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Extra info for Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (California Studies in Food and Culture, 12)
Finney considered private fasting an important devotional practice and wrote of it frequently in his memoirs. He also explored the errors one could make in fasting, particularly in attending too closely to personal “feelings,” “motives,” and “states of mind” rather than meditating solely on Christ (this criticism of “self-examination” suggests how far evangelicals of Finney’s sort had traveled from their Puritan forebears). Like prayer, with which it had long been deeply interwoven, fasting was an act of the will paradoxically intended to erase the will altogether.
While attentiveness to bodily matters was by no means absent outside these assorted circles, it was most enthusiastically expressed within them, whether displayed through practices such as vegetarianism, the laying on of hands for healing, or techniques such as mesmerism, meditative disciplines, and physical culture. In fact the New Thought movement, chronicled in chapter 2, happens to be a fruitful turning point in this history, for that movement’s Progressive Era proponents were acutely preoccupied with the correlations of mind and matter, the soul and the body.
1 Gluttons for Regimen Anglo-Protestant Culture and the Reorientation of Appetite Monks wasting away in the desert, saints beating their bodies and sleeping on nails, apostles renouncing all pleasures and subsisting on the charity of benefactors, pious men and women starving their senses in emulation of Christ: it is by now a truism to note that devout Christians of earlier eras displayed profound ambivalence about the flesh. Both patristic and medieval followers of the faith, women and men, felt the body to be a burden that must be suffered resignedly during earthly life while yet remaining the crucial material out of which devotional practice and spiritual progress were forged.