One of my favorite lines in Hamlet is the prince’s reminder to Horatio, who is uncertain what to make of a ghost, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I’ve spent much of my life among academics, Christian and otherwise, many of whom are skittish about references to mystical moments, prescient dreams, “thin space,” telepathy, visions or inexplicable healings. Curiously, even those whose faith is solidly scriptural often shy away from conversations about boundary experiences or avoid the topic of angels.

But there they are. Angels, visions of animals on a sheet, fiery chariots, withering fig trees and demonic voices. And there’s Jesus a few days after his bloody death cooking up breakfast on the beach and walking through locked doors, looking like a stranger, then suddenly looking like his familiar self. And there’s Paul, blind and bruised after a close encounter with heavenly light. You can’t write these things off, and you can’t reduce them to parable or confine them to the merely symbolic; much as I respect parables and symbols and eschew flat-footed literalism, some stories challenge us to stretch our understanding of plausibility.

Though literalism is a dangerous habit of mind, I appreciate Augustine’s wisdom in suggesting that the work of interpretation begins in entertaining the literal meaning of the word. Similarly, I appreciate scientists who are able to maintain an open moment of silence in response to inexplicable events before dismissing them or insisting on an empirical explanation. The discipline of pausing over the implausible helps preserve the humility of Hamlet’s reminder and of Mary’s amazed question: “How can these things be?” The answer to that question, which has been echoed by astrophysicists, geneticists and doctors who know that mystery is involved in healing, is multidimensional. There are ways of being that lie beyond the jurisdiction of the five senses; we know, not just from theology but also from science, that our senses account for only a limited part of what is actual. To reach beyond them we need mathematics and particle physics, bioenergetics and poetry, abstract art and good biblical theology. We need people whose callings take them to those borderlands and who deploy their imaginations in the service of barely conceivable truth.