There were many reasons. Part of it was fear of social ostracism for claiming to receive teaching from a saint. Part of it was my not having quite absorbed what Stephen was trying to communicate; part of it was that the meaningful coincidences came thick and fast, and I wrote a book about them called Into the Wider Dream. I thought at the time that such a book would be more acceptable to the public than a seemingly improbable story about communications from a Christian saint. I did make several attempts to make a book, but faced with the task of choosing a sufficiently small number of teachings to fit into a reasonably-priced book, I found this difficult. When studies finally cleared up what Stephen was meaning to say with his Greek, and academics passed my work as valid, I got more confidence that the book could be accepted.”
Prior to observing the mediumship of Thomas Ashman, what were your beliefs concerning such mediumship and related phenomena?
“I was brought up in a liberal but believing clergyman's family, and was always religious. My father was interested in the mystics and in direct communication from spirit. I was interested early in telepathy as a way of demonstrating the spirit realm. A loved great aunt spoke much about the revelations of Swedenborg, so I never had prejudices against mediumship. But it was not until I was nearly 40 that I was conscious of a strong urge to penetrate a veil into the world of spirit. After a couple of years in an Islamic group, Subud, I felt ready to submit to whatever came from the other side of the veil. I surrendered more deeply to Christ, and then began a series of extraordinary meaningful coincidences which continue to occur until the present time. I would ask questions of Spirit and receive striking answers through book references and coincidences. I became certain that I was indeed receiving communications, and in fact had received permission to begin doctoral studies on the subject of meaningful coincidence. A series of extraordinary coincidences found me conversing with the spirit of Stephen the martyr through a medium, Thomas Ashman, who until he was taken over by Stephen, had been a somewhat unspiritual Jew. Continuing conversations with Stephen then sidetracked me from the doctoral studies.”
Did you at any time suspect that Ashman was a charlatan?
“I never really suspected Ashman of this. He was deeply sincere, as was his wife, and he was plainly undergoing personal change as the result of what was being spoken through him. There was no desire to impress, no question of financial gain, and the communications were made in the presence of a group of about twelve friends. His personal views also were somewhat at odds with those of Stephen. He gradually became more and more frustrated because most of the time Stephen spoke through him, he was unconscious, and had to wait a week for transcripts of the session to be printed out. He often felt out of it. On the other hand, I do have a strong skeptical side to me, and I was convinced that Stephen was genuine almost in spite of myself. But of course I asked whether it was truly, truly Stephen, that Stephen, and of course I wondered why it was me talking with him. I did one time want to prove it was Stephen, and not a split off part of Tom that was speaking, and asked for proof. In the next session Stephen spoke a few words in his own dialect of Koiné Greek. Thirty years were to pass before I understood all the implications of those words, and they were to prove conclusively Stephen's authenticity. I have submitted my studies to several scholars, who have not seriously quarreled with my findings. I have to say though, that when bits seemed rather strange, I was quite grateful; it gave me a let out from really believing it was Stephen. It was a bit of a burden, you understand, to have Stephen on my conscience. I mean, if it was Stephen, I had more responsibility to do something with what he said. I felt it to be a burden.”
Would you mind explaining the basic trance process as you observed it?
“We would reverently pray for protection, and be silent. Tom would sit upright in a chair, relaxed. After two or three minutes he would begin to pale, and to breathe deeply. Then his body would give a slight jerk as Stephen seemed to take over. Then a warm smile, eyes still closed, a greeting with hands raised nearly to the head. Stephen often began with a wry joke, such as the time when he noticed that the seated Tom's feet did not touch the floor. He said, ‘I see that my feet do not touch the floor. Verily I must be a spirit!’ Stephen was always warm and friendly, yet spoke slowly as if declaiming his words. Sometimes there were pauses while Stephen thought, but he never seemed to lose the thread of what he was saying. When a session was completed, after a while there would be a slight jerk as Tom resumed ownership of his own body, and then Tom would rather dazedly ask whether anything had happened. Sometimes it had not. Like me, I think Tom felt the responsibility of Stephen, and would joke to dispel the too serious atmosphere.”
Did you discuss the phenomenon with your superiors and colleagues in the Anglican Church?
“No I did not discuss things with them for many years. I did consult a lecturer in Greek at the University about Stephen's Greek words. She reported my request to the then bishop, who called me for a chat. To him I denied being interested in spiritualism, as was definitely the case in those days. This was true in that prior to Stephen talking to me, I had no interest. And now I was just interested in Stephen. But to protect myself I did not tell the whole truth to the bishop. It was not until 1992, when a half page article on Stephen appeared in the Swedish GöteborgsPosten that things changed. I attended worship at the cathedral after the publication, and was much moved to be embraced afterwards by the then dean, who congratulated me. I received support from my congregation in that town, and encouragement from our assistant bishop. My own bishop has been supportive, and a few of my fellow priests now also in our diocese. I am editing an e-journal The Ground of Faith, to which over three hundred clergy subscribe, and this was inspired by the experience of Stephen. So while no doubt a great number of conservative clergy would indeed think very ill of me, I do now feel both safe and supported.”
