It happens during every mission trip, preferably several days into the trek when hiking boots are scuffed and dirty, clodded with mud or perhaps something less desirable, which is certainly easy to come by on the animal-laden Andean footpaths. When the picture call is announced, the hikers line up, and someone leans over and snaps a few shots of their feet. One of these pictures, accompanied by the words of Isaiah 52:7, will make a nice ending to the presentation they give when they return to their church in the U.S.
I certainly don’t disparage these “beautiful feet” pictures, because they speak of the excitement that the mission teams feel when they realize that they actually ARE trekking across mountains, bringing the Good News to Quechua people in their own language. So even though the “beautiful feet” picture might feel a bit cliché for me, I smile when the teams line up and snap the shot. I usually don’t take feet pictures myself, however … the one I posted above is cropped from the bottom of this picture of me and two good friends hiking on one of the last mission treks before Covid quarantines shut everything down in Peru.
I have been known to take pictures of hiking shoes worn out by the trek, and I’ll admit to actually using the Isaiah verse on a huge trekking poster that I gave to Ade for his birthday one year. I felt like this was a fully legitimate use of the “beautiful feet” verse, however, since the poster features our llamas, Chaski, Raju, and Cappuccino, carrying boxes of Quechua New Testaments across the rugged mountain trails, not to mention the fact that Isaiah’s words are copied from the newly-translated Quechua Bible.
Llamas’ camelid feet are designed for traversing the rocky mountain terrain, but Chaski didn’t fare so well when he accompanied Vicente on a “hike” through town, promoting Quechua literature and the Quechua New Testament. His leg got stuck in a storm sewer drain, necessitating a bit of backyard surgery right in the middle of a workshop. (I was very glad that Susana, a nurse, was well-prepared to sew in a few stitches, while Anchi and Pedro held Chaski down. All I had to do was stand far back and take pictures with my telephoto lens!)
But this post isn’t meant to be about llama feet, or even about trekkers’ feet, although I may sprinkle a few more pictures of our Andes Mountain hikes throughout the rest of the post just because the scenery is so beautiful. This post is meant to showcase the true beauty of the human foot, or at least as much as a non-medical person like me can speak of the beauty of feet.
In case you’re wondering why I’m interested in beautiful feet …
…it’s because one of mine isn’t all that beautiful at the moment.
To make a long story short, the end result of a poorly-executed kick to a punching bag while practicing self-defense techniques last December landed me in the operating room a couple of weeks ago. (I was very glad to be in Ohio and not Peru when it finally came down to surgery.)
So as I’ve been laid up in my dad’s recliner while this foot heals, I’ve been contemplating how amazing our feet really are.
I’m not the first person to spend time thinking about feet. A cursory glance at an online Bible concordance shows more than 350 entries for foot or feet in the New International Version. A large number of these verses talk about washing feet, which makes me squirm a bit, since I haven’t been able to wash the foot pictured above for two and a half weeks and counting! Other Old Testament verses describe kings cutting off the feet of their enemies, or tell about wicked Queen Jezebel, who fell out of her tower and was eaten by dogs, leaving behind only her skull, hands and feet!
Some of the nicer Scripture references about feet give testimony to the fact that God makes a smooth path and keeps his peoples’ feet from stumbling, he pulls their feet out of the enemy’s snares, and he warns us to keep our feet from rushing into evil. Jesus healed crippled feet, and we are admonished by Paul to put on our full armor, including making sure our “feet (are) fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
I am personally banking on King David’s promise that God will make my feet like the feet of a deer, allowing me to stand on the heights of the Peruvian Andes once again. (2 Samuel 22:32-34 & Psalm 18:32-34)
I discovered on the Arthritis Foundation website that close to one fourth of the bones in a human body are found in our feet! Each of our feet has 26 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. (I only have 29 joints now, since a joint in the top of my foot was fused during my surgery.) One foot & ankle specialist‘s website quoted the American Podiatric Medical Association’s claim that the average person takes 8,000-10,000 steps a day. They did the math… this equals approximately 115,000 miles in a lifetime, which would be liking walking around the entire globe four times! That same website stated that “During an average day of walking, the total forces on your feet can total hundreds of tons, equivalent to an average of a fully loaded cement truck.” I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty incredible that something as small (relatively speaking) as our feet can handle that much stress and weight!
(For those of you who are interested in a great project for your homeschool science class, here’s a super-interesting foot pressure lab assignment that I discovered, by Dr. Paul Tiskus of Rhode Island College: Feel the Pressure – Foot pressure lab, Foot Pressure Grid for the lab)
As I continued doing research about feet, I found an interesting quotation attributed to none other than artist / scientist / inventor / engineer and Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci.
“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”
While searching for a primary source for this quotation (sorry, Pinterest, you don’t count!), I borrowed this amazing and possibly out-of-print book from my sister’s library.
I didn’t find da Vinci’s actual quote in this book, but his detailed pictures and notes were amazing, especially considering the time and conditions under which he did his dissecting and drawings. Here are just a few:
(disclaimer – I took photos of the pages in the book, which probably breaks copywrite laws. That’s why I included the publisher’s info.)
It’s easy to see how Leonardo da Vinci considered the foot to be a work of art… he could turn just about anything into beautiful art! But what about a masterpiece of engineering? We know from da Vinci’s architectural work, especially on Gothic cathedrals, that he understood arches.
He must have been immensely impressed with the fact that the human foot has not one, but THREE arches: the medial and lateral longitudinal arches, running from front to back, as well as the transverse arch, which spans the foot from side to side. But unlike the soaring arches in Gothic cathedrals, the arches in our feet are moveable, acting as shock absorbers, while transferring weight from one part of the foot to the other so we can walk. The foot also uses a special “windlass” design, which is similar to the crank, spool, and rope that pulls a bucket of water up from a well. The tendon that stretches from the heel to the toes functions as the “rope.” This tendon wraps over the toe joints (the spool), pulling the heel and toes together allowing the foot to step. I know that my simplified description really doesn’t do justice to this amazing process, especially considering the fact that our feet will do this up to 10,000 times a day!
(Information taken from The Barefoot Professor – Dr. Marcus Ross and Daniel Howell and Designer Feet: Foundations for Walking, but Not up the Evolutionary Ladder – Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell and The Human Foot: Incredible Design – a short video by David Rives)
The unique qualities of the human foot confound the evolutionist, because our feet are so very different from those of primates, our supposed cousins. In her article “What Makes the Human Foot Unique?“ written for Scientific American, Krystal D’Costa mentions several fossil discoveries and claims that “In piecing together these discoveries, it became clear that the evolutionary story of the human foot wouldn’t be explained linearly. The human foot evolved independently of other developments within human evolution and at different rates between species. ” She closes her article with these words: “The story of the human foot is still unfolding. It is unique because it is best suited to our style of bipedal locomotion.”
I agree 100% with Krystal D’Costa in the fact that the human foot is unique because it is best suited for walking upright on two feet. But my answer for this fact is not some evolutionary mystery. Instead, I’ll look to an amazing piece of literature written 3,000 years before Ms. D’Costa’s article, where I find King David’s words of praise in Psalm 139:13-14.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
This, my friends, is the best explanation for our beautiful feet.