What does it mean to stand up and turn unto God before reciting this prayer?
First let me say that it is a wonderful thing you do in thinking about the meanings of the actions and words we say in our Obligatory Prayer because it is only by a conscious effort like this that we can avoid the danger of the prayer becoming a meaningless ritual.
Also you will find (as I have found) that as the years go by and you grow in your Baha'i life, that you will find more and more beautiful gems of understanding in the words and actions of the prayer. Its meanings are inexhaustible.
So don't worry if in the beginning not everything is understood. Ponder it in your heart and pray also for guidance and understanding. Knock and it shall be opened onto you, seek and ye shall find, as His Holiness Jesus said.
Now to come back to your question. Why does Baha'u'llah ask us to stand and look unto God.
In many of the previous religions there was a focal point or direction in which the believers were asked to pray. This is called the Qiblih (Point of Adoration), at one time it was Jerusalem and in Islam it is Mecca and now in the Baha'i Faith it is Bahá'u'lláh's burial place in Akká. So this is what is meant by turning unto God in a physical way. In a spiritual sense it means that we should direct our prayers to God's Manifestation, who is in this day Bahá'u'lláh.
The purpose is so that we should concentrate our prayer, our spiritual power, on one point in order to prepare ourselves for conversing with our Beloved. It is so easy when we pray, for all the happenings of the day and stray thoughts, to come into our mind so then these simple actions before prayer help us to focus on what we are saying.
What are some of the spiritual insights as to the meaning of gazing to the right and to the left?
When we have an appointment to meet our friend in a place, WE LOOK TO THE RIGHT AND TO THE LEFT and anywhere to find him. As it is with us and our friend, so it is with us and our Beloved One Whom we are going to meet and converse with.
Also attracting His mercy to reflect His Glory to us, as described by ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
“Souls are like unto mirrors, and the bounty of God is like unto the sun. When the mirrors pass beyond all coloring and attain purity and polish, and are confronted with the sun, they will reflect in full perfection its light and glory. In this condition one should not consider the mirror, but the power of the light of the sun, which hath penetrated the mirror, making it a reflector of the heavenly glory”. (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 367).
According to the writing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by larry, the wisdom of the Words of God in general and in the Long Obligatory Prayer in particular is unknown to man and what we discuss here is only our own limited understanding. This brings to my mind the story of the elephant in the City of the Blinds related by Rumi, but as you have heard it, I am not going to repeat. Our perception from the Scriptures is like that story.
This is what I recite daily. I have memorized it, and love this prayer. Although I get caught up on two parts. It would be wonderful if my fellow Bahai's guide me to the right direction regarding these matters.
In the passage.. "O GOD, MY GOD! LOOK NOT UPON MY HOPES AND MY DOINGS, NAY RATHER LOOK UPON THY WILL THAT HATH ENCOMPASSED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH"
"... I sometimes pause and say (I hope all is well), because all my hopes are good hopes.. For instance, I hope my family and friends are well and do well, and I hope I be successful, and healthy...I don’t have bad hopes, I never intend to. I don’t understand.. Please guide me to the right direction, Bahai's with experience and what’s not.
In the passage.. "O GOD, MY GOD! MY BACK IS BOWED BY THE BURDEN OF MY SINS, AND MY HEEDLESSNESS HATH DESTROYED ME. WHENEVER I PONDER MY EVIL DOINGS AND THY BENEVOLENCE, MY HEART MELTETH WITHIN ME, AND MY BLOOD BOILETH IN MY VEINS"... This as well gets me a little stirred.. I mean, I don’t have like to "ponder" "evil doings".. I mean, I don’t get it.. we all sin, and may god have mercy on us, but as a Baha,i dont ever want to ponder evil doings, ever.. so.. its like.. umm.. i dont know... Again, if you can guide me it would be awesome..
Alas! Alas! My sins have prevented me from approaching the Court of Thy holiness and my trespasses have caused me to stray far from the Tabernacle of Thy majesty. I have committed that which Thou didst forbid me to do and have put away what Thou didst order me to observe. (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 25).
In the first part we have to consider that whatever we cherish in our hearts namely our DESIRES and our DOINGS are not what God expects us and we have to revise our doings according to God’s will and then surrender to His all-embracing guidance, in order that He may guide us into the right path and reflect His Names and Attributes that He has engraved in our souls (Genesis,1:27) and try to submit our will to His Will, because in the next verse the criterion of what we have to be, is given: “By Thy Most Great Name, O Thou Lord of all nations! I HAVE DESIRED ONLY WHAT THOU DIDST DESIRE, and LOVE ONLY WHAT THOU DOST LOVE.
Now I ask whether our LOVES and DESIRES are DIVINELY?
We usually think that whatever we have done were acceptable in His threshold and scarcely think about our shortcomings, etc. the duties like teaching that God expected us to do, but we neglect them or are indulgent in doing them properly.
In the second part, we know that every reality in this world is relative except God Who is Absolute, so if we think that we are angels it is relatively true but not absolutely.
This verse encourages us to bring ourselves to account everyday as He counsels us in the Hidden Words:
"O SON OF BEING!
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds."
We have to consider that we will never be happy if God treat us with JUSTICE.
In prayers we ask God to treat us with His MERCY:
“Treat them with Thy tender mercy and compassion, and deal not with them according to Thy justice and wrath which cause the limbs of the mighty to quake”. (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 57).
Imagine for a moment you were in the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. How would you behave? How would you dress? What thoughts would you have going through your head and heart? Isn't true you would want to be the essence of purity so as to be worthy to be in His presence. But in our everyday lives we fall from that standard and we forget that we are always in His presence. So that when we stand before Him in our obligatory prayer we are reminded when we say of those times during the day that we forgot what we should always be.
O God, my God! My back is bowed by the burden of my sins, and my heedlessness hath destroyed me. Whenever I ponder my evil doings and Thy benevolence, my heart melteth within me, and my blood boileth in my veins. By Thy Beauty, O Thou the Desire of the world! I blush to lift up my face to Thee, and my longing hands are ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven of Thy bounty.
God does want to humiliate us either but rather for us to always strive to be our true spiritual selves.
Again this only my understanding of this passage and I may in the future of other or different understandings of it.