So many of the messages are abstract. One would think that an advanced soul would be able to communicate more effectively. Do you have any thoughts on this?
“Sometimes I think he communicated very effectively, but yes, many of the messages are abstract, and require thinking about again and again. Often we needed to discover the concrete experience which makes things come clear. Often we had to wait for meaningful coincidence to illuminate his intention. But there is also the question of the nature of afterlife existence. I cannot claim to know this, but I suspect that in the next life that we remain who we are, and with our earthly memories. That Stephen remains who he was, at least in one sense, with his earthly memories. I notice that his stories and illustrations are ones that would be at home in the Middle East and at that time. He is aware of the modern world, but the centre of gravity so to speak of his mind seems to be back at that time and place. That in itself would make this thinking not so accessible. Stephen talks of leaving the tent of Stephen behind to join in the Whole, but of returning to it so that he may communicate with us. And I suspect that we do retain our individualities, but that we grow by widening our love and our empathy with others, so that eventually we become conscious of the universe. To me Stephen is truly an advanced soul, loving, balanced, and wise. That's how the relationship with him feels. And yes, I often would have liked his thoughts to be a whole lot more immediately accessible.”
Which teachings of Stephen did you find most intriguing or enlightening?
“Let's tell the story of a synchronicity in April this year. My friend Dr. John Moss, of Middlesbrough, UK, had died in the autumn of 2005 after a very long illness, in which his wife Elaine had given him continuous care and love. John had written a book describing how spirit communicators had interpreted Christ and his teachings, including a description of the teaching of the Stephen of my book. I had been phoning Elaine there from time to time both before and after John's death. On March 29, 2006 I phoned Elaine, months after John died, and learned that for some days in her waking consciousness she had been catching glimpses of him. But on this very day, it seemed at the time that I had formed the intention of phoning, 6 a.m. UK time, Elaine was dreaming that she heard John's voice calling, ‘Hello!’ To me she wondered whether John had timed his greeting to coincide with my call. It seems that my call prompted her to write a letter, received on April 8, '06 telling me what had happened when I had phoned early September 2005, not so long before John died.
“Elaine wrote: ‘[Michael was still on the line when] I [Elaine] said to John, "Would you like me to tell Michael that when you get your wings you will try and visit/contact him?" John nodded and smiled benignly. I repeated to Michael what I had said to John, and Michael said that he would like John to try and visit him. John smiled happily and sank back on his pillow. After I [Elaine] put the phone back, I thought, 'Well, goodness knows how John will get to Christchurch, New Zealand, unknown house, etc., but where's there's a will there's a way. I suppose the next world has its ways and means, and decided that was John's problem!’
“Immediately after reading this on April 8, I booted up my computer in the “unknown house.” On a blank screen appeared the words, I'm not dead. The computer then failed. I booted up the computer once again, and once again appeared the words, I'm not dead.
“This is an example of meaningful coincidence or synchronicity. A highly emotionally charged coincidence, deeply meaningful, but something we cannot explain by ordinary cause and effect. I'm not dead turns out to be an advertisement for an album by a singer called Pink. On the other hand I don't recall more than a couple of such advertisements ever, and thosewords at that very moment obviously struck home.
“Stephen's thought is so difficult for us to take in, partly because it is saying that at base we are all together in spirit, we are one, creating, thinking into existence our separate lives in the physical. There is no spiritual journey to take for we are already there in the eternal. We in the physical are organs of experience and expression for the Whole. The centre of gravity of things, lies in the spiritual, not in the physical. This hints at an explanation for meaningful coincidences such as this.”
How have the Stephen teachings changed you and your beliefs?
“His teachings are linked with our warm relationship with him, and with our meaningful coincidences. We feel ourselves to participate in some way in the mind of God, in the universal mind. The source of my faith in Spirit, in eternal life, love and being, comes from the universal Christ working through all experience, including that of Stephen.”
Such phenomena exceed the boggle threshold of most people, especially when the purported communicator was a famous person while incarnate. One wonders if the spirit communicator realizes this and really expects to reach many people. Do you have any thoughts on this?
“Yes I have wondered this too. On the one hand the experience seemed to be truly and surely that of the historical Stephen, but how could I expect anyone to believe this? That is really why I spent so much time working on the Greek. This is surely something that no one could forge, with all the historical crosschecking evidence. I did so much work on this. It is indeed very close to proof of Stephen's authenticity. But because the proof is so complex and many-sided, people don't really study it carefully. The study convinced me, but not many other people! I am sort of like Cassandra, the poor person of antiquity, fated to tell the truth, and not to be believed. Sometimes I think was this just for the benefit of myself and a few friends. Were we worth all that effort over all those years? Wasn't it meant for many others also? Wouldn't it be nice if Stephen and other advanced souls could set things in motion more to help more of his teaching to be heard?”